GOD’S EFFECTIVE CALL
(See Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 10)
Lazarus, as you know, was four days dead in a tomb when the Lord called him back to life. It has been said that had Jesus not mentioned the name “Lazarus” when He called him forth from the tomb, all the graves would have opened up! so powerful is His call. The question necessarily arises, why didn’t the people in the other graves come forth? Surely you can see that they didn’t come forth because the Lord hadn’t called them. Well, so it is with people who are spiritually dead. They do not come to Jesus because He has not regenerated them. They don’t come to Him because He hasn’t brought them back to life.
You must be born again BEFORE you are able to heed the call and come to Jesus. For Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” John 3:3. How does one get born again? Well, that’s what we’ll be looking into somewhat in the following. But in a word, God saves people who are dead in their trespasses and sins by a work of His grace. This work of God’s grace is called God’s effective call.
Who God Calls
Speaking to some Jewish people Jesus in John 10 says, “I am the Good Shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” John 10:14-16. So we see then that Jesus’ sheep hear His voice. But what about those who don’t belong to Him – those who are not His sheep? Well, Jesus said to some of them, “But you don’t believe, because you are not My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”
So, if we were to ask: Who does God call? We might say, He calls all who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. And if we were to ask: How do you know if you are called? You will know that you are called if you are following the Good Shepherd.
Picture a big bunch of children playing in a park. They are swinging on swings and spinning on roundabouts. They are sliding down slides. A mother shows up and calls out ‘Johnny! Suzie!’ Are all the children going to come running to the woman? No, only those who belong to her come running and follow her home. Only those who belong to Jesus come when He calls. And He calls them by name and they follow Him. The Father, before the foundation of the world, has predestined these ones to hear His call. He has appointed them to life beforehand. And He calls them out of their sin and spiritual darkness into the kingdom of the Son of His love. God calls them at His good pleasure, i.e., when the time is acceptable to Him. Now, this is not to say that God does not call all who hear His Gospel. We are talking about God’s effective call remember.
The effective call of God is an inner call. But there is also an outer call of God that comes with it. It’s this outer call of God that sometimes falls on deaf ears (though there may be something resembling a response in some people). But this is not to say that there is anything wrong with the outer call of God. No, the problem is all to do with the recipient of that outer call. You see, all mankind is in a state of rebellion against God. Which is to say that everyone has turned a deaf ear to God. As the Apostle says in Romans 3:12, “‘They have all turned aside…’” The same Apostle says in Romans 1:18 that they “…suppress the truth in unrighteousness…” It’s like the man driving his car who hears something clanging in the engine – a warning rattle – and turns up the radio to drown out the noise! And so men remain in a state of sin and death in which they are by nature. Even if the warning of the judgment to come sounds in his ear, and grace and salvation are offered to him in Jesus Christ, he remains deaf, even turning a deaf ear to it!
However, when you read the Parable of the Sower you see that there are some who seem to hear, but the Devil comes and robs the Word from their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. And there are others who receive the word with joy, but as seed on a rock has no root, they believe for a while and in a time of temptation fall away. Then there are those who, like the seed getting choked with thorns and thistles, are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and so bring no fruit to maturity. But this is not the case with God’s elect; those who belong to Christ and have been redeemed by His shed blood. They receive His word like good ground receives seed. They keep the seed and bear fruit with patience. But it’s all to do with grace – God’s special grace.
As there is God’s Common Grace and there is God’s Special Grace, so there is God’s outward call to all, and there is God’s inner call to His elect. But in order for the call to be effective the Holy Spirit must work savingly in the person’s heart. Again, this is not to say that there are not some people who hear the Gospel and respond in a somewhat positive manner. They may even show some common operation of the Spirit. But the problem is that they never truly come to Christ. And if you don’t come to Christ you cannot be saved.
There are lots of religious people in the world today. But even if they were to live what appears to be a wholesome or moral life – even if they kept perfectly all the statutes of the religion they profess – they would still be lost. The Apostle Paul was the perfect or model Pharisee. But all his religious works counted as nothing when it came to salvation. Why? Because a person must come to Christ in order to be saved.
“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12. To say that there are ways to be saved other than by Jesus Christ is unbiblical and therefore wrong. Christ’s Spirit with Christ’s Word must work savingly in your heart before you can be saved.
How God Calls
The Apostle says, that in our natural state of sin and death our understanding is darkened, Eph. 4:18. Therefore if we are to understand the things of God revealed in the Gospel, our minds would need to be illuminated. This is what God does to those He has predestined when He calls them. He enlightens their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God – spiritual things. He does this by His Spirit working with the Word in the person’s mind. It’s kind of like opening the curtains to let the light flood into a dark room and rid it of its darkness. Or it’s like opening the window to let the fresh air come into the room to rid it of its stagnant staleness.
As the Psalmist says of the LORD, “In Your light we see light.” As the Prophet Ezekiel says, “So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them…” Ezekiel 37:10a. As Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” John 3:7&8.
