The Effectual Calling of God
June 5th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
THE EFFECTUAL CALLING OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-5-83 10:50 a.m.
The title of the message in the published bulletin here is: The Bible Kind Of Salvation. It is actually a sermon on election, on the calling and choosing of God. And as a background text—not as an expository passage, but as a background text, I read Romans 9, verses 15 and 16. Romans 9:15-16:
For the Lord said to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.
If we are saved, we are saved by His mercy [Titus 3:5] and by His grace [Ephesians 2:8-9], not by our deserving or by our striving. It is God who saves us and God alone [John 3:16, Acts 4:12]. Our salvation begins in Him, not in us. The initiation is in His mercy, in His elective choice, in His calling, in His will [Romans 9:15-16].
We are saved in His grace [Ephesians 2:8]. The Scriptures say such, as in Ephesians 2:1: “All of us are dead in trespasses and in sins.” We are corpses in God’s sight, in the presence of His holiness. We are dead; we are corpses; we are dead. We are born in that death; we are born in sin [Psalm 51:5]—even conceived in sin [Psalm 51:5]. All of our propensities and affinities flow in the direction of sin. We are by nature set in a fallen direction.
Have you ever stood by the mighty Niagara? The great river falls over that precipice. It naturally does; it is uncoerced; it falls by nature. It cannot rise, it does not rise—it falls. And each drop of water pushes the other over the rim of that great fall. We are set in a fallen direction. Jeremiah 6:7 says we are like a fountain gushing forth water, a fountain of wickedness, all of us.
I am bound, paralyzed between two steel rails: one, my fleshly lusts and the other, my fallen will. And I stand in the path of an inevitable judgment, inexorable death. I’m like a man paralyzed between two steel rails. And thundering down upon me is a great chain of cars. I can look at that locomotive and seek to argue with it, “You’re going too fast!” or, “You’re following too precisely these rails!” or, “Don’t you have pity or understanding or sympathy?” The only thing I can do is to drop, is to fall flat on my face as the great juggernaut rolls over me. I cannot save myself. I, with you—we are dead by nature in trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1]. We are corpses before the holiness of God and a corpse cannot raise itself, it is dead. A corpse cannot will itself to be born anew; it is dead. A corpse cannot raise itself to a quickened life, it is dead.
And I can stand and preach to a dead corpse and say, “Don’t you see?” But a corpse doesn’t see. And I can lift up my voice and say to a dead corpse, “Don’t you understand?” But, a dead corpse does not understand. And I can say to a dead corpse, “Don’t you hear?” But a dead corpse does not hear. It cannot will itself to a quickened life. It cannot choose; it cannot see; it cannot hear; it cannot think; it cannot understand; it is dead!
We are shut up, like Nicodemus, to the power of the generating Spirit of God to born us anew [John 3:1-6]. We are shut up, like Lazarus, in the tomb to the power of Christ to raise us from the dead [John 11:39-44]. We are shut up, like those dry bones in the vision of Ezekiel in Chapter 37: “O breath of God, breathe upon these dry bones” [Ezekiel 37:4-10].
The initiation of our salvation, of our calling, of our regeneration, of our new birth, of our salvation is in God and not in us. Consequently, our new birth, our regeneration, our calling is a gift of God. It comes in the mercy and grace of heaven; “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, God saves us,” so Paul wrote in Titus 3:5. If I am saved, if I am regenerated, if I ever see God’s face in heaven, it is because of His election, His mercy, His grace, His effective call [Romans 9:25,Ephesians 2:8].
Up there in heaven, I look down into the abyss, into the burning hell of those who have committed just the sins that I have committed. But they are in damnation, and I am with God in heaven. Oh, the grace [Ephesians 2:8] and the mercy [Titus 3:5] of our Lord that reached down even to me. I deserve to be damned but God has had mercy upon me.
A monument of grace,
A sinner saved by blood.
The streams of love I trace
Up to their fountain, God.
And in his mighty breast
I see eternal thoughts
Of love for me.
[“Ready, Aye, Ready”; C.H. Spurgeon]
It is God who saves me. That is not an afterthought of the Lord. In Ephesians 1:4: “According as God hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children” [Ephesians 1:4-5].
