The Effectual Calling of God
June 5th, 1983 @ 8:15 AM
THE EFFECTUAL CALLING OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-5-83 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Bible Kind of Salvation. It is actually a Calvinistic sermon, a Bible sermon on election, on predestination. I have worked on it long and meticulously. It is the Word of God. It is the revelation of God. It is the truth of God, and I pray the power of its meaning will be effective in your own heart this morning.
As a background text, just as a background text, Paul writes in Romans chapter 9, verses 15 and 16, “For God saith 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 I am saved, if I ever get to heaven, it will not be by works of righteousness which I have done; but according to His mercy, He saved me. And the praise and the exaltation and the thanksgiving will not be to me; it will be to God who chose me, and sought me, and called me, and saved me. Our salvation begins in God, not in us. Its initiation is in Him, not in my will. By nature I am dead in trespasses and in sins. I am a corpse in the presence of the Holy God. I am dead. I am born and set in a fallen direction. Like Niagara: when you look at that great mighty Niagara River falling over the precipice, it falls naturally. One drop pushes the other over the rim of the fall. It falls by nature. It cannot go up; it inevitably goes down. Our natures are like the Niagara River: we naturally fall. We are set in a fallen direction. Jeremiah in 6:7 said, “We are like a fountain that casts forth wickedness.” By nature we are born fallen, in depravity, in sin.
I am like a man who might be standing between two iron rails of a railroad track. On one side of me, I’m bound by my natural proclivities and affinities, my fleshly lusts, and on the other side I am bound by my fallen will; and I see thundering down upon me a great train. As I stand paralyzed between those iron rails, of what use is it for me to argue with the locomotive? “You’re going too fast, Mr. Locomotive,” or “You’re riding those rails too precisely,” or “Should you not have pity upon me?” My part is to drop, to fall, to lie flat, hoping that that great train will pass over me. I am no match for the judgment, inexorable and inevitable, of death that faces me. I cannot save myself. I am dead, God says, in trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1]. In His sight I am a corpse; and a dead, lifeless corpse cannot quicken itself. A dead corpse cannot will itself into a regeneration. A dead corpse cannot raise itself into new life; it is dead. And I can stand before a dead corpse and say, “Well, don’t you see?” Blind men don’t see. And I can preach to that dead corpse and say, “Don’t you hear? And don’t you understand?” But a dead corpse does not hear, and it does not understand. A dead corpse cannot will itself into a new birth. It cannot will itself into a new life. We are like Nicodemus, shut up by the hand of God to a new life, to a new birth. We are like Lazarus shut up to the power of Christ to raise us from the dead. We are like that vast valley of dry bones Ezekiel saw in chapter 37 of his prophecy, “O breath of God, breathe upon them that they might live” [Ezekiel 37:9-10]. We are dead. We are corpses. And our only hope of life lies in the initiation of God. God must do something.
Now, in God’s grace and mercy, He has reached down to reach, to touch, to call, to choose even me. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He has saved us” [Titus 3:5]. It is in the goodness, and forgiveness, and love, and grace, and mercy of God that I come to know the Lord and to live in Him. In heaven we look down in the abyss of hell, and we see people in hell burning for the same sins we have done! They’re in damnation, and we’re in heaven. Oh, the infinite goodness and mercy of God; I deserve to be damned, but God had mercy upon me.
A monument of grace,
A sinner saved by blood;
The streams of love I trace
Up to their fountain in God;
And in His mighty breast I see
Eternal thoughts of love to me.
[“Monument of Grace”; John Kent]
If I am saved, it’s in the grace and mercy and goodness of God. God did it!
This is according to the Word of our Lord. It is no afterthought that our names have been written in the Book of Life, or that God has chosen us unto eternal salvation. In Ephesians first chapter, the apostle Paul wrote, “He hath chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children” [Ephesians 1:4-5]. And the apostle Peter, in the first chapter, speaking to the saints, says, “We are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” [1 Peter 1:2]. Not an afterthought: we have been chosen in Him before the world was flung into space. God knew us, and called us by name, and wrote our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life. All that we have in coming to the Lord is in the choice of Jesus; it’s in the love and mercy of God. In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, the Lord says, “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me” [John 6:37]. In verse 44 He says, “No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him.” And in verse 65 He said, “Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me, except it were given him of My Father.” If I come to Christ, it is because Christ has chosen me, and God has elected me; did it in His foreknowledge before the world was made.
