Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
~ Isaiah 41:9, Romans 8:28 & 30, Romans 1:6, Ephesians 4:4, Hebrews 9:15
Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
~ 1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Corinthians 1:9, Romans 9:24, 2 Peter 1:10
These (the beast and the wicked) shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.
~ Revelation 17:14, 1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 19:9
For many are called, but few are chosen. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
~ Matthew 22:14, Matthew 7:14
Effectual Calling, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
As we now proceed to consider in detail what exactly it is the Holy Spirit does to us in the application of redemption, I would remind you that I am not insisting that the order which I shall follow is of necessity the right one, and certainly not of necessity the chronological one.
‘So how do you arrive at your order?’ asks someone. My answer is that I mainly try to conceive of this work going on within us from the standpoint of God in eternity looking down upon men and women in sin. That is the way that appeals to me most of all; it is the way that I find most helpful. That is not to detract in any way from experience or the experiential standpoint. Some would emphasise that and would have their order according to experience, but I happen to be one of those people who is not content merely with experience. I want to know something about that experience; I want to know what I am experiencing and I want to know why I am experiencing it and how it has come about. It is the child who is content merely with enjoying the experience. If we are to grow in grace and to go forward and exercise our senses, as the author of the epistle to the Hebrews puts it ( Heb. 5:14 ), then we must of necessity ask certain questions and be anxious to know how the things that have happened to us really have come to take place.
My approach therefore is this: there is the truth of the gospel, and we have seen already that it is a part of the work of the Holy Spirit to see that that truth is proclaimed to all and sundry. That is what we called the general call — a kind of universal offer of the gospel. Then we saw that though the external or general call comes to all, to those who will remain unsaved as well as to those who are saved, obviously some new distinction comes in, because some are saved by it. So the question we must now consider is: What is it that establishes the difference between the two groups?
And the way to answer that question, it seems to me, is to say that the call of the gospel, which has been given to all, is effectual only in some. Now there is a portion of Scripture which is a perfect illustration of this. The followers of Christ who were even described as ‘disciples’ were divided up into two groups. One group decided that they would never listen to Him again. They left Him and went home. And when He turned to the others and said, ‘Will ye also go away?’ Peter said, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the word of eternal life’ ( John 6:67–68 ). The one group disbelieved and went home, the others, who had heard exactly the same things, stayed with Him, wanted to hear more, and rejoiced in it. What makes the difference? It is that the word was effectual in the case of the saved in a way that it was not effectual in the case of the unsaved who refused it.
This, then, is something that is quite obvious. We can say that in addition to the external call there is this effectual call, and that what makes anybody a saved person and a true Christian is that the call of the gospel has come effectually. Let me give you some scriptures that establish that. The first, Romans 8:28–39 , is a great statement of this very thing. ‘We know,’ says Paul, ‘that all things work together for good to them that love God … ’ Not to everybody but ‘ to them that love God ’. Who are they? ‘To them who are called according to his purpose,’ and Paul goes on: ‘For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.’ The saved are described as those who are called . And they have been called in a way that the others have not. That is, therefore, a scriptural statement of this effectual call.
Then, another one is to be found in 1 Corinthians 1:2 . It is a statement that you will find in other places as well: ‘Unto the church of God which is at Corinth to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints …’. it is not simply that they are called saints, they are called to be saints. And then, in that same chapter, the Apostle repeats it. He says, ‘We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness’ — then notice — ‘but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God’ ( 1 Cor. 1:23– 24 ). Now there are people to whom the preaching of Christ is foolishness; they are the unsaved. But the saved he again describes as those who are called .
And let me give you one other example. Take that great statement made by the apostle Peter: ‘But ye,’ he says, referring to Christian believers, ‘are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light’ ( 1 Pet. 2:9–10 ). God has called them out, and because they are the saved, He has called them effectually. The call of the gospel has gone to many others but they are not the people Peter is talking about. He is talking about these people who correspond to Israel after the flesh in the Old Testament. He applies to them the very terminology that was applied to the Children of Israel, just as the Ten Commandments and the moral law were given to them. Peter uses the same words — they are the called, the ‘Israel of God’, called to show forth His praises. Now it is obvious therefore that in these people the call has been effectual; that is the teaching of these scriptures.