And as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1: “Elect, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” [1 Peter 1:2]. It is not an advantitious, a peripheral, an afterthought thing that God has done. Before He threw these worlds out into space, God knew us [Ephesians 1:4], called us by our names [John 10:3], and wrote them in the Lamb’s Book of Life in heaven [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12,15, 21:27]. “Foreordained before the foundation of the world” [1 Peter 1:20], the mercy of God extended toward us. All of these steps, and all of these virtues, and all of these glories of our salvation are in Him. He has done it, God has done it.
In the sixth chapter of the Book of John, it is Jesus who has chosen us. John 6:37: “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me.” In verse 44: “No man can come to Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him” [John 6:44]. In verse 65: “Therefore said I unto thee, no man can come unto Me, except it were given to him of the Father” [John 6:65]. And in that great high priestly prayer of John 17: “As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to whom to as many as Thou has given Him” [John 17:2]. In the sixth verse: “Thou gavest them Me” [John 17:6]. In the ninth verse: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou has given Me; for they are Thine” [John 17:9]. It is God who reaches down, to save us in His grace [Ephesians 2:8], in His mercy [Titus 3:5], in His elective choice [Romans 9:25].
In the fifth chapter of the Book of Acts, we are introduced to a great truth: when I repent, my repentance is a gift of God. In the fifth chapter of Acts, 31: God, who exalted the Lord Jesus, a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance. He gives repentance to Israel; and the Holy Ghost, whom God gives “to them that obey Him” [Acts 5:31, 32].
In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts: God gave them, says Simon Peter, to us Gentiles: “God gave them the like gift as He did unto us” [Acts 11:17]. And “When they heard these things, they glorified God, saying, Then God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” [Acts 11:18]. God did it, God gives the heart repentance: the spirit of turning [Acts 11:17]. We are by faith receiving the gift of God, and that faith is a gift from God Himself [Ephesians 2:8-9].
In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts: “God giving them the Holy Spirit,” in their hearts, purifying their hearts by faith [Acts 15:8-9]. The faith that purifies us is a gift of God. In the Book of Romans, chapter 12: “This I say, through the grace given, to every man… God deals to every man the measure of faith” [Romans 12:3]. Our faith is a gift of God. Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace are you saved—
by grace, the goodness and mercy of God—
by grace are you saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God—
it comes from God—
not of works—
lest any man say, “I did it, look at me! Look at me, I achieved my salvation, I did it!”
Not of works, lest any man should boast.
[Ephesians 2:8, 9]
Our salvation, our calling, our regeneration, our quickening, our being presented someday to heaven is a mercy, and a gift, and a grace of God. Now when I read this in the Bible, I look in my heart. Is it confirmed in my experience? It is, and not only in mine, but in every man who has ever come to know Jesus as his Savior; a man or a woman, every one of us. When we look back into our experience, our experience confirms what the Bible avows: that it was God who touched me, it was God who called me, it was God who reached for me, and it was God who saved me. It was His mercy [Titus 3:5] and His grace [Ephesians 2:8] that I came to know Jesus as my Savior, and in Him I was born anew [John 3:3-7].
I look back over the years of my own life. One of the young men with whom I went to school in high school, twice he was sent to the penitentiary; and the last time, one of the convicts took a baseball bat and beat his brains out. He grew up in a beautiful Christian home, as I did. Why was it I was called, and the grace of God touched me? Oh, the mercy of the dear Lord in heaven!
In my home, there grew up with me my brother, two years younger than I. I felt called of God to be a pastor when I was a small child in the elementary school. Why didn’t he hear the call? He never did, I did; God called me, and I heard it.
In my home, my mother taught me to say, when I was a little child, when people would put their hands on my head and say, “Son, what you going to be when you grow old, when you get grown?” My mother—my mother’s father was a physician. He was a physician in the Confederate Army, my mother’s father was a doctor. She taught me to say, when I was a little bitty kid, “What you going to do when you grow up?” She taught me to say, “I’m going to be a doctor, like my grandfather.” My father and mother were deeply disappointed when I gave my life as a child to be a preacher.