If I repent, my repentance is a gift of God. In the fifth chapter of the Book of Acts, speaking of our Savior, “God exalted Him, and gave repentance,” God did it, “gave repentance to Israel, whom God hath given to him that obey Him” [Acts 5:31]. Repentance is a gift of God. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts, “God gave the like gift to these Gentiles, as He gave to us,” Peter says, “Then they glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto eternal life” [Acts 11:17-18]. Repentance is a gift of God. Paul writes in 2 Timothy chapter 2, “Let us preach peradventure God will give them repentance unto the knowledge of the truth” [Acts 2:25]. If I repented, if I turned to God, my repentance is a gift of God.
And if I have faith in the Lord, my faith is a gift of God. In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, “And God, giving them the Holy Spirit, purified their hearts by faith” [Acts 15:8-9]: God gave them their faith. And in the Book of Romans, chapter 12, “I say, through the grace given to every man, according as God dealt to every man the measure of faith” [Romans 12:3]. If I believe in the Lord, if I trust in the Lord, my trust is a gift of God in heaven. He gave it to me.
Now let us look in our hearts, to see if what we have read in the Bible conforms to our own experience in Christ. There is not a man, there’s not a woman, there’s not a one of us who has ever been saved, but when you look back over the years of your life, you sense, you have the deep conviction and the experience God did it! The Lord called me! God chose me! God did it. I look back over my own life. How is it that I became a child of the King, a Christian? And I can think of other boys with whom I grew up. I think of one by the name of Lyle McGowan. Before he was out of his teens, twice he was in prison, in the penitentiary. And the last time he was there, one of the fellow inmates took a club and beat his brains out. I grew up with him; he was in my school, in my high school. How is it I was not like that? How is it I became a Christian as a child? The mercy of God.
I grew up in a home with a brother two years younger than I. I heard the call of God when I was a child; as a child I was getting ready, studying to be a pastor. He never heard it. God never spoke to him. How is it God spoke to me? I don’t know. It’s in His mercy; it’s in His grace. Old Eli and little Samuel lived in the same tent in the tabernacle of the Lord. Eli, the great old priest, he never heard the call of God; but little Samuel did [1 Samuel 3:1-21]. How is it I have heard the call of God, and these others did not? When I moved toward God, I learned God first moved toward me. When I trusted God and loved the Lord, I later learned He first loved me. And when I called on the name of the Lord, I later learned that He first called me. It began in Him, in His grace and in His mercy.
I think of a man struggling out in the river. He’s drowning, and he goes down for the third time, lies unconscious in the stream; and he awakens on the bank, and he looks up: he’s been rescued, he’s been saved. And he says, “This is great! Look what my struggling did. In one last effort, I threw myself on the bank! And I’m alive, I’ve been saved.” But somehow when I say that, the explanation doesn’t satisfy me. I look up and I see a man, wet, half-drowned, and exhausted, and he says to me, “I saw you struggling in the water, and I jumped into the river, and I brought you to the bank. And you have been saved.” When I see that man and hear his testimony, it satisfies my heart. Now I understand. It is exactly that with me and my salvation. I can’t say, “Lord, look what I’ve done! I’ve regenerated myself! I’ve called myself! I’ve chosen myself! I’ve written my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life! I’ve saved myself.” But somehow it doesn’t satisfy, it doesn’t explain. But when I look into the face of the Lord, and I say, “You did it!” somehow it satisfies my heart.
Not only when I look back do I see the elective grace and mercy of God, but when I look forward I see the same marvelous revelation. All of those glorious songs in heaven, not one of them about me and what I did; all about Him and what He did. Revelation 1:5, “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, to Him be glory forever and ever.” Or in the great fifth chapter, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, who hath redeemed us out of our sins from every family under the sun” [Revelation 5:9-12]. He did it! It’s His grace and His mercy.
And that leads me to the last avowal: the effectual calling of God. There is a general call, such as in Revelation 22:17, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. Let him that heareth say, Come. Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” There is a general call. There were thousands and thousands who listened to the Lord Jesus. “Come unto Me,” He said [Matthew 11:25]: the general call. There were other thousands and thousands who listened to the apostle Paul, the great emissary of Christ, as he preached the gospel. There were other thousands and thousands who listened to Martin Luther; other thousands and thousands who listened to George Whitefield; other thousands who listened to Jonathan Edwards; other thousands and thousands who listened to the two Billys, Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. There is a general call, but there is also an effective call. In the great general call, most of them did not respond, most of them did not hear, most of them did not believe, most of them did not come; but always some came, some heard, some were saved – the effectual calling of God.