But there is another argument which states this perfectly. What is the meaning of the term church ? We are members of the Christian Church. But what is it — what does it mean? What is the connotation of the term? Well, the word church translates the Greek word, ecclesia ; and the ecclesia means the ‘called forth ones’. A church is a gathering of people who have been called forth, called out, separated out as the result of this call. As Peter puts it: ‘Who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light’. That is the meaning of this term church . And therefore that very word in and of itself is sufficient to establish the statement that there obviously is such a thing as an effectual call, because the same message has gone to others but they have been called from the world into the Church.
What, then, is the difference between the external call and this call which has become effectual? And the answer must be that this call is an internal, a spiritual call. It is not merely something that comes to a person from the outside — it does that, of course, but in addition to that external call which comes to all, there is an internal call which comes to those who are going to be Christians, and it is an effectual call. The contrast, therefore, is between external, and internal and spiritual.
Now I want to go even further and again give you scriptural proofs of the fact that there is such an internal and spiritual call. We have only looked at it in general in the scriptures that I have given you so far, they are simply designations, descriptions. So I want to give you scriptures which specifically state that this is something that happens within; and first of all I go to the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. Incidentally, this particular doctrine is taught much more clearly, if I may use such a comparison, by John than it is by the apostle Paul. People sometimes tend to think that this is a doctrine conjured up only in Paul’s mind, but it is much more evident in John’s Gospel and particularly in this great sixth chapter.
Here, in verse 45 , is one statement of it: ‘It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God.’ That is it; God gave the prophet this information and he recorded it. There will be certain people who shall be taught by God Himself, not taught by men only but in addition to that taught by God, taught by the Spirit. Some internal work is going to take place. ‘Every man, therefore, that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me’ (v. 45 ). You see the people who come to Christ are those who have been taught of God, who have learned of the Father by the Spirit, and they alone. Now that is a crucial statement. But our Lord repeats it later on in verses 63–65 . His listeners have stumbled at His words and He says to them, ‘It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit and they are life. But,’ He says, ‘there are some of you that believe not.’ And John adds, ‘For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.’ They had responded to the external call and thought that they were Christians. Here it becomes evident that they were not; they had never been taught of God. They had held on to the shell, the external word, and they had not got the Spirit. John continues, ‘And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.’ And the Father had not given it to these people so they did not come and they went home. But He had given it to the others, so they remained and they rejoiced in it. That is a proof that there is this spiritual, this internal call. And that is what makes the call effectual. Or take another statement. It is from Ephesians 1:17 . Paul prays for the Ephesians ‘That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him’ In other words we cannot have knowledge of Him unless He gives us the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation — they are absolutely essential. And that was why Paul prayed that they might have the Spirit, it was in order that they might grow increasingly in this knowledge of God. Without this work of the Spirit we cannot attain unto such knowledge. Or again, in Ephesians 2:8 , we read, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.’ And then, of course, there is Philippians 2:12–13 , where Paul says the same thing: ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do …’ God does an internal work and it is as the result of that that we are enabled ‘to will and to do of his good pleasure’.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 , Paul makes a most important statement in this connection: ‘For our Gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.’ Now if you read that epistle, especially the first two chapters, you will find that the Apostle goes on repeating that statement in different ways. He says that they received the word that came to them ‘not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God’ ( 1 Thess. 2:13 ). But what did he mean when he said ‘For our gospel came not unto you in word only’? It did come in words, of course, the Apostle was speaking, but that was not the thing that had turned those idolatrous Thessalonians into saints. What was it, then? It was that it had come ‘in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance’. It is this internal work that turns people from sinners into saints; this is preaching in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
And, indeed, the Apostle makes a very similar statement in 2 Timothy 2:25 . Here he is telling the young Timothy how to handle certain people who were opposing him. ‘In meekness,’ he says, ‘instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.’ Timothy, says Paul, I want you to instruct these people who are opposing you and my reason for doing so is this: it is not to suggest to you that you by your arguments or logic can convince them. If God does not do this work in them, they will never acknowledge the truth, but if God does work, they will acknowledge it. Indeed there is a statement that we can find more than once in the Gospels and which we have already quoted, which really says it all in one phrase: ‘Many are called, but few are chosen’ ( Matt. 22:14 ). Take that especially in its context of the wedding feast. ‘Many are called’ — that is the external call — ‘but few are chosen’ — that is the effectual call.