I love the medical profession. When I was in Baylor, I took half a dozen premed courses, made the highest grades in all six of them; I loved it. I love a physician because of the marvelous open door he has to witness for Christ. But I disappointed my father and mother when I avowed: “God has called me, and I have given my life to that call of heaven.” God did it! In the story of in 1 Samuel, old Eli and the little boy Samuel lived in the same tent, in the tabernacle of the Lord. But it was the little boy that heard the call of God; Eli did not hear it, he did! [1 Samuel 3:1-9]. It is in the mercy [Titus 3:5] and grace of our Lord [Ephesians 2:8] that we’re chosen, elected, called [Romans 8:30]. It is God in His mercy that does it. And every man’s experience will confirm the avowal of the Holy Scriptures.
When we move toward God, we later learn God first moved toward us. When we love and trust the Lord Jesus, we learn later that it was He who first loved us [1 John 4:19]. When we answer the call of God, we later learn it was God who first called us [Romans 8:30].
Those old, great hymns of the long ago were just like that. Isaac Watts; you sang a song by Isaac Watts just a moment ago: “Alas! And did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die . . .” Isaac Watts wrote this hymn, in 1748:
Why was I made to hear Thy voice
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come.
T’was the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly forced me in;
Else I had still refused to taste,
And perished in my sin.
Pity the nations, O, our Lord!
Constrain the world to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the wanderers home.
[“How Sweet and Awesome is the Place,” Isaac Watts]
In like manner, long years ago, Josiah Conder wrote this hymn:
‘Tis not that I did choose Thee;
For Lord, that could not be;
This heart would still refuse Thee
But Thou has chosen me.
Hast from the sin that stained me
Washed me and set me free.
And to this end ordained me
That I should live for Thee.
T’was sovereign mercy called me
And taught my opening mind
The world had else enthralled me,
To heavenly glory’s blind.
My heart owns none above Thee;
For Thy rich grace I thirst,
This knowing if I loved Thee
Thou must have loved me first.
[“Lord, ‘Tis Not that I Did Choose Thee,” Josiah Conder]
It is God who saves us! [John 3:16, Acts 4:12]. It is in His mercy that He reached down and touched us, and called us, and regenerated us, and saved us, and washed us, and cleansed us, and forgave us [Ephesians 1:7]. It’s God who did it!
I think of a man struggling in the river, and he goes down for the third time, unconscious. And he finds himself on the bank of the river, safe. And as he lies there and looks up, he says, “Great, wonderful. In my struggling, I made one last effort. And I threw myself on the bank. And I’m saved.”
But the explanation doesn’t satisfy the heart or the mind, does it? Instead, as he lies there on the bank, and he opens his eyes and awakens, he looks up into the face of a man standing over him, wet, exhausted from the struggle. And the man says, “I saw you struggling in the river, going down for the third time, and I rescued you.” That explanation satisfies my heart. I understand.
It is the same with my soul. When I say to my soul, “Soul, you did good, you strove, and you tried, and you struggled, and you worked, and you achieved, and you have saved yourself, somehow, it doesn’t satisfy my heart and it doesn’t satisfy my mind. But when I look up into the face of the Lord Jesus, and I say, “Lord, in Your mercy, and Your goodness, and Your grace and forgiveness, You did it, thank You, Lord, You did it; when I do that, it satisfies my heart and my mind. I have come into the great truth of the mercy and grace in the elective calling of God. And not only is that true when I look back through the years of my life, confirming what the Book says; but when I look forward to the age to come when with you, God’s blood-bought redeemed [Acts 20:28], I stand in heaven.
We have in the Revelation, the Apocalypse, the songs that we sing. What are they? Are they, “All glory to me, I did it!” or are the songs like this; Revelation 1:5: “Unto Him who loved me, and gave Himself for me, and washed me in His own blood . . . unto Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” [Revelation 1:5-6]. Or in that wonderful, wonderful song I love to hear our people sing, in Revelation 5: ”Worthy is the Lamb who hath redeemed us by His blood, out of every family and tribe and nation” [Revelation 5:9]. And the whole creation fell down and worshipped Him who liveth for ever and ever [Revelation 5:11-14].
