The Calling

by Herman Bavinck

To make us partakers of this communion with his person and his benefits, Christ makes use not only of the Spirit, whom he poured out in the congregation, but also of the Word, which he gave to instruct and instruct it. He has linked the two in such a way that together they serve in the exercise of His prophetic, priestly and royal office. But it is not easy to grasp this relationship and define it clearly; there have always been very different views about the relationship between the Word and the Spirit, and these different views continue to exist side by side to this day.

There are those on the one side who consider the preaching of the word sufficient and who do not consider the working of the Spirit sufficient. It is the followers of Pelagius who, in earlier and later times, were guilty of this error. They understood Christianity exclusively as a doctrine, saw in Jesus nothing but an exalted example, and turned the Gospel into a new law. Since man has been weakened by sin but has not died spiritually, and has retained the freedom of his will, the preaching of the Gospel is sufficient to bring man to repentance, if he so desires, and to cause him to walk after the example of Jesus. No need is felt for the regenerating action of the Holy Spirit; his personality and divinity are denied and contested; at best, the Holy Spirit is thought of as a force emanating from God, or more precisely, from the person of Jesus, and creating in the congregation a moral disposition and an ideal will.

In an entirely opposite direction are those who are known as "spiritists" (antinomians, enthusiasts, mystics), who speak a great deal about the Spirit but underestimate the significance of the word in converting people. In their view, the word (Scripture, the preaching of the Gospel) is not the spiritual thing itself, but is merely a sign and symbol of it; in itself it is a dead letter which cannot penetrate to the heart of man and implant the principle of the new life there; at most it has an instructive effect on the state of affairs, but no power to change and transform the heart. This can only happen, and only happens, through the Holy Spirit, who penetrates directly from God into the innermost being of man and makes him partakers of the thing of which the word is a sign. Spiritual man, therefore, is born of God and taught by God; he alone understands the Scriptures, goes beyond their letter to their heart and essence, and, for a time, makes use of them as a standard and guide; but the Scriptures are not really the source of his religious knowledge, for he is internally taught by the Spirit of God and gradually grows beyond the Scriptures.

As the workings of the Spirit within the heart become more and more independent of Scripture, they also become more detached from the person of Christ and historical Christianity as a whole. Mysticism then develops into rationalism. For when the inner working of the Spirit is separated from the word of Scripture, it loses its special character, and it can no longer be distinguished from the ordinary working of God's Spirit in man's reason and conscience. God by his Spirit naturally dwells in each person; the inner word is written in each person's heart from birth, and Christ only gave it sound. Something is not true because it is in the Bible, but it is in the Bible because it is true. Christianity is the original, natural religion; it is as old as the world, and in its essence underlies all historical religions. Mysticism always advances towards rationalism, just as the latter continually falls back into mysticism. Here the extremes meet and give each other a hand.

The Christian Church has always tried to avoid these errors and to keep the Word and the Spirit in harmony. But in doing so, she has diverged into different directions in her various confessions. The Roman Church, for example, does not see in Holy Scripture and Church Tradition an actual means of grace, but only a source of truth. The intellectual acceptance of that truth is called faith; but since this faith is only an assent, it is insufficient for salvation and therefore has only a preparatory significance. The actual salvation is first communicated in the sacrament, and thus Rome sees the work of the Holy Spirit first and foremost in the foundation and maintenance of the church with its teaching, pastoral and priestly functions, and then in the supernatural grace, virtues and gifts communicated to the faithful through the sacrament.

The Reformation resisted this attempt to separate the salvific working of the Spirit from the word and to bind it only to the sacrament. It not only restored Scripture as the one, clear, and sufficient source of truth, excluding Tradition; but it also honored it as the means of the faithful and restored the Word's place before the Sacrament. But because of this, the Reformation was also forced to think more deeply about the relationship between Word and Spirit. She was forced to do so all the more because left and right old errors revived and found powerful defenders. While the Socinians returned to the teachings of Arius and Pelagius, regarded the Gospel as a new law, and felt no need for a special working of the Holy Spirit, the Anabaptists again took the path of mysticism, glorified the inner word and spoke of the Holy Scriptures as a dead letter and an empty symbol.

It took much effort to find the right way; and Lutherans and Reformed soon diverged on this point as well. The Lutherans bound the Word and the Spirit together so tightly that they were in danger of losing sight of the distinction between the two. They even came to confine the salvific working of the Spirit to the word and to allow man to enter only through the word. Since the Holy Scriptures were created by the Holy Spirit, He had infused them with His power for conversion and had them rest in a vessel. Just as the bread possesses a natural, internal power to nourish, so the Scriptures, through the Holy Spirit who brought them into being, received an inner, spiritual power to sanctify mankind. Thus, Scripture is not only endowed with a moral effect that teaches the mind or focuses on the will, but through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit it has an inner, heart-renewing, sanctifying power; and the Holy Spirit never works except through it.

The Reformed could by no means agree with this view, because here too their principle applied that the finite can never absorb and contain the infinite. Word and. Spirit were still so closely related, they remained distinct. The Spirit can work, and sometimes does work, without the word; when he commits himself to the word, then that rests on his free choice; in accordance with his own will, he usually works in connection with the word, where the word is present and proclaimed, that is, in the circle of the covenant of grace, in the fellowship of the Church. But even then, He does not dwell, as the Lutherans imagined, in the Holy Scriptures or in the word preached, but in the congregation as the living body of Christ. Nor does He work through the word as a vehicle of His power; but while He combines His own working with that of the word, He Himself personally penetrates the heart of man and renews it for eternal life.

In order to gain a proper understanding of the relationship between the Word and the Spirit, we must start from the fact that God makes use of the word as a means not only in the presentation of Christ and his benefits, but in all his outward works. In the Holy Scriptures the word is never a vain sound or an empty sign, but always has power and life in it; it carries within it something of the personality, of the soul of the speaker and therefore always brings something about.

This is especially true of God; when He speaks, something happens, Ps. 33:9; His word never returns empty, but does everything that pleases Him and is prosperous in what He sends it to do, Isa. 55:11. This word therefore has such creative and sustaining power, because God utters it in the Son, John 1 : 3, Col. 1 : 15, and through the Spirit, Ps. 33 : 6, Ps. 104 : 30, and in both as it were communicates it to his creatures. There is a discourse of God in all creatures; they are all based on thoughts spoken by Him; they all owe their existence and what they are to the word of God.

But these thoughts, embodied by God in the world, are not understood by all creatures, but only by reasonable beings, especially by man. Because he has been created in God's image, man can also think and speak for himself, can absorb God's thoughts laid down in creation into his consciousness, make them his spiritual property and then also give them back in his own words. Just as he first emerged perfectly from the hands of his Creator, he could also understand the words of God that came to him internally in the moral law written in his heart, and that came to him externally in the trial commandment added to the moral law. Then, as with no other creature, God dealt with man. He entered into a covenant with him, accepted him into His community, and required him to walk in His ways willingly and knowingly. The moral law was the content and the proclamation, the rule and the standard of that original bond which God established with the newly created man.

Now man, by his willful disobedience, did break that covenant and deprive himself of the spiritual power to keep God's law and thus to attain eternal life. But God, for His part, has not withdrawn from creation and has not completely withdrawn His hand from mankind. Although it may be said of the Gentiles that God, unlike Israel, allowed them to walk in their own ways, He continues to reveal Himself to them in His eternal power and divinity, He does not leave them indifferent, He appoints their times and determines their dwellings, that they may seek the Lord, whether they may seek Him and find Him, Acts 14:17, 17:26, 27, Romans 1:20.

Thus God continues to speak to every human being. The professors of the Reformed religion have always recognized this by speaking of a "business vocation," which is also found outside the Christian world, and is the privilege of all people and all nations. The Gentiles do not share in the calling by the word of the Gospel, but they are by no means deprived of all calling. God still speaks to them also, by nature, Rom 1:2, and by history, Acts 17:26, by reason, John 1:9, and by conscience, Rom 2:14, 15. This calling is not sufficient for salvation, because it does not know of Christ, who is the only way to the Father and the only name under heaven for salvation, John 14:6, Acts 4:12, but it is nevertheless of great value and its significance should not be underestimated.

After all, this call, which God in His general mercy makes to all men, may not be a preaching of the Gospel; it is still a preaching of the Law. Although man, through the obscurity of his understanding, often misunderstands, misinterprets, and misapplies it, it nevertheless has as its object, in substance, that same moral law which God originally gave to man and wrote in his heart. It therefore contains, however corrupted and de-natured, still a requirement to love God above all else and one's neighbor as oneself. For the Gentiles do not have the law in the perfect form that God gave it again to Israel; but they do the things that are the law, they allow themselves to be governed by moral rules in all their thoughts and deeds, and thus prove that these things of the law are written in their hearts and that in their lives they are in harmony with God, and that they feel bound to it in their conscience, (Rom 2:14, 15).

