The Doctrines of Grace, Part Four: The Effectual and Gracious Calling of God Unto Salvation

Because we are by our current nature sinful and depraved, unable to please God, the fact that He effectually calls us to salvation is an integral part of the Gospel. A totally corrupt nature requires a completely gracious work of God to cleanse, regenerate, and transform us into new creatures in Christ (Jer. 17:9; 2 Cor. 5:11-21). This logical connection is part of the reason why the Third and Fourth Heads of the Canons of Dort are treated together; the Fourth Head roughly deals with Articles 8 to 17.

This doctrine has often been called “Irresistible Grace,” because this term emphasizes the complete, sovereign work of God in our salvation. His work is monergistic - that is, He alone performs the work of salvation. We do not work out our own salvation along with God’s help - that would be termed synergism.

God has proclaimed His Gospel forth to all peoples - to every tribe, tongue, and nation (cf. Rev. 5). “As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what is acceptable to Him, namely, that those who are called should come unto Him. He also seriously promises rest of soul and eternal life to all who come to Him and believe,” remarks the Canons of Dort 3/4:8. Missionaries, preachers, evangelists, and the normal believer living his everyday life among his neighbors all share these Good News because this is the wonderful means that God has instituted to call out His elect. It is not that we have to somehow figure out who are “the elect” and then give them the Gospel - no, this general call of God is to all men.

The call goes out - and God brings new spiritual life to those whom He is pleased to call to Himself. He gives these people faith and repentance, that they may believe upon Christ, be delivered from the power of darkness, and become citizens of God’s Kingdom, so that they may declare forth His praise for all eternity (CD 3/4:10). How does this happen, from our perspective? Simple: we trust in Christ alone and cast all our sins and cares upon Him. That is what God gave us as a wonderful free gift, even though we do not understand where and how our new birth through the Holy Spirit came from - just as Jesus said to Nicodemus about not knowing where the wind comes from and goes, yet we know and feel that it is there. (John 3; CD 3/4:13)

The Canons wonderfully describe this change God makes in our hearts: “by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit He pervades the inmost recesses of man; He opens the closed and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised; infuses new qualities into the will, which, though heretofore dead, He quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, He renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions” (CD 3/4:11; Isa. 44:3; Jer. 31:18, 33; Ezek. 36:26; Rom. 5:5). This work of regeneration is so powerful and mysterious that the Canons even compare it to God’s creation and to the resurrection of the dead (CD 3/4:12; Eph. 2:1-9).

Our faith is completely God’s gift because it is freely given to us through our regeneration. We do not exercise faith until God bestows it upon us - such is the freeness of this amazing blessing (CD 3/4:14; Eph. 1:19)! And God was not even obliged to give us this gift in the first place, because of our inherent evil and wickedness - so true faith produces gratitude and awe within us, that we may praise and thank God through all our lives, and through all eternity. Also, because we have this faith within us, we long to see our neighbors also trust in Christ and join with us in Christian fellowship. There is no reason for us to feel proud of ourselves and treat them with contempt, for we did not receive the faith that we have (which might also be given to them in due time!) through our own efforts but solely through God’s grace (CD 3/4:15; Rom. 9:16; 1 Cor 4:7; Phil. 2:13).

One common caricature of the Doctrines of Grace is that this teaching makes us robots, moving every which way solely according to God’s rigid decree and fatalistic will, powerless to make our own choice in the matter (as if we were somehow in a “neutral” state to decide). This is a crass oversimplification of how God’s grace works upon us. As the Canons say, “this grace of regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor take away their will and its properties….” (CD 3/4:16; 2 Pet. 1:3). On the contrary, we who once delighted in willfully rebelling against God are now changed to loving Him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength (cf. Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). We freely delight in our Creator and Savior, and we have been restored to the fellowship with God that man formerly enjoyed before he fell into sin.

How does God most commonly perform His work of regeneration and preservation of our faith? Through the use of means, the faithful means of reading Scripture and being under the influence of the preached Word, the administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline. God has, ordinarily speaking, intimately joined together His marvelous work of salvation with most human and ordinary means; thus, the Church needs to be very precious to us (CD 3/4:17). This is why Cyprian (3rd century) said, “There is no salvation outside the Church,” because he recognized that the Church is where God ordinarily performs His saving work.

Anyone who desires to seek God, let him come to the Church gathered together in its local form and see the Lord at work. As a Father He tenderly cares for His children and carries His lambs in His bosom, keeping them safe all the way through their pilgrimage upon this earth…….