It is God in His grace and in His mercy who saves us; there is an effectual calling of the Lord. There is a general call, an universal call. You find an illustration of it in Revelation 22:17, the last invitation of the Bible: “The Spirit and the bride say, Come”—The Holy Spirit of God and the church:
The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth repeat the glad refrain, just let the passer-by say, Come. Let him is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
There is a general call. There were thousands who heard Jesus in His day saying, “Come unto Me” [Matthew 11:28]. The general call: thousand heard Him. There are thousands who heard Martin Luther preach, John Chrysostom, Savanarola—thousands. There are uncounted thousands that heard George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. And there are thousands today who listen to these great evangelists like Billy Graham.
The general call; some of them heard and really heard. Some of them, in the day of Jesus, responded. Some of them did in the days of Luther, of Chrysostom. Some of them did in the days of Whitefield and Edwards. But the great vast majority of them refused. But some heard and some responded; the effectual call of God. It is so today; many, many hear, but some will always respond. In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, forty-eighth verse:
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord—
and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
As many as were “ordained” to eternal life believed [Acts 13:48].
Look again in 2 Thessalonians, chapter 2, beginning in verse 13 [2 Thessalonians 2:13]:
Brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation… whereunto He called you by our gospel.
[2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14]
There is a general call heard by thousands, most of whom will refuse; but there is an effectual call, an elective call, and there will always be some who respond with their lives. They hear God’s call and they answer in commitment, and in glory, and in gratitude, and in love, and in trust, and in faith. God always has His own; always.
As you so well know, I read Spurgeon, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great London preacher. I just read him all the time. When Spurgeon was twenty years old, he was pastor of the New Park Street Baptist Church in London, England. It seated 1,200 people, and when he came there, there were 85 in the congregation. Wasn’t long until the throngs couldn’t get in the house; they knocked out the back wall, rebuilt it, and they still couldn’t get in the house. One day he held his service out in the field. There were over 12,000 there, and the service ended with a vast multitude bursting into song; they just burst into singing.
And Spurgeon later wrote of that meeting, he wrote: “That night, I could understand better than ever before why the apostle John, in the Revelation, compared the new song in heaven to the sound of many waters. In that glorious hallelujah, the mighty waves of praise seemed to roll upward toward the sky in majestic wonder, even as the billows of the great ocean break upon the beach.”
A reading of the words of that sermon that was preached that night makes it easy to understand why the service just ended with hearts being raised heavenward in wonder and praise, just burst into song. He was preaching—and I dug up the sermon that he preached that night in that field, twenty years old; he was preaching on the text in Matthew 8:11: “Many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.” And the young preacher was glorying in the triumphs of grace. And here is what he said:
Oh, I love God’s “shalls” and “wills”; there is nothing comparable to them. Let a man say “shall”; what is it good for? “I will,” says a man and he never performs. ”I shall,” says he and he breaks his promise. But, it is never so with God’s “shalls.” If God says “shall,” it shall be. When God says “will,” it will be. Now, God has said here: “Many shall come.” The devil says: “They shall not come.” But, God says: “They shall come.” You yourselves say: “‘We won’t come.” God says: “You shall come.” Yes, there are some here who are laughing at salvation, who scoff at Christ and mock at the gospel, but I tell you, some of you shall yet come.
“What?” you say, “Can God make me become a Christian?”
I tell you, “Yes!” For herein rests the power of the gospel; it does not ask your consent, but it gets it. It does not say: “Will you have it?” But, it makes you willing in the day of God’s power.
You say, “I do not want to be saved.” Christ says, “You shall be saved.”
He makes your will turn around. And then, you cry, “Lord, save me or I perish.” Heaven then rejoices over you, because Christ has changed your will. If Jesus Christ were to stand on this platform tonight, what would many people do with Him? If He were to come and say: “Here I am, will you be saved by Me?” not one of you would consent, if you were left to your own will. Christ Himself said: “No man can come to Me except the Father who hath sent Me draw him.” Oh, we want that drawing and here we have it, “They shall come, they shall come!”
Ye may laugh. Ye may despise us. But, Jesus Christ shall not die in vain. If some of you reject Him, there are some that will not. If there are some that are not saved, others shall be. Christ shall see His seed. He shall prolong His days. And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hands. They shall come; they shall come, and naught in heaven, nor in earth, nor in hell can stop them from coming.