Thus the bond between God and man, in spite of sin, is not completely broken. God does not let go of man, and man cannot let go of God; he remains under the power of His revelation and under the power of His law. God continues to speak to mankind, in nature and history, in reason and conscience, in blessings and judgments, in directions of life and experiences of the soul. Through that rich and powerful speech God maintains in man the consciousness of his dependence and the awareness of his responsibility. He makes him strive for a religious, moral life and, if he transgresses, allows his own conscience to accuse and condemn him. It is not an external compulsion, but an internal, moral bond that binds man to God and his revelation. It is a testimony of God's Spirit, which can still be heard in fallen man and which exhorts him to do good. For inasmuch as there is a general speaking of God and a general illumination by the Word (the Logos) in man, there is also a general working of God's Spirit. By that Spirit, God dwells in all creatures, and we live, move and are all in God, Acts 17:28. The general, ״material" vocation is not only external and subjective, in that it makes God's revelation and specifically His law known to mankind through nature and history, through reason and conscience; but it also has an internal and subjective side, in that it morally establishes each man on his part to that revelation of God and obliges him in his own conviction to observe God's law.

It is true that God does not renew and sanctify man through this preaching of the law, for that is impossible for the law, since it is powerless through the flesh (Rom 8:3); but He nevertheless binds sin, restrains passions and stops the flow of iniquity. It makes possible a human society and a civil righteousness, which in turn pave the way for a higher civilization, for a richer culture, for the blossoming of arts and sciences. Truly, the earth is still full of God's goods. The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works. He raiseth his sun over the evil and the good, and reigneth over the just and the unjust. He does not let himself be idle, but does good from heaven, gives rain and fruitful times, and strengthens our hearts with food and cheerfulness, Ps. 104:24, 145:7, Matt. 5:45, Acts 14:7.

Distinct from this general word of God, which comes to us in nature and conscience, is the special calling, which is contained in the word of the Gospel and is addressed to all who live within the boundaries of Christianity. The general calling, however, is not abolished and nullified in this special preaching, but rather included and strengthened. This is already proven by the fact that the Holy Scriptures, which are the word of special revelation, acknowledge the general revelation in nature and history, confirm it and cleanse it from all false admixtures. That the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament is the work of His hands (Ps. 19: 2), that the invisible things of God have been known from the creation of the world through the creatures (Rom. 1: 20), and that the work of the law is written in the heart of man (Rom. 2: 15), are much better understood by a Christian who is taught by the Scriptures than by those who live by the light of reason alone.

But much more telling is the fact that the moral law, which was only imperfectly and imprecisely known to the Gentiles, was again purely and perfectly proclaimed by God on Sinai and presented to His people Israel as a rule of life. When Christ came to earth, He did not abolish this law, but fulfilled it (Matthew 5: 17), first of all in His own person and life, but also in the lives of all who follow in His footsteps and walk in the Spirit (Romans 3: 31, 8: 3, 11: 8-10, Gal. 5: 14).

Law and Gospel are therefore the two parts of the Word of God; they are distinct, but never separated; they accompany each other throughout Scripture, from the beginning to the end of Revelation. The distinction between law and gospel is thus entirely different from that between the Old and New Testaments. It is confused with it, or identified with it, by all those who see in the Law an imperfect Gospel and in the Gospel a perfect Law. But nevertheless the two distinctions are very different from one another and therefore must be kept strictly apart. Old and New Testament are the names for two successive dispensations in one and the same covenant of grace and consequently for the two groups of Bible books, each of which has as its content one dispensation of this covenant of grace. But the distinction between Law and Gospel takes us to an entirely different terrain. These names do not indicate two dispensations of the same covenant, but two completely different covenants. The law actually belongs to the so-called covenant of works, which was established with the first man and promised him eternal life in the way of perfect obedience. But the Gospel is the proclamation of the covenant of grace, which was not made known to man until after the fall and which grants him eternal life by grace through faith in Christ.

The covenant of grace is, however, again not the abolition and nullification, but rather the fulfillment of the covenant of works; the difference between the two lies primarily in the fact that Christ fulfills in our place the demands that God, by virtue of the covenant of works, can make upon us (cf. p. 308). Hence, the covenant of grace, although in itself purely grace, is from the beginning able to employ the law of the covenant of work, to bind it to itself, and also to bring it to fulfillment in the believers through the Spirit of Christ. The law retains its place in the covenant of grace, not so that we might try to gain eternal life by its observance, for to that end it is powerless because of the flesh. 8:3; but first, that through it we might learn to know our sin, our guilt, our misery, our powerlessness, and, being stricken with guilt and defeated, might have recourse to the grace of God in Christ, Romans 7:7, Gal. 3:24, and secondly, that we, having died and been raised with Christ, might walk in newness of life and therein fulfil the law, Romans 6:4, 8:4.

Thus there is no place in Christianity for antinomianism, contempt for the law and the violation of the law. Law and Gospel, as in Scripture, as in preaching and teaching, in doctrine and life, are to be linked together; they are both indispensable and essential constituents of the one and complete Word of God. Nevertheless, identification is as wrong as separation; nominalism, which transforms the Gospel into a new law, is no less erroneous than antinomianism; the law and the Gospel are not distinguished in degree, but in essence; they differ as demand and gift, as command and promise, as supply and demand. The law, like the Gospel, may contain God's will, be holy, wise, good and spiritual, Rom. 2 10 : 12, 14, 12 : 7, 20, 18 : ׳ ; yet it is rendered powerless by sin, does not justify but increases sin, arouses wrath, doom and death, Rom. 3 : 20, 4 : 15, 5 : 20, 7:5, 8:9, 13, 2 Cor. 3 : 6 v. Gal. 3 : 10, 13, 19. And over against this is the Evangel, which has Christ as its substance, Rom. 1 : 3, Eph. 3 : 6, and brings nothing but grace, reconciliation, forgiveness, righteousness, peace and eternal life, Acts 2 : 38, 20 : 24. Rom. 3 : 21-26, 4 : 3-8, 5 : 1, 2 etc. What the law demands of us, the Gospel gives us freely.

When law and Gospel are distinguished in this way, it follows that the general calling, which comes to all men by nature and conscience, and the special calling, which reaches all who live under Christianity, differ not only in degree but also in essence. The difference lies not only in the fact that Christianity presents us with a better and more perfect law than that known to the Gentiles, but it lies above all in the fact that Christianity presents us with something new, that it brings us the Gospel and that, in that Gospel, it introduces us to the person of Christ. The distinction between Paganism and Christianity, between general and special revelation, between the calling to which all men are called and that to which only Christians are called, lies not only in the law, but especially in the Gospel of the grace of God.

These two vocations were usually distinguished in earlier times as a ״material" and a ״worldly" one. The general calling, which is addressed to all people, is not contained in a literal, clear and distinct word of God, but lies intricately locked up in the revelation which God also gives to the Gentiles in the works of His hands and in their own reason and conscience, and must be deduced from this by their own investigation and reflection. But as soon as they tried this, they became lost, both in religion and in the moral law. Outside of the special revelation mankind, although knowing God, did not glorify Him or give Him thanks, but were thwarted in their deliberations and their unwise hearts were darkened; they fell into all kinds of idolatry and immorality, Rom 1:21.

Revelation in nature and calling in the reason and conscience of man thus proved to be wholly inadequate. In special revelation God therefore no longer speaks to man through ״matter', through the nature of creatures, but He makes use of the actual, literal word, which man himself uses as the highest and best expression of his thoughts. This use of the word in special revelation was also necessary for another reason. Nature, both outside and inside mankind, always remains the same; the heavens still tell God's praises in the same way as they did thousands of years ago; and in spite of all development and civilization, mankind today is still, in his essence and nature, in his heart and conscience, completely equal to his oldest forefathers.

But special revelation is not included in nature; it came about historically, in centuries of history, and has its center in the historical person of Christ. No nature can save us, only a person can heal us. But of historical facts and persons, who, like nature, do not always surround us, but who come and go, appear and disappear, we can never know anything according to God's order except through words, whether spoken or written, in letters or in other signs. It follows from the nature of special, historical revelation that it must employ the word to make itself known from generation to generation and from place to place. General calling is effected by nature, whereas special calling makes use of the word; the latter has only the Law, and the former primarily the Gospel as its content.

The Gospel word already began its course in paradise. God himself first revealed it in paradise, then had it proclaimed by the holy patriarchs and prophets, and exemplified it by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law, and finally fulfilled it through his only begotten Son. And it did not stop there. But He also had that word of the Gospel written down in the books of the Old and New Testaments, and furthermore entrusted the preservation, proclamation, interpretation, defense and propagation thereof to the church, that it might be known to all creatures.

