The properties of this effectual calling
(1) It is a sweet call. God so calls as He allures; He does not force, but draw. The freedom of the will is not taken away, but the stubbornness of it is conquered. ‘Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power’ (Ps 110:3). After this call there are no more disputes, the soul readily obeys God’s call: as when Christ called Zacchaeus, he joyfully welcomed Him into his heart and house.
(2) It is a holy call. ‘Who hath called us with a holy calling’ (2 Tim 1:9). This call of God calls men out of their sins: by it they are consecrated, and set apart for God. The vessels of the tabernacle were taken from common use, and set apart to a holy use; so they who are effectually called are separated from sin, and consecrated to God’s service. The God whom we worship is holy, the work we are employed in is holy, the place we hope to arrive at is holy; all this calls for holiness. A Christian’s heart is to be the presence-chamber of the blessed Trinity; and shall not holiness to the Lord be written upon it? Believers are children of God the Father, members of God the Son, and temples of God the Holy Ghost; and shall they not be holy? Holiness is the badge and livery of God’s people. ‘The people of thy holiness’ (Isa 63:18). As chastity distinguishes a virtuous woman from a harlot, so holiness distinguishes the godly from the wicked. It is a holy calling; ‘For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness’ (1 Thess 4:7). Let not any man say he is called of God, that lives in sin. Has God called you to be a swearer, to be a drunkard? Nay, let not the merely moral person say he is effectually called. What is civility without sanctity? It is but a dead carcase strewed with flowers. The king’s picture stamped upon brass will not go current for gold. The merely moral man looks as if he had the King of heaven’s image stamped upon him; but he is not better than counterfeit metal, which will not pass for current with God.
(3) It is an irresistible call. When God calls a man by His grace, he cannot but come. You may resist the minister’s call, but you cannot the Spirit’s call. The finger of the blessed Spirit can write upon a heart of stone, as once He wrote His laws upon tables of stone. God’s words are creating words; when He says, ‘Let there be light’, there was light, and when He says, ‘Let there be faith’, it shall be so. When God called Paul, he answered to the call. ‘I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision’ (Acts 26:19). God rides forth conquering in the chariot of His gospel; He makes the blind eyes see, and the stony heart bleed. If God will call a man, nothing shall lie in the way to hinder; difficulties shall be untied, the powers of hell shall disband. ‘Who hath resisted his will?’ (Rom 9:19). God bends the iron sinew, and cuts asunder the gates of brass (Ps 107:16). When the Lord touches a man’s heart by His Spirit, all proud imaginations are brought down, and the fort-royal of the will yields to God. I may allude to Ps 114:5, ‘What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? and thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?’ The man that before was as a raging sea, foaming forth wickedness, now on a sudden flies back and trembles, he falls down as the jailor, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ (Acts 16:30). What ails thee, O sea? What ails this man? The Lord has been effectually calling him. He has been working a work of grace, and now his stubborn heart is conquered by a sweet violence.
(4) It is a high calling. ‘I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God’ (Phil 3:14). It is a high calling, because we are called to high exercises of religion — to die to sin, to be crucified to the world, to live by faith, to have fellowship with the Father (1 John 1:3). This is a high calling; here is a work too high for men in a state of nature to perform. It is a high calling, because we are called to high privileges, to justification and adoption, to be made co-heirs with Christ. He that is effectually called is higher than the princes of the earth.
(5) It is a gracious call. It is the fruit and product of free grace. That God should call some, and not others; some taken, and others left; one called who is of a more rugged, morose disposition, another of sharper intellect, of a sweeter temper, rejected; here is free grace. That the poor should be rich in faith, heirs of a kingdom (James 2:5), and the nobles and great ones of the world for the most part rejected, ‘Not many noble are called’ (1 Cor 1:26); this is free and rich grace. ‘Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight’ (Matt 11:26). That under the same sermon one should be effectually wrought upon, another no more moved than a dead man with the sound of music; that one should hear the Spirit’s voice in the Word, another not hear it; that one should be softened and moistened with the influence of heaven, another, like Gideon’s dry fleece, has no dew upon him: behold here distinguishing grace! The same affliction converts one and hardens another. Affliction to one is as the bruising of spices, which cast forth a fragrant smell; to the other it is as the crushing of weeds in a mortar, which are more unsavoury. What is the cause of this, but the free grace of God? It is a gracious calling; it is all enamelled and interwoven with free grace.
(6) It is a glorious call. ‘Who hath called us unto his eternal glory’ (1 Peter 5:10). We are called to the enjoyment of the ever-blessed God: as if a man were called out of a prison to sit upon a throne. Quintus Curtius writes of one, who while digging in his garden was called to be king. Thus God calls us to glory and virtue (2 Peter 1:3 ). First to virtue, then to glory. At Athens there were two temples, the temple of Virtue, and the temple of Honour; and no man could go to the temple of honour, but through the temple of virtue. So God calls us first to virtue, and then to glory. What is the glory among men, which most so hunt after, but a feather blown in the air? What is it to the weight of glory? Is there not great reason we should follow God’s call? He calls to preferment; can there be any loss or prejudice in this? God would have us part with nothing for Him, but that which will damn us if we keep it. He has no design upon us, but to make us happy. He calls us to salvation, He calls us to a kingdom. Oh, how should we then, with Bartimaeus, throw off our ragged coat of sin, and follow Christ when He calls!
(7) It is a rare call. But few are savingly called. ‘Few are chosen’ (Matt 22:14). Few, not collectively, but comparatively. The word ‘to call’ signifies to choose out some from among others. Many have the light brought to them, but few have their eyes anointed to see that light. ‘Thou hast a few names in Sardis that have not defiled their garments’ (Rev 3:4). How many millions sit in the region of darkness! And in those climates where the Sun of righteousness does shine, there are many who receive the light of the truth, without the love of it. There are many formalists, but few believers. There is something looks like faith, which is not. The Cyprian diamond, says Pliny , sparkles like the true diamond, but it is not of the right kind, it will break with the hammer: so the hypocrite’s faith will break with the hammer of persecution. But few are truly called. The number of precious stones is few, to the number of pebble stones. Most men shape their religion according to the fashion of the times; they are for the music and the idol (Dan 3:7). The serious thought of this should make us work out our salvation with fear, and labour to be in the number of those few whom God has translated into a state of grace.
(8) It is an unchangeable call. ‘The gifts and calling of God are without repentance’ (Rom 11:29). That is, as a learned writer says, those gifts which flow from election. When God calls a man, He does not repent of it. God does not, as many friends do, love one day, and hate another; or as princes, who make their subjects favourites, and afterwards throw them into prison. This is the blessedness of a saint; his condition admits of no alteration. God’s call is founded upon His decree, and His decree is immutable. Acts of grace cannot be reversed. God blots out His people’s sins, but not their names. Let the world ring changes every hour, a believer’s condition is fixed and unalterable.