That’s what happens when the Holy Spirit enlightens your mind spiritually enabling you to understand the things of God. He regenerates you, bringing you new birth. He causes you to be born again. And He removes your old hard and calloused heart, and gives you a new soft heart of flesh. You, who were once like hard bitumen, become pliable in the Lord’s hands, like tar in the sun. He gives you a new nature.
Yet you are passive in this renewing, regenerating process. It is the Holy Spirit who is acting upon you as a surgeon operates on an unconscious patient. Like Lazarus in the tomb you are unable to awaken yourself. But when the Spirit operates on you He enables you to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. No longer do you enjoy wallowing in the mire of sin as you used to enjoy it, because sin is death and the stench of death clings to it. He has given you a new nature. And He renews your will by His almighty power and turns you toward that which is good; like a seedling turns toward the light. And He effectively draws you to the voice, the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls you by His Gospel.
Once He regenerates you, by His grace He makes you want to – or will to – come to Jesus. Thus He converts you. Conversion is when you begin to willingly cooperate with the Spirit. In other words, you willingly do what He says, i.e., you repent of your sins and believe in His Gospel. Like the dry bones of Ezekiel 37, it is the Spirit who makes alive. And He doesn’t make you alive because of anything He has foreseen in you. You are just a bunch of dry bones! No, it’s purely and solely because of His grace that He regenerates you enabling you to answer His call. He is the One who empowers you to answer the call and receive the grace offered and conveyed in it and thus be converted.
The grace offered in the Gospel is a genuine offer. It is a free offer of free grace to all who hear it. For the Lord says, “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you—the sure mercies of David” Isaiah 55:1-3. And the Lord also says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
The call is as genuine as the offer of free grace. Jesus desires that you come to Him so that He may put His yoke upon you. A yoke is a device for coupling beasts of burden, such as oxen, together. A yoke is also a device that can be slung over a person’s shoulders with a pail dangling from each side. You have been unequally yoked to the Devil and he has been filling your pails with lead and heavy metals all your life – weighing you down. But Jesus is saying that if you come to Him He will empty your pails and make them light.
Those who come to Jesus will be able to straighten up like that woman whom Satan had kept bound and bent over for eighteen years till Jesus freed her! But there are those who don’t come when He calls. Why don’t they come? Well, as mentioned before, it’s because they are not His sheep. For His sheep hear His voice and they follow Him.
But what would happen if a person is in no physical or mental state to hear and heed God’s call? What about elect people who die in infancy? How are they called? And what about elect people who are mentally incapacitated or intellectually deficient? How are these effectually called?
When God Calls
The Holy Spirit had His Apostle write the following words in Romans 9:16: “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” When God effectively calls His elect He is showing mercy to Hell-deserving sinners: “For all have sinned and fall short of His glory” Romans 3:23. Therefore, whether you’re an infant in the womb or an octogenarian ready for the tomb, according to the Bible you are a sinner. And if you are a sinner, then you are deserving of God’s punishment for your sins.
It may be said that the longer we live the more we multiply our sins, but what about babies in the womb? What about those who have had hardly any time to multiply their sins? What about those who die in infancy? What about those who have been miscarried in the womb? How are these saved if they have been numbered among of the elect of God? Well, if it were true that a person can be saved by his own good works, (which is not true), then infants certainly cannot be saved by their own good works – having not had time to do any good works!
But the Bible is clear that any who are saved are saved by grace alone. A common misunderstanding at this point is that some people think we’re saved by faith. But we are not saved by faith. Rather we are saved by grace – God’s free grace! “For by grace you have been saved…” Ephesians 2:8a. To be sure it goes on to say, “For by grace you have been saved through faith…” But it is God who saves by His grace. Faith, though itself a gift of grace, is the instrument through which that salvation grace is conveyed to God’s elect. Therefore, it’s not your own intellectual understanding or your own intellectual assent to the fact of the Gospel that saves you. For that would be to put your own works ahead of God’s grace.
We’ve already mentioned that God has to regenerate you before you are able to exercise faith. In other words, regeneration is before conversion. Or to put it another way, God makes His elect spiritually alive before they know it. Conversion is that point where the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and we cry out “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15&16). And if God wants to effectively call you in the womb, (as He did with John the Baptist who leapt for joy in his mother’s womb), then that is God’s business. For God the Holy Spirit, like the wind, works when, where, and how He pleases. He is not restricted by a person’s lack of physical development.
Whether a person is underdeveloped in the womb or outside of it is no hindrance to God. To be sure, the Spirit ordinarily works with the Word. However, there are cases where some, it would seem, are unable to hear or comprehend the God’s Word. Exactly how the Spirit regenerates and converts them we’ll have to leave with God. But we should not deny the possibility that the Spirit brings the incapacitated elect person the Word in some way not revealed to us. But regardless, elect mentally deficient or incapacitated persons are saved, not by their understanding, but by God’s grace alone.