On the same day that the church receives this task from Christ and begins its execution, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit takes place. And vice versa, in the same moment in which the Holy Spirit makes the church his dwelling place, the hour of birth of the church as an independent community of believers, as the bearer of the word of the Gospel, as the pillar and anchor of the truth, occurs. Although they have been united in preparation at an earlier date, on the Day of Pentecost the Word and the Spirit definitively and fully join forces. They work together in the service of Christ, who is the King of the Church and the Lord of the Spirit, who is presented to us in the Word and communicated to us by the Spirit. Truth and grace go hand in hand, for Christ is full of both, John 1:14.

Calling by the Word far exceeds calling by nature. For while the latter only makes man hear the voice of the law and makes the demand: do this and you will live, vocation by word proceeds from Christ, has the substance of God's grace and offers man the richest benefits, forgiveness of sins and eternal life, free of charge, in the way of faith and conversion. If one only pays attention to the content of this call, one might for a moment entertain the expectation that, when hearing it, all people would immediately receive it with joy and accept it with gladness of heart. For what can a man, who is a sinner and is about to perish, object to a gospel that assures him of the grace of God and wishes to grant him perfect salvation, without any work on his part, except that he should accept this glad tidings with childlike faith?

But reality teaches us quite differently. Throughout the ages there has been a separation between those who serve the Lord and those who do not serve Him. In the family of Adam, Abel and Cain were already separated; the human race before the Flood was divided into the lineage of Seth and Cain, and after the Flood this separation continued in the lineage of Shem and his brothers. The families of the patriarchs saw the contrast between Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and later that between Israel and the nations. Even under the people of the covenant, not all of them were Israel, who descended from Abraham fleshly, but the children of the promise were counted as the seed, Romans 9:6-8. And in the days of the New Testament we are faced with the same fact. Many are called, but few are chosen, Mattli. Not only is there a sharp contrast between the church and the world, but in the church itself there are thousands who are hearers, but not doers of the word, James 1:22. Even if one were to reject all of Christianity, one would still not get rid of this contrast. For everywhere there are and always will be good and bad, righteous and unrighteous. Among men there is not only a difference in rank and station, in gift and power, in wealth and honor, but there is among them a much deeper religious and moral difference.

This fact of inequality speaks so strongly and at the same time has such a serious character that everyone must take it into account. But there have always been many who have tried to explain this moral inequality, as well as all other differences among people, by the free will they have been given. They represent it as meaning that man's will has remained free in spite of sin and has retained the power to do good, or that, although weakened to some extent by sin, it has been strengthened by the general enlightenment of the Word (the Logos), John 1: 9, or by the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is given before or in baptism, and has received sufficient power to obey the call of the Gospel.

Apart from the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, however, this explanation in itself is completely implausible. According to it, it is not God, but man, who makes a distinction between himself. But if God is God, this implies that His counsel is over all things, that He is the Creator of heaven and earth, and that He maintains and governs all creatures through His providence. It is a preposterous idea that He should govern all nature and regulate all things, even the smallest details, and that He should exclude from His counsel and providence the great, all-embracing and everlasting fact of spiritual unevenness among mankind and leave it to mankind to decide. Whoever holds this view, in principle, nullifies God's counsel and providence, removes the whole history of the world from God's hands, makes its outcome unpredictable, robs it of its purpose and goal, and ascribes to God an attitude of passivity and wait-and-see, contrary to His nature and works.

However, the spiritual difference among mankind is the most important, but by no means the only one. There are all kinds of differences among the creatures, also and especially among those who are endowed with reason. People differ in rank and station, in sex and age, in the gifts of the soul and the powers of the body. They also differ in that they are born within or without the confines of Christianity and may or may not hear the call of the Gospel. All these differences cannot be explained by the wills and conduct of men, for they precede them and often have a weaker or stronger influence on them. If, however, one does not want to rest in the good pleasure of God and continues to look for an explanation in the different behaviour of mankind, one must resort to impossible hypotheses. The Lutherans, for example, did not want to acknowledge God's free will in the fact that one person was born under the light of the Gospel and another was not, but they maintained that the calling through the word had been known to all peoples at the time of Adam, Noah and also the Apostles (with particular reference to Romans 10: 18 and Colossians 1: 23) and had been lost again through their own fault. Along the same lines is the idea, already mentioned by Origen and shared by many today, that the human souls were originally created by God at the same time and equally, but that they received a different body and fate here on earth, according to the different behaviour in their pre-existence.

All these assumptions increase the difficulties that arise here and do not contribute anything substantial to the explanation. Here, too, man will not rest until he rests at the fatherly heart of God and recognizes in his free and incomprehensible will the deepest reason for the inequality among creatures. The differentiation between the general and special callings is not caused by the dignity of one people above the other, or by the better use of the light of nature, but by the completely free will and undeserved love of God (Dordrecht Precepts 111 IV 7). And the same is true of the spiritual inequality that exists between those who accept the call of the Gospel with a believing heart and those who reject it and choose to go their own ways. It is not man, but God who makes the distinction. The calling itself is different, with which He comes to some, and with which He comes to others. In calling by word, again on the basis of Scripture, a distinction can be made between an external and an internal one.

But before the rightness of this distinction is argued, it should be strongly emphasized that it in no way intends to deprive the so-called external calling of its power or value.

For in the first place, this call from God's side is and remains serious and well-meant. As many as are called by the Gospel are called seriously. For God earnestly and truly shows in His Word what is pleasing to Him, namely, that the called should come to Him; and He also earnestly promises rest of soul and eternal life to all who come to Him and believe. Those who accept the distinction between outward and inward calling, still attribute the same power and significance to the former, which the opponents of this distinction believe to be true of all calling. They do not bring mankind by this distinction into a more unfavorable condition than all men are in according to their opponents. For the word of the Gospel, in which this outward calling comes to them, is not a dead letter, but a power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, Romans 1:16, 41 living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, Heb. 4:12, the means of regeneration, 1 Pet. 1:23. It is the same word, which God uses at the inner calling, and it is not entirely devoid of all effect of the Spirit. For the Holy Spirit not only testifies in the hearts of believers that they are God's children, Romans 8:16, but He also indicts the consciences of those whom He convinces of sin, righteousness and judgment, John 16:8-11. And Calvin therefore spoke, not unjustly, of a lower working of the Spirit, which accompanies the outward calling.

Consequently, in the second place, the rejection of this calling never occurs without guilt. Those who reject the Gospel cannot appeal to their powerlessness, for they do not reject it because they are powerless; even then they would plead for the grace of God, which the Gospel offers them. But they reject it on the contrary, because they feel strong, think they can save themselves, and think they can be saved without the grace of God. That many, being called by the Gospel, do not come and are not converted, therefore, the fault is not in the Gospel, nor in Christ, being offered by the Gospel, nor in God, who calls by the Gospel, and even to whom He calls, communicates various gifts; but in those who are called, some of whom, being careless, do not accept the word of life; Others do accept it, but not from within their hearts, and therefore it is that they, after a momentary joy of temporary faith, turn back again; others choke on the word through the thorns of the cares and lusts of the world and bring forth no fruit, which our Saviour teaches in the parable of the seed (Dordrecht Doctrine, Ill IV 9).

And thirdly, also this external calling is not without fruit. In general it can be said that God achieves His intention with it. For it is also true of His word in this external calling that it does not return empty, but that it does everything that pleases Him and that it is successful in everything to which He sends it, Is 55:11. But furthermore it is not at all indifferent how people behave towards this external calling. Among the pagans there is a great difference in the attitude which they adopt toward the call of nature; Socrates and Plato cannot be mentioned in the same breath as Caligula and Nero. And so it is by no means the same whether the Gospel is mocked and blasphemed or accepted with a historical or temporal faith. It is true that between these two types of faith and the salutary faith of the heart there is an essential difference. But that does not mean that they are on a par with utter unbelief. On the contrary, they are fruits of God's general grace and bring many temporary blessings. They bind men to the truth, keep them from many terrible sins, make them lead modest and honorable lives, and contribute greatly to the formation of Christian society, which are of the greatest importance to the life of mankind and to the influence of the church.

Above all, it deserves attention that this external vocation often serves in God's hand as a means of preparing the work of grace in the hearts of His people. There is certainly no preparatory grace in the sense that the external calling progresses without leap to the internal or that the natural man gradually grows up to become a child of God. For just as in nature, in grace there is no gradual transition from death to life or from darkness to light. But there is a preparatory grace, if it is understood that God, who is the Master of all grace, is also the Creator of nature, and establishes a link between both, which He constantly maintains. In the execution of the counsel of redemption He walks in the track that He Himself has laid by the work of creation and providence. Just as He worked up the desire in Zacheus to see Jesus, Luke 19: 3, and brought about success among the multitude that heard Peter, Acts 2: 37, so He also cares for and governs His own before the hour in which He glorifies His grace in them, and leads them towards that hour with His almighty hand.