No wonder that vast throng burst into singing and to hallelujahs. The grace of God, the effectual calling of God. Do I want to be saved? Then I can be, I’m one of God’s elect. Do I want Jesus in my heart and in my life? Then, I can have Him, I am chosen in the Beloved. If I want to give my life to God, I can! He has chosen me, written my name in the Book of Life before the worlds were flung into space [Ephesians 1:4]. Oh, the grace [Ephesians 2:8] and the mercy [Titus 3:5] of our wonderful Lord!
Now just once again, and I must close, may I confirm that in experience? When I came to be pastor of this church, soon to be forty years ago, the church had ebbed over a period of many, many years. The great pastor was sought by the world and he was gone most of the time. And no man can build a church being gone.
And Dr. Truett was invalid, dying for a full year. And when I came to be pastor of the church—forty-three years younger than Dr. Truett—when I came to be undershepherd of this congregation, I fell on my face. I got down on my knees, and I said, “Lord, dear God, if I am faithful in preaching Thy Word, and if I preach it as zealously and as earnestly and as fervently as I know how—Lord, if I am faithful in preaching Thy Word, will You send me souls? Will You?” And as though He had spoken audibly in my ear, I heard God say to me in my heart, “If you are faithful in preaching the Word of God, I will send you souls. I will do it.”
Nor can I tell you the thousands of instances in which I sit down with families, pray with them in my study, and they will say to me, “When we came to the city of Dallas, we never intended to join the First Baptist Church.” Or, “When we came to the city, and found our home located miles and miles away, we never thought to drive so far down to that church in the heart of the city of Dallas. But, we are here. God put it in our hearts. God spoke to our hearts, and we have come.”
And when I hear them say that, every time, my heart goes back to that promise of God: “If you are faithful in preaching the Word, I will send you souls.” God does it. The Lord does it. God does it, He speaks, He calls. And He gives us these precious families and these immortal souls.
Dear people, I have been preaching here all these years and years and years. I have never preached at a service here yet but that God has given us souls. At the 8:15 o’clock service this morning, we had a bountiful harvest. God will do it again this hour, and He will do it again tonight.
“If you are faithful,” says the Lord—”If you are faithful, I will send you souls.” It is the calling of God. It is the effectual choosing of our Lord. It is the most comforting thing in the world.
Somebody said to Spurgeon, “If I believed that doctrine you preach, ‘God’s going to call, God has elected…’ then I wouldn’t even try. If they’re going to be saved, they’re going to be saved anyway. And if they’re not going to be saved, no matter what you do, they’re not responding. It would be the most discouraging thing in the world,” said this man to Spurgeon.
And Spurgeon replied, “My brother, it’s just the opposite. It’s just the opposite. When I stand to preach, I know that not all will respond. But God will always give me some. Some will always hear. Some will always turn. Some will always respond. God will always give me some. That is the most comforting assurance in this earth. God will not let His Son die in vain. God has a people He has elected and chosen for His glory. And God will not let His minister, who preaches the gospel faithfully, lift up his heart and lift up his hands and make his appeal in vain.”
God will always answer from heaven and give us souls. It is the most precious assurance in this world. And we praise God for the mercy, for the love, for the grace that reaches down, even to us. May we stand together?
Our wonderful, wonderful Lord, what a glory, what a blessing, what an assurance, what a triumph, the grace and mercy of God; saying to the Lord Jesus, “You die on that cross and I promise You a people. They will certainly come.” Saying to the faithful minister of the Word of God, “You preach My Word and I promise you a people. They will come. They shall come.” Oh, God shall and God will, and we praise Thee Lord, and love Thee and adore Thee, that the voice of God spoke to us, called us, moved us. O blessed, blessed Lord!
And while our people pray and while we wait in His presence, a family; “Pastor, God has spoken to us and we are on the way.” A couple, “God has spoken to us, pastor, and here we are.” A one somebody you: “God has spoken to my soul, and I am answering with my life” [Romans 10:8-13]. Make the decision now in your heart: “I am turning, I am coming,” and on the first note of this first stanza, down that stairway, or down one of these aisles; “Here I am, preacher. I am on the way. God has spoken.” And our Lord, thank Thee for the precious harvest You give us, in the glory of Thy saving name, even now, amen. While we sing our invitation hymn, welcome; a thousand times welcome, while we sing.