Today we pick up again our series on Gospel Convergence concerning the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the Confession. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.
To the Praise of His Glory
Often discussions concerning Effectual Calling create division, an interrogation of God’s goodness and ultimately bring into question the existence of free will (which we looked at a couple of weeks ago). However, hopefully what will become apparent is that effectual calling is simply the other side of the coin from free will, and when understood correctly leads to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:14).
It’s All About God
The first thing to notice is effectual calling is all about God:
Those whom God predestined unto life, He is pleased in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ (pg. 59).
It is God who has chosen people to life, it is He who decides when to effectually call them, it is His means that bring them from sin and death to grace and salvation, and it is all done in Jesus, God’s only Son. Furthermore, this effectual calling takes place because God enlightens minds (Eph. 1:18), changes hearts (Ezk. 36:26), renews wills (Rom. 12:1-2) and in great power draws us in an irresistible way to Jesus (Eph. 1:19).
But, none of this does violence or damage to the notion of free will. The confession asserts that those who are effectually called ‘come most freely, being made willing by His grace’ (pg. 59). We know this to be true, anecdotally, as we have heard many people testify that at one point they made a decision! And yet on reflection they also see God’s hand in their circumstances which brought about that free choice.
This qualification must not cloud our judgement though, for it is truly all about God. This effectual calling is from free and special grace alone, not because of anything we have done, or could do (Eph.2:8). Nor is it even from God’s foreknowledge. This is something God made happen; and something only God could make happen. He took those who were dead, and with the same power with which he raised Christ worked in us to bring us to life (Eph. 2:5; 1:19-20).
What about the Infants?
At this point the Confession takes a very pastoral turn to address a particularly sensitive issue:
Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit; who worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth; so also are all elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word. (pg. 60)
However, I have two issues with this section. First, I am uncomfortable with the designation ‘elect infants’ – is this in opposition to all infants? Second, I have reservations concerning those who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word. If this is a reference to those with mental disabilities then the same question arises as concerning ‘elect infants’. However, if this is a reference to those who do not have the opportunity to hear the Word I must disagree.
With regard to thinking these issues through, I have found John Piper particularly helpful. I would argue that all infants who die in infancy are elect, and thus saved – listen to this for part of John Piper’s reasoning on this point. With respect to hearing the Word, I believe that one must hear Jesus preached to believe and be saved (See Piper’s The Only Way to God). That being said, mental disabilities must be catered for, and I would regard mentally disabled people in the same way I do infants in this respect.
That being said, we would not be wrong to conclude:
Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? (Gen. 18:25)
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?’ (Rom. 11:33-34)
The Necessity of Discernment
The verities stated above do not necessitate the abandonment of discernment, nor do the questions require a querying of the evident teachings of Scripture. The Confession ends its chapter on effectual calling with a paragraph reminding that discernment is a necessity.
Others not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet not being effectually drawn by the Father, they neither will nor can truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men which receive not the Christian religion be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature and the law of that religion they do profess. (pg. 60-61)
The closing line of this paragraph perhaps answers an earlier objection. But the significant thought conveyed through this statement is that some people may appear to be effectually called, responding in particular ways – but we must have our wits about us, because some of them are not. This brings to mind the parable of the sower (Mt. 13:1-9, 18-23) and even Peter’s description of false teachers in the churches he was writing to (2 Peter 2: 1, 20-21). Therefore, we must show discernment with regard to these truths.
To the Praise of His Glory
We end as we started, acknowledging that the Bible portrays the truth of effectual calling as a testimony to the praise of God’s glory. This is most clearly displayed in the twelve verse sentence written by Paul in Ephesians 1:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Vv. 3-14)