But whatever power and value this outward calling may have, it is in itself insufficient to change a man's heart and to forcefully induce him to faithfully accept the Gospel. This inadequacy of the external calling, however, must be clearly understood. The Gospel which it proclaims is not an inadequate Gospel, for it contains the whole counsel of salvation, presents Christ with all His benefits before our eyes, and needs no further supplement to its contents. Nor is it a dead letter that must be quickened by the Spirit, nor an empty sound or vain sign that has no essential connection with the matter it designates. Paul says of the ministers that they are nothing (1 Cor. 3: 7), because they can be replaced by others or even be dispensed with altogether. On the contrary, it is the power of God unto salvation, Romans 1:16, 1 Cor. 15:2, not the word of man, but the word of God, 1 Thess. 2:13, living and powerful, John 6:63, Heb. 5:12, 1 Pet. 1:25, and in a certain sense always efficacious, for if it be not the fragrance of life unto life, it is the fragrance of death unto death, 2 Cor. 2:16. Christ, who is the substance of the Gospel, leaves no one neutral; He brings a crisis, a judgment, a separation in the world, John 3: 19, 9: 39, and reveals the inclinations and thoughts of the heart by His word, which penetrates the innermost being of man, Luke 2: 35, Hebrews 4: 12. He becomes a stone of annoyance to those who reject Him as a rock of salvation; is foolishness to those who reject Him as wisdom; and is a downfall to those for whom He is not a resurrection, Luke 2:34, 1 Cor. 1:18, 1 Pet. 2:7.

But this twofold working of the word of the gospel proves precisely, that the difference of result among those who accept it and those who reject it, cannot be explained from that word itself, without more, and therefore not from the outward calling. It is true that the Gospel, by whomsoever and to whomsoever it is brought, is always a word of God, living and powerful. But the word of God does not always have the same meaning in Scripture. Sometimes it means the power of God by which He creates and sustains the world, Genesis 1:3, Ps. 33:6, Matthew 4:4, Heb. 1:3; other times it is the name of the special revelation by which God makes something known to the prophets, Jer. 1:2.

Another time it is the name of the special revelation by which God makes something known to the prophets, Jer. 1:2, 4, 2:1, etc., and it is also used several times to indicate the content of that revelation, whether it consists of law or of the Gospel, Exod. 20:1, Luke 5:1, etc. In the latter case, the word remains a word of God, as far as its content is concerned, but it is not spoken directly and immediately by God, as is the word that emanates from His mouth at the creation and maintenance of all things. It is clothed in the form of the human word, can be spoken and written down by human beings, and has therefore, as it were, acquired an independent existence. In this sense it also remains a living and powerful word according to its content, but as a word it shares the characteristics of all human words and as such can only have a moral effect. This moral effect is not to be underestimated; it is much stronger than mere rational instruction, because the word of the Gospel is not only a source for our knowledge of God and divine matters, but it is also a means of grace.

But such a rational and religious-moral working of the Gospel is not sufficient. It would be sufficient if man had not fallen or been deprived of his spiritual freedom by the fall. But the Scriptures testify, and experience confirms every day, that man is darkened in his understanding, Ephesians 4: 18, 5: 8, bound in his will by sin, John 8: 34, Romans 6: 20, and dead in sins and crimes, Ephesians 2: 2, 3. Therefore he cannot see the kingdom of God, John 8: 3, grasp the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2: 14, submit to the law of God, Rom. 8: 7, of himself think or do nothing good, John 15: 5, 2 Cor. 3: 5. The Gospel may be for man, but it is not according to man, not in accordance with his wishes and thoughts, Gal. 1:11; and therefore, if left to himself, it is always rejected and opposed by him.

But herein lies the riches of God's grace, that, notwithstanding, He links the calling by word to the working of His Spirit in those whom He has elected to eternal life. Already in the Old Testament, the Spirit of the Lord was the Master and Guide of the spiritual life, Ps. 51:12, 143:10, but especially there He is still promised as the one who in the days of the New Covenant would teach all, would give them a new heart and would write in that heart the Law of God, Isa. 32:15, Jer. 31:33, 32:39, Ezek. 11:19, 36:26, Joel 2:28. For that purpose He was poured out on the day of Pentecost. He had to testify of Christ with and through the apostles and then live in the congregation, to regenerate it, John 3:5, to bring it to the confession of Jesus as its Lord, 1 Cor. 12:3, to comfort it, to lead it and to remain with it forever, John 14:16, Rom. 8:14, Eph. 4:30 etc., and likewise to penetrate the world from the congregation and to convince it of sin, righteousness and judgment, John 16:8-11.

The work of redemption is not only God's, but also his alone, subjective work. It is not of him who wills, nor of him who walks, but of the compassionate God, Romans 9:16. There is an outward calling, which comes to many, Matthew 22: 14, but there is also an inward, powerful calling, which is the result of election, Romans 8: 28-30. God not only gives the Gospel, but He also preaches it in power and in the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. 2:4, 1 Thess. 1:5, 6, and gives the growth Himself, 1 Cor. 3:6-9. He opens the heart, Acts 16:14, enlightens the mind, Eph. 1:18, Col. 1:9-11, bends the will, Acts 9:6, and works both the will and the work according to His will, Phil. 2 : 13.

That those who are called in this way come to Christ and are converted is therefore not to be ascribed to man as if his free will distinguished him from others; But one must attribute it to God, who, as He elected His own from eternity in Christ, so also powerfully calls those in time, endows them with faith and conversion, and brings them into the kingdom of His Son, having been delivered from the power of darkness, That they may proclaim the virtues of him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light, and that they may not glory in themselves, but in the Lord, as the apostolic writings repeatedly testify. )

The nature of this inner calling is explained to us in many ways in Scripture; although it does not use this term, it repeatedly brings to our attention the matter which it denotes. Nature already gives us an explanation of what happens in grace; creation elucidates the re-creation, just as it sheds its light on the other; Jesus explained the nature, the characteristics, and the laws of the kingdom of heaven in parables, for which He borrowed the material from nature and everyday life. Specifically, in the parable of the Sower, He shed light on the various effects that the word of the Gospel has in the hearts of men.

The law of nature is that for all perception and knowledge a certain relation is necessary between man and the object he wishes to perceive and know. To see, one needs not only an object but also an open eye and, in addition, a light that illuminates both. To hear, there are not only air vibrations and sounds necessary, but man also needs an opened ear to catch these sounds. And behind these two senses, in order to understand the meaning of the objects we see and the sounds we hear, a heart is needed to notice. We must relate to what we perceive in order to truly take it in and make it our spiritual property. A blind man cannot see, a deaf man cannot hear, an indifferent man cannot understand, an unmusical man cannot grasp the world of tones, and a man who lacks any sense of beauty cannot take pleasure in a work of poetry or painting. There must be a certain relationship, a harmonious connection, between man and the world if there is to be perception and knowledge.

Now, in the natural sphere, that connection has generally continued to exist. It is true that sin has also had its effect here, so that it is almost completely broken in the case of the blind, the deaf, the insane and many other unfortunate people, and more or less weakened and disturbed in the case of all people without distinction. But in general one can say that God has left that connection in the natural sphere; man can still see and hear, perceive and think, learn and know.

But on the spiritual level, that connection has been completely severed by sin. The pattern of a man's heart is evil from childhood, Gen 8:21. An ox knows its owner and a donkey the manger of its master, but Israel has no knowledge and the Lord's people do not abide, Is 1:3. The generation of mankind is like the children who sit in the markets and call their companions and say: We played to you the flute and you did not dance, We sang to you songs of lamentation and you did not weep, Matt. 11:16, 17. They have no eyes to see, no ears to hear, no hearts to understand, Isa. 6:9, Matt. 13:14, 15. 1 : 21, and when He reveals Himself to them in the gospel, they do not understand the things of the Spirit of God, are annoyed at the foolishness of the cross, and beat their heels against the stimuli, Acts 9 : 5, 1 Cor. 1 : 23, 2 : 14. Man by nature is dead to God, to His revelation, to all spiritual and heavenly things; he has no interest in them, is indifferent to them, thinks only of things that are beneath him, and has no desire to know the ways of the Lord. The bond between God and man is broken; there is no longer any spiritual kinship or fellowship between the two.

Therefore, inward calling generally consists of restoring that broken bond and making mankind spiritually related to God again, so that he will hear God's word again and be able to understand it. Scripture even refers to this working of the Holy Spirit in internal calling as revelation. When Simon Peter in the parts of Caesarea Philippi confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Saviour said to him: Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And likewise the apostle Paul testifies that at his conversion it pleased God to reveal His Son in him, Gal. 1:16. This revelation is not to be understood as the actual appearance of Christ, because when Peter confessed Him as the Christ, the Saviour had already lived and worked on earth for years; He had also made Himself known as the Messiah several times, e.g. Matt 11:5ff, and had already been recognized as such by others, Matt 8:29, 14:33. But so clear and decisive as now by Peter, Jesus had never before been confessed as Messiah and Zone of God, and therefore he says that only a subjective revelation in the heart and consciousness of Peter could bring him to such a firm and clear confession. God Himself enlightened the Apostle internally so that he now saw in Christ what he had never before seen so clearly in Him.