So then, the next step which we take is this: we have seen that the Scripture teaches that the saved are the effectually called and that they are effectually called because of the work that goes on within them. ‘But,’ someone may say, ‘why all this?’ And the answer is that this is absolutely essential. Without this work within, no one would ever become a Christian; it is an utter necessity. Let me give you my proof for that. ‘For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit’ ( Rom. 8:5 ). Now the Revised Standard Version puts it like this: ‘They that are after the flesh are interested in the things of the flesh and they that are after the Spirit, or in the Spirit, are interested in the things of the Spirit.’ But the natural man or woman — those ‘after the flesh’ — are not interested in the things of the Spirit at all. They find them dull and boring and uninteresting. They regard them as a waste of time and they hate them. But they that are after the Spirit are interested in the things of the Spirit: ‘For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because’ — and this is the final argument — ‘the carnal mind is enmity against God’ (vv. 6–7 ).
Now that is a very strong statement but it is true. Men and women, as they are by nature as the result of the fall, are at enmity against God. ‘The carnal mind … is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God’ (vv. 7–8 ). To me that is a final statement. Men and women by nature are opposed to God; they hate God and they are not interested in Him, neither are they interested in the things of God. From that statement of the Apostle I deduce that the internal work of the Spirit is an absolute necessity before anyone can possibly believe in the gospel of God and accept it and rejoice in it.
However, let us go on and consider other statements to the same effect. Take the famous statement in 1 Corinthians 2:14 : ‘But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ That is a categorical statement, but do not suddenly become a philosopher and say, ‘Well, if that is true I do not understand this and that.’ No, let us face the statements of Scripture. We are dealing with things beyond our understanding. We are dealing with the inscrutable purposes of God, and if we are going to be foolish enough to put up our understandings or our philosophy against these categorical statements, then we deserve to remain in darkness. We must not approach the Scripture with such a conceit of ourselves that we think we can understand everything — we cannot. ‘Great is the mystery of godliness’ ( 1 Tim. 3:16), and especially in this matter. But here is the statement that the natural man or woman not only does not receive it, but cannot receive it because these things are spiritually understood, judged and discerned.
Then there is the statement in 2 Corinthians 4:3–4 : ‘If our gospel be hid,’ says Paul, and it is quite clear that the gospel is hid to certain people; they hear it like everybody else but they see nothing in it, they do not want it, they blaspheme it, they treat it with scorn. ‘If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.’ And who are they? They are the people, ‘In whom the god of this world’ — the devil — ‘hath blinded the minds of them which believe not,’ lest they believe this glorious gospel. Could anything be plainer? They cannot believe because Satan has blinded their minds ‘lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them’ ( 2 Cor. 4:4 ).
And then, finally, we find the statement in Ephesians 2:1 : ‘And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins’ — dead! You cannot have anything stronger than that; that is their position spiritually. All these are statements to prove the absolute necessity of this internal work of the Spirit before the call — the external, general call of the gospel — can possibly be effectual.
So, then, what is this effectual, internal call that we are speaking about? Well, the most we can say about it is — and this must of necessity be true in the light of these scriptures — that it is the exercise of the power of the Holy Spirit in the soul. It is a direct operation of the Holy Spirit within us. It is immediate, it is spiritual, it is supernatural, miraculous. And what it does is to make a new mode of spiritual activity possible within us. Without this operation we are incapable of any true spiritual activity but as the result of this operation of the Holy Spirit upon us, we are rendered capable, for the first time, of spiritual activity and that is how this call now becomes effectual, that is what enables us to receive it.
Now this is very important and I want to emphasise the immediacy, the direct action. You see, what happens when the call comes to men and women effectually is not simply that the moral influence of the truth is exercised upon them. Some people have thought that; they have said that the gospel is preached and that the truth has a kind of general moral effect upon people. For instance, to take a human theme, a capable orator, a man wanting to persuade men and women to vote at an election for a given party, can put the case so well that he can exercise a moral influence upon his listeners. But it is not that. It is an operation of the Spirit upon the men and women themselves, in the depths. It is not merely that the Holy Spirit heightens our natural faculties and powers, it is more than that. It is the Spirit acting upon the soul from within and producing within us a new principle of spiritual action.
Now it must be that; it cannot be less than that. Because these things, says Paul, are all spiritual. And that is why the natural man does not understand them; and that is why, as I have often reminded you, we should never be surprised, or to the slightest extent disappointed or put out, when somebody brings us the argument that ‘Christianity cannot be right because look at this great man and he doesn’t believe it!’ How often have you heard that argument! Someone says, ‘You know, I cannot believe this, because if Christianity were true, it could not be possible that all these philosophers and scientists and all these great statesmen and other men do not believe it.’
