‘That we should be to the praise of his glory’ (Eph 1:12). He that is in the state of nature, is no more fit to honour God, than a brute is to put forth acts of reason. A man before conversion continually reflects dishonour upon God. As black vapours which arise out of fenny, moorish grounds, cloud and darken the sun, so out of the natural man’s heart arise black vapours of sin, which cast a cloud upon God’s glory. The sinner is versed in treason, but understands nothing of loyalty to the King of heaven. But there are some whom the lot of free-grace falls upon, and these shall be taken as jewels from among the rubbish, and be effectually called, that they may lift up God’s name in the world. 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. He will have His worthies, as king David had. 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). As God makes heaven fit for us, so He makes us fit for heaven; and what gives this meetness, but effectual calling? A man remaining in the filth and rubbish of nature, is no more fit for heaven, than a dead man is fit to inherit an estate. The high calling is not a thing arbitrary or indifferent, but as needful as salvation; yet alas, how is this one thing needful neglected! Most men, like the people of Israel, wander up and down to gather straw, but do not mind the evidences of their effectual calling.
Take notice what a mighty power God puts forth in calling of sinners! God does so call as to draw (John 6:44). Conversion is styled a resurrection. ‘Blessed is he that hath part in the first resurrection’ (Rev 20:6). That is, a rising from sin to grace. A man can no more convert himself than a dead man can raise himself. It is called a creation (Col 3:10). To create is above the power of nature.
Objection. But, say some, the will is not dead but asleep, and God, by a moral persuasion, does only awaken us, and then the will can obey God’s call, and move of itself to its own conversion.
Answer. To this I answer, Every man is by sin bound in fetters. ‘I perceive that thou art in the bond of iniquity’ (Acts 8:23). A man that is in fetters, if you use arguments, and persuade him to go, is that sufficient? There must be a breaking of his fetters, and setting him free, before he can walk. So it is with every natural man; he is fettered with corruption; now the Lord by converting grace must file off his fetters, nay, give him legs to run too, or he can never obtain salvation.
Use. An exhortation to make your calling sure.
‘Give diligence to make your calling sure’ (2 Peter 1:10). This is the great business of our lives, to get sound evidences of our effectual calling. Do not acquiesce in outward privileges, do not cry as the Jews, ‘The temple of the Lord!’ (Jer 7:4). Do not rest in baptism; what is it to have the water, and want the Spirit? Do not be content that Christ has been preached to you. Do not satisfy yourselves with an empty profession; all this may be, and yet you are no better than blazing comets. But labour to evidence to your souls that you are called of God. Be not Athenians to inquire news. What is the state and complexion of the times? What changes are likely to happen in such a year? What is all this, if you are not effectually called? What if the times should have a fairer aspect? What though glory did dwell in our land, if grace does not dwell in our hearts? Oh, my brethren, when things are dark without, let all be clear within. Give diligence to make your calling sure, it is both feasible and probable. God is not wanting to them that seek Him. Let not this great business hang in hand, any longer. If there were a controversy about your land, you would use all means to clear your title; and is salvation nothing? Will you not clear your title here? Consider how sad your case is, if you are not effectually called.
You are strangers to God. The prodigal went into a far country (Luke 15:13), which implies that every sinner, before conversion, is afar off from God. ‘At that time ye were without Christ, strangers to the covenants of promise’ (Eph 2:12 ). Men dying in their sins have no more right to promises than strangers have to the privilege of free-born citizens. If you are strangers, what language can you expect from God, but this, ‘I know you not!’
If you are not effectually called, you are enemies. ‘Alienated and enemies’ (Col 1:21). There is nothing in the Bible you can lay claim to, but the threatenings. You are heirs to all the plagues written in the book of God. Though you may resist the commands of the law, you cannot flee from the curses of the law. Such as are enemies to God, let them read their doom: ‘But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me’ (Luke 19:27). Oh, how it should concern you therefore to make your calling sure! How miserable and damnable will your condition be, if death call you before the Spirit call you!
Question. But is there any hope of my being called? I have been a great sinner.
Answer. Great sinners have been called. Paul was a persecutor, yet he was called. Some of the Jews who had a hand in crucifying Christ, were called. 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. But 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 righteous self; he denies his duties and moral endowments. ‘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, for Him to tread upon. He uses morality and duties of piety, but does not trust to them. Noah’s dove made use of her wings to fly, but trusted to the ark for safety. This is excellent, when a man is called out of himself. This self-renunciation is, as Augustine says, the first step to saving faith.