In other words, the revelation referred to here consists of an internal illumination. In the natural world our eye is enlightened by the sun, and then it in turn enlightens the whole body, just as a candle enlightens a house, Matthew 6: 23. Man's mind and reason are enlightened by the word that was with God, that made all things, that was the light of man, and yet enlightens every man coming into the world, John 1:1-9; and by that enlightenment of his consciousness man can perceive, investigate and know the world; and the wisdom of man lightens his face, Ecclesiastes 8:1. Already in the Old Testament the poet prayed for it, when he said: discover my eyes, remove the lid from them, that I may behold the wonders of your law, Ps. 119:18. God, who is the creator of light, has also shone in his heart, so that as an apostle he might make the glory of God shine before others in the preaching of Christ and thus lead them to the knowledge of it. 2 Cor. 4:6, comp. Eph. 3:9.

Elsewhere this activity of the Holy Spirit in the internal calling is described as an opening of the heart by the Lord Christ, Acts 16:14, or of the mind, Luke 14:45, so that the word of God is understood and accepted in its true sense; or it is also presented as a growth that God gives to the word preached by the apostles, 1 Cor. 3:5-9. For the apostles are but servants, fellow workers of God, instruments in His hand, so that it is not actually they who labor, but the grace of God which is with them, 1 Cor. 15:10. Yes, they are nothing, but God is everything, because He gives the seed of the word its growth, and the church is therefore entirely His work and building. Besides, such power as is necessary to bring a dead sinner to life is in the hand of no creature, angel or apostle. It requires no less than divine, omnipotent power, the same power that raised Christ from the dead.

For the believers in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul prays that God may continually give them the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation, that they may know Him and enlighten their eyes (their hearts), so that they may know, first, the exceeding hope and expectation that God gives to those He has called, and second, the riches of the glory that He has promised; Secondly, what riches of glory of inheritance await them among the saints in the future; and thirdly, what is the exceeding greatness of His power, which He displays to the faithful from the beginning of their calling, through their whole life up to the glory. They can form some idea of the greatness of this power by measuring it against that which God has wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and placed Him at His right hand in the heavens, far above all power and name. The same power of God is manifested in the calling, regeneration, birth and glorification of believers as in the resurrection, ascension and exaltation of Christ (Eph. 1: 17-20).

In full agreement with the Holy Scriptures, the Reformed Church therefore confesses that when God works his good pleasure in the elect and effectuates true conversion in them, he not only externally preaches the Gospel to them and powerfully enlightens their minds through the Holy Spirit, so that they may rightly understand and discern the things that are of the Spirit of God, but also reaches into the innermost parts of man with the powerful working of the same regenerating Spirit. And this working 'is, according to the same confession, a wholly supernatural one, a very powerful and at the same time very sweet, wonderful, hidden and inexpressible working, which, according to the testimony of the Scriptures (which are inspired by the author of this working), is in its power no less and no less than the creation or the raising of the dead' (Dordrecht Precepts 111 IV 11, 12).

The change which is brought about in man by this working of the Holy Spirit is called rebirth. The word does not occur only and not for the first time in Scripture, but has been used from ancient times in the religion of the Indians to denote the change which every soul undergoes at death. According to the Indians, the soul does not remain in a state of separation after death, but immediately passes into another body, whether human, animal or plant, according to how it behaved in its previous body. Every birth leads to death, but every death also leads to a new birth; every human being is subjected to a centuries-long series of ״rebirths," that is, of the indwelling of his soul in ever other bodies ; And according to Buddhism, salvation from this terrible law and from all the suffering in the world is only possible when man knows how to quench his thirst for being within himself and works on his own destruction, or at least on the numbing of his consciousness, through all kinds of abstinence. From India this doctrine of "rebirths" was transmitted to Europe in ancient times and again in the last century; and today there are not a few who see in it the essence of all wisdom.

But Scripture speaks of rebirth in an entirely different sense. She uses this noun in two places; once in Matt. 19: 28, where Jesus thinks of regeneration as the renewal of the world, which will precede the kingdom of glory, and another time in Tit. 3: 5, where Paul says that God has saved us, not by our works, but according to His mercy, through the bath of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. It is difficult to determine whether Paul is thinking of baptism by means of this bath, as a sign and seal of the rebirth, or whether he is comparing and presenting the acts of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit themselves in the image of a bath, into which the believers have descended. However, the addition of the renewal of the Holy Spirit proves that we have to think of a spiritual, moral change, which took place in the believers during their conversion. The context confirms this view, for formerly they, who are now believers, were unwise, disobedient, erring, etc., Tit. 3: 3, but now they have been saved, reborn and renewed, in hope becoming heirs of life, vs. 4-7, and are thus exhorted to contrive good works, vs. 8, for which they have received the ability and desire through rebirth and renewal.

Although the noun 'rebirth' occurs only two times in Scripture, the matter itself is often mentioned in other words and images. Already the Old Testament admonishes the people of Israel, that they do not glory in the external sign of circumcision, but that they should circumcise the foreskin of their hearts and harden their necks no more, Deut. 10:16. And it promises that the Lord their God Himself shall circumcise their hearts and the hearts of their seed, to love the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul, Deut. 30:6. The promise has been fulfilled in the history of Israel among the pious, but it will be fulfilled much more abundantly in the future, when God will make a new covenant with His people, pour out the Spirit on all of them, give them a new heart of flesh, and write His law in their hearts, Jer. 24: 7, 31: 31-34, 32: 39, Ezek. 11: 19, 36: 26-28, Joel 2: 28 ff. etc.

When that future is at hand and the kingdom of heaven has come near, John the Baptist therefore appears with the demand for conversion as a condition for entrance into the kingdom. The people of Israel, in spite of all their outward privileges, are rotten to the core; they need, in spite of their circumcision, a baptism, the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, in which man is completely immersed, in order to rise as another man and to a new life. 3 : 2 f. And Jesus takes the same preaching of conversion and faith on his lips, undergoes baptism himself, and also administers it to all who want to be his disciples, Mark. 1: 14, 15, John 4: 1, 2. He who wants to enter the kingdom must break with his whole former life, lose his soul, Matt. 10: 39, 16: 25, leave everything, Luke 14: 33, take up his cross and follow Him, Matt. 10: 38, become a child, Matt. 8: 3, return to the Father with a confession of his guilt, Luke 15: 18, pass through the narrow gates of the Kingdom of Heaven. 15 : 18, to enter through the narrow gate and the narrow way to eternal life, Matt. 7 : 14. 15: 19; as an evil tree, they cannot produce good fruit, Matt. 7: 17 f. So if there is to be good fruit, the tree must first be made good, and that is something that only God can do, Matt. 19: 26 Children of God and citizens of the kingdom of heaven are those who, like a plant, have been planted by the heavenly Father, Matt. 15: 13, to whom the Sovereign Lord has given His blessing. 15 : 13, to whom the Son has revealed the Father and the Father the Son, Matt. 11 : 27, 13 : 11, 16 : 17; while they were formerly dead spiritually, they are now partakers of the true life and await eternal life, Matt. 8 : 22, Luke 15 : 24, 18 : 30.

In this entire teaching of Christ, as the first three Evangels tell us, the word 'rebirth' does not occur, but the matter is clearly presented in it. So when Jesus, in His conversation with Nicodemus, says that no one can see the kingdom of God and enter it unless he is born again (from above), of water and the Spirit, John 3: 3 - 8, He is not contradicting the teaching in the other Gospels, but is merely summarizing in a brief and sharp manner towards the teacher Nicodemus what He has explained elsewhere in a broader and more popular form. Nicodemus was an important man, a teacher of Israel, a member of the Sanhedrin; he had heard of Jesus' miracles and therefore considered him to be a teacher sent by God; but he was still undecided, still in doubt, and in order not to arouse the distrust and enmity of the Jews, went to Jesus by night to have a confidential conversation with him in order to find out whether he was indeed the Messiah. Nicodemus began his conversation by admitting that he thought Jesus was a teacher who had come from God and was qualified by God to do his work, and apparently wanted to ask what a man had to do to enter the kingdom of heaven. But Jesus does not give him time to ask this question, and immediately answers: verily, verily, I say unto you, Except one be born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God. And with this He cuts off from Nicodemus all human work, all Pharisaic law, as the way to the kingdom.

That is why Jesus does not speak literally of being born again (a new birth), but of being born from above. The emphasis is not on the fact that a second birth is necessary for entrance into the kingdom (although rebirth can of course be called that), but Jesus wants to make clear to Nicodemus that only a birth from above, verse 3, from water and the Spirit, verse 5, from the Spirit, verse 8, opens the entrance to the kingdom. This birth is opposed to that of the flesh, for what is born of the flesh is the flesh, verse 6; it is not of the blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God, John 1:13. Therefore it is as incomprehensible in its origin and direction as the wind, but it is nevertheless possible, for it is a birth of the Spirit, verse 8. After Jesus first said in general that it is a birth of water and Spirit (both without an article), verse 5, He speaks in verse 7 and 8 specifically of the Spirit (with the article), to indicate that this Spirit, as the Spirit of God, can bring about this great work of birth from above. With the water, verse 5, Jesus does not think of baptism, but He describes the nature of the birth from above with it; it is a birth that bears the character of a renewal and purification (of which the water is an image, Ezek 36:25, verg, the conjoining of Spirit and fire, Matt 3:11), and gives birth to a new, spiritual life. And this can be done by this birth from above, because it is a birth from the Spirit, from God Himself, verse 6-8.