Think about it: Does a human being really need a brain before he can think? Be careful how you answer that, because a human being is far more than a brain on a pair of stilts! What about those human beings who are worshipping God in glory right now without their bodies? They are temporarily disembodied souls. Are they just paying God lip service in Heaven? Are they just going through the motions of worship? i.e., brainless worship? Are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob not in glory worshipping God right now while waiting for the resurrection of their bodies? Well, if they are, and we believe they are, then infants and the intellectually stunted may indeed receive God’s saving grace even though they may not be able to express it publicly – like you and me.
And aren’t we the image of God right from the very moment of conception? And if not, at what point in life does a person become God’s image, (albeit a fallen image)? But we are the image of God from the moment of conception because we are human beings from the moment of conception, otherwise, what’s wrong with abortion on demand? And if we are human beings, and therefore are the image of God from the moment of our conception, then we have the Law of God written in our hearts. And if all human beings have God’s Moral Law written in their hearts from the moment of conception, then something of God’s Word is written in our hearts. And if some aspect of God’s Word is written in our hearts, then the Spirit of God can work with His Word whether it’s written in a Book, (i.e., the Bible), or in a human heart! Therefore we believe that the Spirit always works with His Word in the calling of His elect. But we believe that the Good Shepherd ordinarily calls His sheep by the preaching, or proclamation of His Gospel of salvation. But we see that there is hope for those who die in infancy or are mentally retarded.
Now, a question that usually accompanies any discussion pertaining to elect infants dying in infancy is this: If there are elect infants who die in infancy, does this mean that there are also non-elect infants who die in infancy?
Robert Burns wrote a well-known poem about a so-called Calvinist he calls Holy Willie. The poem is called Holy Willie’s Prayer. In the poem Burns rails against the view that every human being inherits Adam’s first sin, (i.e., the doctrine of Original Sin). In one of its verses he has Holy Willie pray:
When frae my mither’s womb I fell,
Thou might hae plungèd me in hell,
To gnash my gums, to weep and wail,
In burnin’ lakes,
Where damnèd devils roar and yell,
Chain’d to their stakes…
But do we find any Scriptural evidence of the stark picture Burns paints of an infant gnashing its gums in Hell? Well, some might say that this must be the case since all human beings are sinners, even infants. And there are those infants who have died in infancy. But there are those who have held to the exact opposite view, i.e., that all who die in infancy are saved, such as John Newton, Matthew Henry, Augustus Toplady, Robert Candlish, Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, W.G.T. Shedd, Robert Lewis Dabney, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Abraham Kuyper Snr., Herman Bavinck, and B.B. Warfield. The list goes on and on.
Dr Francis Nigel Lee has written an exhaustive dissertation on this very subject called: Dying Saved In Infancy: Are Any Dying Babies Lost? http://www.dr-fnlee.org/ Lee carefully sweeps through the Scriptures from beginning to end demonstrating that there indeed is Biblical evidence that all who die in infancy are elect. The Baptist Confession of 1689 boldly declares that all who die in infancy are saved!
The Calvinist Charles Hodge says, “It is… the general belief of Protestants, contrary to the doctrine of Romanists and Romanizers, that all who die in infancy are saved.” (Systematic Theology Vol. 1 p. 27). So we see, according to Charles Hodge, that the Reformed or Calvinists generally hold the view that all who die in infancy go to Heaven. Therefore Calvinists generally don’t believe the Scriptures teach that there are any infants gnashing their gums in Hell! (See my own Are All Who Die In Infancy Saved? in Kindle Books.)
To be sure the safest place for a person to begin the study of this issue would be with the view that unless the Bible reveals it, we don’t know one way or the other. But I’ve yet to read anything in the Bible proving that any who have died in infancy are in Hell. And again, I remind you that the Spirit works, when, where, and how He pleases. Therefore He is able to save all the elect without exception before they die; and He does!
Above, we’ve seen who God calls. There’s a general outward call that goes out to everyone who hears the Gospel. But, we’ve noted that His call is effective only in those sheep that belong to the Good Shepherd. Therefore all His sheep will be saved, including those sheep that die in infancy, or are mentally incapacitated. For how much more incapacitated can a person be than Lazarus who was four days dead in a tomb? But his physical condition was no hindrance whatsoever to Him who effectively called him back to life!
And we’ve seen how God calls His elect. He calls them by His Word and Spirit working effectively in their hearts. The Spirit transplants their hard stony hearts with a soft fleshly heart. As this operation takes place they become pliable through their regeneration which leads to and always brings with it conversion. When fully converted the convert is able, by the Spirit of adoption, to cry out to God, “Abba, Father” Romans 8:15. And we’ve also seen when God calls. He calls in His appointed and accepted time. But whether it’s when they are still in the womb or ready for the tomb, He never fails to effectively call all His elect.
And He is calling you and me even now. For He says in His Word, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” 2 Corinthians 6:2b.
Have you not heard His Word? And does not “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” Romans 10:17. Therefore repent by turning your back on your sins, and put your faith in the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, for salvation. For God is calling you!