In the light of these things, it is very natural and we can understand it perfectly well. The greatest natural intellect cannot receive this, he is ‘a natural man’. And you need a spiritual faculty to receive the wonderful truth about the two natures in the one Person; the outstanding doctrine about the Trinity; the whole doctrine of the incarnation and the atonement, and so on. This is spiritual truth and to the natural person it is utter folly, it is foolishness, as Paul says. So when the Holy Spirit does enable us to believe it, it must be something beyond the heightening of our natural faculties. It is not simply that He brings the truth of His great moral suasion to us. No, no. We need some new faculty, some new principle, and that is the very work that He does. He implants within us this new spiritual principle, this principle of spiritual vitality and activity, and it is as the result of this that the general call of the gospel comes to us in an effectual manner.
So, then, let me again give you some scriptural proofs of this, because I do have them. You will find a practical illustration in Acts 16:14 . Here is Paul, preaching in the town of Philippi. It is a very crucial passage for us because it was the Apostle’s first visit to Europe and it was the first time that the Christian gospel was ever preached there. And do not forget that the first convert that the Christian gospel obtained in Europe was a woman called Lydia. She was the first person in the history of Europe to whom the call of the gospel came. How did it happen? We are told: ‘A certain women named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us’ — as many others did. The Apostle sat down and preached the word. There was the external call; he told them the gospel, the facts about the Lord Jesus Christ and the meaning of the facts. He said all this and we are told that among those listening was a woman called Lydia and that she heard this, as many have heard the gospel preached in a church or a chapel but have gone home in an unbelieving condition and have died as unbelievers. What was it, then, that made the difference with Lydia? Notice! ‘… whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.’
Now there it is perfectly. The word is preached, yes, but people do not pay attention to it. They look at one another while it is being preached, or they write in their books or they recite poetry to themselves or they are smiling at one another. In a sense they hear it, but they do not attend to it and you cannot be saved until you attend to it. What made Lydia attend? The answer is, ‘ whose heart the Lord opened ’. The Lord put something in her heart, this internal work, and the result of that was that she paid attention, and she saw the gospel and received it. The external call became the internal call, the general became effectual. She believed and was baptised and also her household. It is unmistakable — it was the Lord opening her heart that made the difference; but for that, she would never have believed.
And then, of course, we have a great theological statement in 1 Corinthians 2:10– 15 . Paul has just been saying that the princes of this world do not know God’s secret wisdom, ‘for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory’ (v. 8 ). The princes had heard about these things but they had not believed. But we believe, says Paul. Why? What is the difference between us and the princes of the world? It is this: ‘But’ — and there is the contrast —‘God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so’ — notice this — ‘the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.’ No man can know them, it is the Spirit of God alone who can know them. ‘Now we have received’ — we the believers, the Christians — ‘we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God’ — Why? — ‘that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual’ — and we are that, thank God — ‘judgeth’ — discerns, understands — ‘all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.’
And again I could refer you to Ephesians 1:18 and to 1 Thessalonians 1:5 once more, and to Philippians 2:13 . In other words, there are proofs positive of this statement that it is the internal operation of the Holy Spirit upon the soul and the heart of men and women that brings them into a condition in which the call can become effectual. And when the Spirit does it, of course, it is absolutely certain, and because of that some people have used the term — which I do not like myself — irresistible grace . I do not like the term because it seems to give the impression that something has happened which has been hammering at a person’s will and has knocked him down and bludgeoned him. But it is not that. It is that the Holy Spirit implants a principle within me which enables me, for the first time in my life, to discern and to apprehend something of this glorious, wondrous truth. He works upon my will. ‘It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do.’ He does not strike me; He does not beat me; He does not coerce me. No, thank God, what He does is operate upon my will so that I desire these things and rejoice in them and love them. He leads, He persuades, He acts upon my will in such a way that when He does, the call of the gospel is effectual, and it is certain, and it is sure. God’s work never fails, and when God works in a man or woman, the work is effective.
So let me plead with you to consider those great passages of Scripture that I have put before you. Study them, pray over them, meditate with them. And as you do so, I think you will agree with me that there is only one thing to say and it is this:
A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing.
I am what I am by the grace of God and by that alone.