Other places in the New Testament expand on this foundational teaching of Christ. The rebirth is a work of God; it is He by Whom the believers are born, John 1: 13, 1 John 3: 9, 5: 18, 5: 10, 6, 7, 8. 3 : 9, 5 : 18, who calls them by force, Rom. 8 : 30, who brings them to life from the dead, Eph. 2 : 18, who gives them a new life. Ephesians 2 : 1, brings them forth, James 1 : 17 and regenerates them, 1 Peter 1 : 3. But He does not bestow this benefit except in the fellowship with Christ, to whom He has given the gift of the Holy Spirit, John 6: 37, 39 to whom He draws them, John 6: 44, in whom He incorporates them, Rom. 6: 4, Eph. 2 : 1, Gal. 2 : 20, and by the gift of the Holy Spirit, who penetrates into the heart of man, and is the principle of the new life, John 3 : 3, 5, 8, 6 : 63, Rom. 8 : 9, 1 Cor. 12 : 3, 1 Pet. 1 : 2. By virtue of this birth from God, believers are therefore His workmanship, created in Christ, Eph. 2: 10, His fieldwork and building, 1 Cor. 3 : 9, a new creature, 2 Cor. 5 : 17. Regeneration is not a work of man's strength, not the product of a slow, gradual development of natural life, but a break with the old existence and the creative beginning of a new, spiritual life; the death of the old and the resurrection of the new man, Romans 6:3ff.

Yet on the other hand it is not a second creation, entirely from nothing, but a re-creation of man, who received existence through birth from his parents. At the time of rebirth he remains essentially the same person, the same I, the same personality. Paul says of himself that he has been crucified with Christ and therefore no longer lives himself, but Christ lives in him; but then he goes on to say: that which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Gal. 2: 20; his self has been crucified with Christ and has died, but it has also arisen immediately with Christ; it has not been destroyed and replaced by another, but it has been reborn and renewed. And likewise he says of some of the believers in Corinth that they were formerly fornicators and idolaters and adulterers, but they have been washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God, 1 Cor. 6:10, 11.

This change is of a spiritual nature; that which is born of spirit, is spirit, John 3: 6, lives and walks according to the Spirit. The rebirth instills a principle of new life, which the Holy Spirit creates in connection with the resurrection of Christ, from whom He takes everything, 1 Peter 1:3. It plants a seed in the heart, 1 Peter 1: 23, 1 John 3: 9, from which a whole new man arises. It starts, in a very mysterious and hidden way, and has its center in the core of man's personality, in his very being, Gal. 2:20, but from there it extends to all the faculties of man, to his intellect, Rom. 12:2, 1 Cor. 2:12, Eph. 4 : 23, and heart, Heb. 8 : 10, 10 : 16, 1 Pet. 3 : 4, to his will, Rom. 7 : 15-21, and affections, Rom. 7 : 22, to his mind and soul and body, 1 Thess. 5 : 23, Rom. 6 : 19. 5 : 17, yet desires to walk in newness of the Spirit, Rom. 6 : 4, 7 : 6.

They no longer bear the image of the earthly man, of the first Adam, but present the image of the second man, the Lord from heaven, 1 Cor. 15:48, 49. They have been crucified to the world, and no longer live themselves, but live in the One who died and rose again for them, 2 Cor. 5:15, Gal. 2:20, 6:14. They have received another center for all their thinking and their work, for they live, move and are in Christ, have put on Him as a garment in baptism, display His form and are being changed ever more in His image, from glory to Lordship, as of the Lord's Spirit, 2 Cor. And in that communion with Christ they are children of the heavenly Father, who love God and the brethren, and will one day be like God, because they will see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2, 5:2, etc. Holy Scripture speaks so richly and gloriously about the rebirth, and it does so not in the first place so that we might think rightly of its teachings, but so that we might personally partake of this great benefit of God's grace and walk as God's children in this wicked world. What a power it would be for the church if it did not only describe the image of Christ in its confession, but also showed it in the practice of life to all those around it.

This is certain: the tree is known by its fruits. A good tree brings forth good fruit, and a good man brings forth good things from the goodly treasure of his heart, Matt. 7:17, 12:33, 35. If regeneration produces a new principle of life in the heart, it must and will be manifested in the activities that emanate from that spiritual life. And these are, in particular, two: faith on the part of the mind, and conversion on the part of the will.

Believing is in general, as we speak of it in our daily lives, the acceptance of a testimony. We believe something when we have not seen or observed it ourselves, but are nevertheless assured of it because other reliable persons, orally or in writing, in the past or in the present, have told us about it. The word retains this basic meaning when it is applied to religion, and it must retain this meaning because we know nothing of the entire content of the Gospel, of the person and work of Christ, except through the testimony of the Apostles; it is only through their word that we can believe in Christ, John 17: 20, and through fellowship with the Apostles that we come to fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, 1 John 1: 3.

Nevertheless, when faith is transferred to the religious sphere, and especially when it is presented in Scripture as the way to the kingdom of heaven, it is significantly modified in accordance with this particular use. It is also possible to accept the Gospel in the same way as one believes the testimony concerning a historical person or fact, but then one does not accept the Gospel as an Evangeline, and the faith with which one accepts it is not the true faith. The experience of all preachers, prophets, apostles, ministers in the church and in the gentile world, even the experience of Jesus Himself, has always been that the word did not find acceptance or effect with many who heard it. Who has believed our preaching, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Isa. 53 : 1. The people who hear the Gospel bring a very different state of mind and have a very different attitude towards it.

Jesus depicted these situations in the parable of the Sower. With some, the word's seed falls along the path that borders the field, and the birds come and eat it; these are the indifferent, the insensitive, the vapid, who hear the word, but as a matter that does not concern them; they do not take the slightest interest in it personally and believe that it is not addressed to them. The word does not fall into their hearts, but on the hard, well-worn path; it is not even remembered, but goes in one ear and out the other; after a few moments it is as if they had not heard it at all; the birds, all kinds of thoughts of contradiction, contempt, disbelief, slander, used by the Evil One as a means, drive the word out of their consciousness; they have heard it, but they do not understand it, Matt 13:4, 19.

With others the seed of the word falls into stony places, where it does not have much earth; it then rises immediately, precisely because it has no depth of earth, but when the sun has risen it burns, and it withers, because it has no root. These are the superficial, shallow, fleeting minds; they not only hear the word, but also accept it immediately with joy; the Gospel attracts them because of its beauty, loftiness, simplicity or loveliness, and also makes some impression on them. They are moved and stirred by it, taste a certain strength from it, and form all kinds of good intentions. But they do not allow the truth to penetrate deeply and take root. hey give it a place in their memory, in their imagination, in their reason and in their intelligence, but they do not open the depths of their soul to it.

There is a thin layer of earth on the surface where the word penetrates, but below that everything is cold, dead, hard as a rock. That is why they cannot endure the oppression and persecution, the trial and temptation; as soon as they come, they are vexed and fall away; they are only for a time, Matt. 13:5, 6, 20, 21.

There are also others, with whom the seed of the word falls in the midst of thorns, but the thorns, also growing up (with that seed of the word), Luke 8:7, choke it, so that it does not germinate and bear fruit. These are the worldly-minded hearers, whose hearts are full of thorns, full of the cares of the world or the temptations of riches, who are completely taken over by the cares or the temptations of earthly life. They hear the word, they also accept it; sometimes it penetrates their hearts amidst all the worldly cares and pleasures; the thought occurs to them now and then that it would be better to break with the world and seek the kingdom of God; the fear of judgment sometimes takes possession of their minds. But when the seed of the word is about to germinate, then come the thorns, the worldly burdens and lusts, and they choke it in birth. They cannot bring themselves to leave everything, to take up their cross and follow Jesus; the power of the world is too strong for them.

So there is a consent and acceptance of the Gospel, which is not the true one. Certainly, there are indifferent people, like Pilate, who turn away from the Gospel with a haughty and contemptuous smile, John 18: 38. There are also those, like the proud Pharisees and the wise Greeks, who see the Cross of Christ as an annoyance and a foolishness, and break out in wild enmity and hatred against it, Matthew 12: 24, John 8: 22, 1 Cor. 1: 23. But there are others who believe, but do not come to confession, and love the honour of men more than the honour of God, John 12: 42, 43; who remain hearers of the word all their life, until they die, but never become doers of the word, Matt. 7: 26, John 13: 17, Romans 2: 13, James 1: 23; who, like Simon of Samaria, accept the Gospel because of the signs and great powers which it produces, Acts 8: 13ff. There are all kinds of faiths, historical, temporal, miraculous, which bear the name, but do not possess the substance; which show a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof, 2 Tim. 3: 5.