He who is effectually called has a visible change wrought. Not a change of the faculties, but of the qualities. He is altered from what he was before. His body is the same, but not his mind; he has another spirit. Paul was so changed after his conversion that people did not know him (Acts 9:21). Oh what a metamorphosis does grace make! ‘And such were some of you; but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified’ (1 Cor 6:11). Grace changes the heart.
In effectual calling there is a three-fold change wrought:
(1) There is a change wrought in the understanding. Before, there was ignorance, darkness was upon the face of the deep; but now there is light, ‘Now ye are light in the Lord’ (Eph 5:8). The first work of God in the creation of the world was light; so it is in the new creation. He who is savingly called says with that man in the gospel: ‘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 marvellous light. ‘That ye should skew forth the praises of him who hath called you into his marvellous light’ (1 Peter 2:9). It is a marvellous light in six respects.
(a) Because it is strangely conveyed. It does not come from the celestial orbs where the planets are, but from the Sun of righteousness.
(b) It is marvellous in its effect. This light does that which no other light can. It makes a man perceive himself to be blind.
(c) It is a marvellous 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).
(d) It is a marvellous light, because it sets those who have it a marvelling. 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, notwithstanding they hated and opposed this light, yet it should shine in the firmament of their souls. This is what the saints will stand wondering at to all eternity.
(e) It is a marvellous light, because it is more vital than any others. It not only enlightens, but 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).
(f) It is a marvellous light, because it is the beginning of everlasting light. The light of grace is the morning-star which ushers in the sunlight of glory.
Now then, reader, can you say that this marvellous 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. This is one part of that blessed change which is wrought in the effectual calling.
(2) There is a change wrought in the will. ‘To will is present with me’ (Rom 7:18). The will, which before opposed Christ, now embraces Him. The will, which was an iron sinew, is now like melting wax; it readily receives the stamp and impression of the Holy Ghost. The will moves heavenward, and carries all the orbs of the affections along with it. The regenerate will answers 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 (Heb 2:10). Oh what a happy change is wrought here! Before, the will kept Christ out; now, it keeps sin out.
(3) There is a change in the conduct. He who is called of God, walks directly contrary to what he did before. He walked before in envy and malice, now he walks in love; before he walked in pride, now in humility. The current is carried quite another way. As in the heart there is a new birth, so in the life a new edition. Thus we see what a mighty change is wrought in such as are called of God.
How far are they from this effectual call who never had any change? They are the same they were forty or fifty years ago, as proud and carnal as ever. They have seen many changes in their times, but they have had no change in their heart. Let not men think to leap out of the harlot’s lap (the world) into Abraham’s bosom; either they must have a gracious change while they live, or a cursed change when they die.
He who is called of God esteems this call as the highest blessing. A king whom God has called by His grace, esteems it more that he is called to be a saint, than that he is called to be a king. He values his high-calling more than his high-birth. Theodosius thought it a greater honour to be a Christian than to be an emperor. A carnal person can no more value spiritual blessings than a baby can value a diamond necklace. He prefers his worldly grandeur, his ease, plenty, and titles of honour, before conversion. He had rather be called duke than saint, a sign he is a stranger to effectual calling. He who is enlightened by the Spirit, counts holiness his best heraldry, and looks upon his effectual calling as his preferment. When he has taken this degree, he is a candidate for heaven.
He who is effectually called, is called out of the world. It is a ‘heavenly calling’ (Heb 3:1). He that is called of God, minds the things of a heavenly aspect; he is in the world, but not of the world. Naturalists say of precious stones, though they have their matter from the earth, yet their sparkling lustre is from the influence of the heavens: so it is with a godly man, though his body be from the earth, yet the sparkling of his affections is from heaven; his heart 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.
Another sign of our effectual calling is diligence in our ordinary calling. Some boast of their high calling, but they lie idly at anchor. Religion does not seal warrants to idleness. Christians must not be slothful. Idleness is the devil’s bath; a slothful person becomes a prey to every temptation. Grace, while it cures the heart, does not make the hand lame. He who is called of God, as he works for heaven, so he works in his trade.