I read in Acts 13, verse 48, “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.” I turn the page again, and I read in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, “Brethren beloved, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, whereunto He called you by our gospel” [2 Thessalonians 2:13-14]. There is an effectual call. There are those who listen. God opens their hearts. God speaks to them, and they hear their name called, and they respond; the effectual calling of the elective choosing Spirit of the Lord.
When Spurgeon was twenty years old, he was pastor of the New Park Baptist Church in London, England. It seated twelve hundred people. The first service, there were eighty-five present. In a short while, the throngs couldn’t get in the house; they knocked out the back wall. It was still incommodious. The throngs that pressed couldn’t get in. They took the services out in a field. And upon this day in 1855, there were more than twelve thousand out in the field, listening to this young Spurgeon preach. And the service ended with the vast multitude bursting into singing. Spurgeon later wrote of that meeting:
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 people just burst into singing; in that glorious hallelujah, the mighty waves of praise seemed to roll up towards the sky in mighty grandeur, even as the billows of the great ocean break upon the beach.
So I just took it upon myself to find the sermon that he preached. What was the sermon that Spurgeon preached out there, twenty years old, to a throng of over twelve thousand people out in a field, and the people just burst into a mighty hallelujah of singing? Wel, in reading the words that were preached that night, it’s easy to understand why the service ended with hearts being raised heavenward in wonder and praise. Now I’m going to quote from that sermon.
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 he gloried in the triumph of grace with these words, this is what he preached: “Oh,” said Spurgeon,
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 He says, ‘will’, it will be. Now He 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, 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.’ 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 it 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 will not die for nothing. 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 not in heaven, nor on earth, nor in hell can stop them from coming!
And the people burst into singing, and glorifying God. I know how they felt. The will of God, the choice of God, the effectual calling of God, and the man comes, he responds. Whether he intended to or not, he comes. Whether he planned it or not, he comes. That’s the mercy and grace of God.
Do you hear the call of God in your heart? Then you are elected. Do you want to be saved? Then you are chosen. Do you have it in your heart to love the Lord Jesus? Then your name was written as one of His beloved before the foundation of the world. They may not all respond, but some always will.
I close with an illustration that I live with every day of my life. When I came to this dear church, soon forty years ago, because the great pastor was gone all the time, and no man can build a church being gone, and because he was sick and invalid and bedridden for over a year, the church had greatly ebbed. I was forty-three years younger than Dr. Truett when I came, forty-three years younger. One of the deepening experiences of my soul was this: I got down on my knees and on my face, and I prayed to the dear Lord in heaven, saying, “Lord, if I am faithful to the gospel, and if I preach the Word of God zealously and prayerfully, Lord, will You send me souls? Will You? Will You send me souls, if I’m faithful?” And I had the distinct answer in my heart, as though God spoke to me audibly: “If you are faithful to the Word of God, and if you preach the gospel earnestly and prayerfully, truthfully, I will send you souls. I will do it.” God says, “I will do it.”
And from that day until this, there are uncounted families that I talk to, and they will tell me this: “When we moved to Dallas, we never intended to join the First Baptist Church; but God hath sent us here.” Another family: “It’s miles and miles and miles from where we live down to the First Baptist Church in Dallas; but we pass by every church on the way in order to be in this dear church. God has sent us here.” The elective calling, the effectual choosing of the Lord: God does it. And if I am in His kingdom, it’s because He in His mercy opened the door wide for me. And if I am here in this church, it’s because God hath spoken to my heart, and I heard, and I responded. What a wonderful thing!
We may not win all, but God will give us some. And in that confidence and assurance, we labor and toil and work; we can never fail, God is working with us. He has His own elect. He calls, He chooses, and it is wonderful to see them come.
May we stand together?
Wonderful and loving Savior, what a great day it was before the foundation of this earth, before God created these worlds, that He saw us, called us by name, wrote our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life, made us members of the family of our Lord. O bless God for His mercy that reaches down even to us. And in this moment when we pray together, a family you: “God has spoken to us, pastor.” A couple you: “We’ve heard His voice.” A one somebody you: “The Lord hath spoken to me, and I’m coming.” “We are on the way.” In the balcony round, down a stairway; in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, this is God’s time for me, and we’re answering with our lives.” And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You give us this precious hour. In Thy saving and keeping name, amen. Welcome, while we sing our song of appeal; a thousand times welcome.