The real, the beatific faith, is different from all the mentioned forms of faith in three respects. First, it has a different origin. Historical, temporal and miraculous faith are not in themselves wrong; they are better than utter unbelief and more bitter enmity; they even have a temporary use; but they are only gifts of God's general grace and are also given to natural men. But the saving faith is a gift of God, like all salvation, Eph. 2:8, a gift of God's special grace, Phil. 1:29, a consequence of election, Acts 13:48, Rom. 8:30, Eph. 1:5, a work of the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. 12:3, a fruit of regeneration, John 1:12, 13.

Those who only have a natural birth belong to the world, are from below, prefer darkness to light, do not know God and do not understand His word, John 1:11, 3:3, 19, 20, 6:44, 8:47, Romans 8:7, 1 Cor. 2:14, etc. They are born of God, are of the truth, are led by the Father to Christ, hear His voice, understand His word and follow Him, John 3: 3, 5, 6: 44, 8: 47, 10: 5, 27. And the Holy Spirit, of whom they are born, testifies with their spirit that they are the children of God, Romans 8:16, and puts on their lips the confession that Christ is their Lord, 1 Cor. 12:3.

By virtue of this origin, secondly, true, beatific faith is also distinguished in essence from all other faiths. It unquestionably includes an element of knowing, for it relates to a testimony concerning unseen, eternal things, which we ourselves have not perceived and cannot perceive. It cannot construct the truth from the born-again life, nor from religious experience and mental experience. For although the faithful have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit (i.e. Chris) and know all things, 1 John 2: 20, they owe this Spirit precisely to Christ, remain bound by the word of truth which they heard from the beginning, 1 John 2: 21-24, and with the whole church are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Eph. 2: 20.

But the knowledge that is inherent to salvation faith is of a special kind. It is not merely a theoretical knowledge, which is only absorbed by the mind and the memory and leaves mankind cold. It is not the same as that which is gained in science through research and reflection, and it is not the same as accepting a historical report about something that happened somewhere in the past. The knowledge of faith is a practical knowledge, a knowledge of the heart more than of the head, a knowledge with a personal, deep, soul-searching interest, because it concerns a matter in which I myself am involved at the core of my being, in which my existence, my life, my soul, my salvation is at stake. Faith, then, is an assent and acceptance, a knowing and awareness of a testimony that comes to me; but it is an acceptance of that testimony with application to myself, a reception of the word of God's preaching, not as the word of man, but as the word of God (1 Thess. 2:13), a "ministering" of the Gospel as a message sent to me personally by God.

And with this, in the third place, we see that salvation faith differs from all other faiths in its object. For historical faith stands by the message and does not penetrate deeper; temporal faith sees some beauty in that message and rejoices in it, but ignores its actual content; and belief in miracles attaches itself to the signs and powers, but is actually indifferent to Him who works them. If, however, we accept the Gospel with a true heart, as a word that God brings to us personally, then this beatific faith cannot leave us empty and unfruitful. Just as no one who learns on a journey that his family is in great danger can calmly continue his journey, no one who truly believes the Gospel, with application to himself, and who knows from it that he is guilty and lost and that there is only salvation in Christ Jesus, can remain cold and unconcerned. On the contrary, true faith is immediately active in those who have received it; it leaves them no rest and drives them to Christ. It does not therefore remain with the testimony as a historical message, but penetrates to the person of whom that testimony speaks. -

It was already like that in the Old Testament. The pious, who appear there before us, are always working with God Himself. A few times this is expressed by believing, Genesis 15:6, Exodus 14:31, Chronicles 20:20, Isaiah 28:16, Hab. 2:4, but this is not a rational conviction that God exists, but a wholehearted reliance on God and a standing on His word. Believing therefore alternates with all kinds of other words. It is always said of the pious that they trust in God, take refuge in Him, hope in Him, fear Him, expect everything from Him, despise Him, lean on Him, follow Him, etc. Their life is a constant walking, interacting with Him, and they are not afraid of Him. Their life is a constant walking, interacting, practicing fellowship with God. And so it is also in the New Testament. The apostles who have described it to us are not historians in the usual sense of the word, but they testify of what they have seen and heard and seen and touched of the Word of Life. They live in the fellowship with Christ and speak from it. Believing is accepting Christ, not merely accepting the testimony given about Him by the apostles, but accepting Christ Himself, John 1:12; it entails putting on Christ as a garment, Gal. 3:27, dying and rising with Christ, Rom. 6:4, living in His communion, Gal. 2:20, abiding in Him as the vine, John 15:4, etc.; and through and in Christ, God is their God, their God. And through and in Christ God is their Father, and they are His sons and daughters, 2 Cor. 6 : 18.

In a word, the faith to be saved is not only a certain knowledge, a firm conviction, an unquestionable certainty about the prophetic and apostolic testimony as the word of God, but it is also, at the same time, a firm trust from person to person in Christ Himself as the fullness of grace and truth, revealed by God in Him. The one is inseparably connected with the other. Without knowledge no trust is possible, for how can we trust someone whom we do not know? But vice versa, if knowing does not lead to trust, then it has not been the right knowing; those who know the name of the Lord, trust in Him, Ps. 9:11, but those who do not trust Him, have not yet learned to know Him from His word, as He truly is. He who seeks Christ apart from His Word, through the Spirit alone, loses the touchstone for the testing of minds and gradually comes to confuse his own mind with the Spirit of Christ.

Therefore Christ gave both, his word and his Spirit; and it is the Spirit of Christ who gives the same testimony in the word of Scripture and in the hearts of the faithful. In regeneration, He plants the word in our hearts (James 1: 18, 21, 1 Peter 1: 23, 25); and the spiritual life of the faithful, according to its nature, He always leads back to the word, to nourish and strengthen it. We never grow beyond the Scriptures here on earth, because the Scriptures are the only means of bringing us into fellowship with the real Christ, who was crucified, but is now seated at the right hand of the power of God. Christianity is a religion of history, but it is also a religion of the present; it has a Word, which paints the image of Christ before our eyes, and a Spirit through whom the living Christ himself dwells in our hearts. Faith is therefore knowledge and trust at the same time; it is an acceptance of Christ Himself in the garment of the Holy Scriptures.

Just as faith is the fruit of regeneration on the part of the conscious mind, so the new life is revealed on the part of the will in conversion. We find repeated mention of this in the books of the Old Testament. Israel, after the deliverance from Egypt, was led by the Lord to Sinai and there accepted into His covenant. As God's people it had to keep that covenant and obey His voice; it had to be a priestly kingdom, a holy nation, Exod. 19: 5, 6. But already in the wilderness they were time and again guilty of infidelity and disobedience. In Canaan this apostasy increased still further amidst the heathen peoples; when the first generation had died out and another arose, which knew neither the Lord nor the work He had done for Israel, then the sons of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, and they served the Baals. 2 : 10, 11.

Hence the preaching of repentance became necessary among Israel. In the early days Judges were appointed by the Lord to deliver the people from the hand of their enemies and to lead them back to the service of the Lord. Later, from Samuel onward, there were prophets who admonished Israel to turn from their evil ways and keep God's commandments and statutes in accordance with the law He had given their fathers. Samuel already began with this, 1 Sam. 7: 3, and all the prophets have repeated this preaching; they are all preachers of repentance and conversion, but in that way they have also been preachers of forgiveness of sins and of complete redemption, Jer. 3: 12, 14, 18: 11, 25: 5, Ezek. 14: 6, 18: 30-32, 33: 11, Hos. 12: 7, 14: 3, Joel 2: 12, 13 etc. And then sometimes some conversion was seen among the people; when they were subjugated and oppressed by their enemies, they began to cry out to the Lord, Judges. 3 : 9, 15, 4 : 3 etc.; the pious kings, Asa, Josaphat, Josiah, Hezekiah, brought about a smaller or larger reformation, 1 Kings 15 : 11 v., 22 : 47, 2 Kings 23 : 15, 2 Chron. 30 : 6, 9 ; Jonah even went to Nineveh, and at his preaching the people of Nineveh believed in God, they proclaimed a fast, clothed themselves with sacks, and repented of their evil way, Jon. 3:5, 10; Ahab is said to have humbled himself before the Lord after Elijah's announcement of his judgment, 1 Kings 21:27, 29, and Manasseh is said to have sought the Lord's face at the end of his life and acknowledged that the Lord is God, 2 Chron. 33 : 12.

Although the conversion of some was certainly serious and heartfelt, for the mass of the people it consisted of little more than an outward change; they did not convert, as Jeremiah says, with their whole heart, but falsely, Jer. 3: 10. Therefore the prophets continue their preaching of repentance; they keep the demand and duty of repentance before the people; they urge not only the people as a whole, but also each individual to leave their sinful ways and turn to the Lord their God. And if the people continue to ignore the exhortations, the prophets begin to think that their preaching will bring judgment upon the people, Isa. 6: 10, that Israel is a wild vine, Jer. Jer. 2:25, that they cannot turn back, any more than a moor man can change his skin or a leopard his spots, Jer. 13:23, and that God must give repentance and a new heart, Ps. 51:12, Jer. 31:18, Lamentations 5:21. And they eagerly look forward to that day, when God will make a new covenant, circumcise the heart of the people, and write His law in it, Deut. 30 : 2, 6, Ps. 22 : 28, Hos. 3 : 5, Jer. 24 : 7, 32 : 33 etc.

That day dawns, when, according to the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And both then proclaim that no attempt to keep the law, nor any zealous self-righteousness, but only repentance and faith will open the way to that kingdom and its goods. To indicate this conversion, the Greek New Testament uses two words; the first occurs as a noun or verb in Matt. 3:2, 8, 11, 9:13, 11:20, Acts 2:38, 2 Cor. 7:9, 10, and indicates an internal, spiritual change, a change in the moral disposition; the other, which we find e.g. in Matt. 13:16, Luke 1:16, 17; 22:32, Acts 9:35, 11:21, 14:15, 15:19, 26:18, 20 etc., It is the external change, the change in direction of life, which is the revelation and consequence of the internal change. In Acts 3: 18, 26: 20 both words are linked together: Repent and be converted, that is, change your mind and your walk, come to repentance and return.

When the Gospel was preached to the Jews and the Gentiles in the days of the Apostles and accepted by them, this also required a change that was visible to others. The Jews had to break with their observance of the Mosaic law, including circumcision and the whole sacrificial service, and the Gentiles had to say good-bye to their idolatry, statues and religious practices. It took a great deal of self-denial and courage to come over to Christianity; those who did so usually did so with conviction of heart, in sincerity and truth, for there was no honor or gain in it. Thus the two things expressed by the two words for conversion were usually very closely related; the internal and the external change went together.

This radical change, both internal and external, received its sign and seal in holy baptism, Acts. 2 : 38: He who was baptized broke with his whole past, left his fellowship, was crucified to the world, died with Christ and was buried with Him in His death through baptism; but at the same time rose again with Christ to a new life, put on Christ as a garment, as another pure garment, in which he now appeared to the world, became a disciple, a follower, a servant, a warrior of Christ, a member of His body, and a temple of the Holy Spirit, Rom. 6 : 3 v., Gal. 3:27, Col. 2:11, 12, etc. As long as the Christian church was to extend into the world of the Jews and Gentiles, conversion was not only an internal change, but also an external turning away from the service of dumb idols, 1 Cor. 12:2, 1 Thess. 1:9, from poor and weak principles and elements of religion, Gal. 4:3, 9, Col. 2:8, 20, from dead works, Heb. 9:14, 1 Thess. 1:9, from public sins and crimes, 1 Cor. 6:10, Eph. 2:2, 3, Col. 3:5, 7, Tit. 3:3, to serve henceforth the living and true God, Heb. 9:14, 1 Thess. 1:9, and to adhere to the Lord, 1 Cor. 6:15-20.

But when this missionary period was over and the church continued in the generations, from parents to children, then the conversion did not change in essence, but in the nature of things it gave up the external form in which it used to be revealed. The children were included in the covenant from birth; they received Holy Baptism as a sign and seal of it, and were thereby visibly incorporated into the Church of Christ, even before their consciousness and consent. But of course it often happened that members of the church, who were baptized at a later age or as children, fell back into more or less serious sins after that time. There were sects, such as the Montanists and the Novatians, who believed that the greater sins could not or should not be forgiven by the church; but the church itself took a different view, it allowed the erring and the fallen back into its fellowship, when they returned repented, confessed their sins and submitted to the church's punishments.

Gradually the sacrament of penance emerged, whereby the faithful, having committed minor or major sins, confess these in the priest's confession, showing either a perfect (when one regrets the sin because it offended God) or an imperfect (when one regrets the sin for fear of punishment, etc.) repentance, and finally performing the prayers and good works which the father confessor imposes on the penitent. Thus, conversion in the Roman Church gradually became completely externalized; instead of internal change of mind, the emphasis came to lie on confession and satisfaction, because an imperfect repentance was sufficient to obtain forgiveness of sins; and remission of the temporary punishments imposed could even be obtained by means of an indulgence. -

This is where the Reformation began with Luther. By reading the New Testament he came to understand that conversion in Scripture was something quite different from the penance that Rome had made of it. But Luther still separated repentance and faith too much; he himself had felt the curse of the law in his conscience and then found comfort in the justification of sinners through faith alone. Therefore, in his opinion, repentance in the sense of repentance, penance, and suffering were effected through the law, and faith through the Gospel. Calvin later realized this better, and gave a somewhat different presentation. Like the Scriptures, he distinguished between a false conversion and a true conversion, Jer. 3:10, between a sorrow for the world and a sorrow according to God's will, 2 Cor. 10:ר , between regret and repentance for a sinful act, and a heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sins. Repentance for a sinful deed may also fall upon the children of the world; if sin has quite other consequences than expected, if it leads to damage and disgrace, then the world also often feels regret; a Cain, Genesis 4:13, an Esau, Hebrews 12:17, a Judas, Matthew 27:3, are proof of this; such sorrow does not lead to true conversion, but it works death, it brings about doubt, bitterness, hardening.

But true conversion does not consist in such a repentance, deploring only the consequences of sin, but it consists in an inner breaking of the heart (Ps. 51:19, Acts 2:37), in a sorrow for sin itself, because it is contrary to God's will and incurs His wrath, in a heartfelt sorrow for sin, and in a hating and fleeing of sin. It is a sorrow, as God wills it and as God works it, and therefore it reaches out to God immediately and works an unrepentant conversion to salvation (or a conversion to unrepentant salvation), 2 Cor. 7:10. When the prodigal son has come to his senses and decides to return, he says: I will arise and go to my Father, and I will say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee (Luke 15:18). He already takes the name of Father to his lips, although he is still far from Him; he dares to go to the Father and confess his sins before Him, because he believes in the depth of his heart that the Father is his Father. We would not dare to turn to God if we did not trust in our souls through the Holy Spirit that He, as a Father, will accept our confession and forgive our sins. True conversion is indissolubly connected with true salvation faith.

That is why the complete treatment of the conversion of mankind does not belong to the doctrine of misery and salvation, but to that of thankfulness. Catech. Sunday 33. Sometimes the word conversion is taken in a wider sense, and then includes the entire change that must take place in a person to become a child of God and a citizen of His kingdom. Just as Jesus speaks only of regeneration in John 3, and elsewhere, e.g. Mark. 16 : 16, Jesus only speaks of faith as the way that leads to salvation, so in Matthew 4 : 17 He only mentions conversion; after all, one cannot have one benefit without the other; in the new life of rebirth faith and conversion are included in principle, and in due course they arise from them with necessity. But although they cannot be separated from one another, they can still be distinguished from one another, and then conversion is a fruit of regeneration, which at the same time presupposes faith. Then, too, conversion is and remains a gift and a work of God, not only in the beginning but also in the progress, Jer. 31: 18, Lamentations 5: 21, Acts 5: 31, 11: 19; but at the same time, by virtue of the new life that has been poured into it, it is an act of man, Acts 2: 38, 11: 21, Rev. 2: 5, 16 f., which is not limited to one moment but continues throughout life.

At the same time, although it is one in essence, it is different in form according to the persons in whom it takes place and the circumstances under which it takes place. It is indeed one path on which all God's children walk, but they are nevertheless led differently and have different experiences. What difference is there in the guidance God gave to the patriarchs; what difference is there in the conversion of Manasseh, Paul and Timothy? How far apart are the conversions of David and Solomon, of John and James! And we find the same diversity outside Scripture in the life of the Church Fathers, of the Reformers and of all the pious. As soon as our eye is opened to this wealth of spiritual life, we refrain from judging others according to our small, narrow standard. There are people who know only one method, and do not consider anyone converted unless they can speak of the same experiences that they themselves have had or claim to have had. But the Scriptures are much richer and wider than the narrowness of their hearts. Here also the word applies: there is diversity of gifts, but it is the same Spirit; and there is diversity of ministries, but it is the same Lord; and there is diversity of works, but it is the same God who works all in all, 1 Cor. 12:4 -6. True conversion does not consist in what men make of it, but in what God says of it; in all the variety of courses and experiences it exists and must exist in the death of the old man and the resurrection of the new.

What is the death of the old man? It is a heartfelt sorrow that we have wroth God through our sins and that we hate and flee Him more and more.

And what is the resurrection of the new man? It is a heartfelt joy in God through Christ, and the desire and love to live according to the will of God in all good works.


Source:  Magnalia Dei, by Herman Bavinck

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