by Wilhelmus a Brakel
Excerpt from The Christian's Reasonable Service by Wilhelmus a Brakel
Thus far we have discussed the Surety of the covenant and the partakers of this covenant, the church. We shall now proceed to consider the ways in which the Lord brings these partakers of the covenant into the covenant, and how He leads them to the ultimate goal of eternal felicity. The first aspect of this way is the calling.The Calling: God’s Declaration of the Gospel to Sinners
The calling is a gracious work of God, whereby He invites the sinner by means of the gospel to exchange the state of sin and wrath for Christ, in order that through Him he may be reconciled to God and obtain godliness and salvation. By means of this calling He also, by the Holy Spirit, efficaciously translates His elect into this state.
The calling is a gracious work of God: “And (the king) sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:3, 14); “...Him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Pet. 1:3); “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9).
God calls neither by the law of nature nor by the works of nature , whereby, in doing good, He nevertheless does not leave Himself without witness to the heathen (Acts 14:17). “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him” (Acts 17:27). For in all this Christ is neither proclaimed to them nor are they exhorted to believe in Him. The heathen are subject to the covenant of works, and whatever God does in and toward them has reference to that covenant. They are thus obligated to live according to this rule, “Do this and thou shalt live.” Therefore neither the law of nature, nor God’s works belong to the calling; the heathen are not called.
This call also does not occur by way of the moral law of Scripture . The moral law must be viewed in a twofold sense: It must be viewed either in its demands, whereby it reveals the perfect conditions of the covenant of works, or in its purpose, as having been given to the church as a rule of life and as the standard for true holiness. In its first sense the law is preached to convict man of sin (Rom. 3:20), thus bringing man to despair of being saved by his works. Here the function of the law ends. If, however, Christ is simultaneously preached by means of the gospel, man, being rejected by the law, is allured by the gospel. Thus, wherever Christ is preached, the law functions as a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ (Gal. 3:24). The law, however, neither teaches about Christ nor calls to Him, and thus the moral law is not a functional element of the calling. This is different as far as the ceremonial law is concerned, which belongs to the gospel.
The true means whereby we are called, however, is the gospel. “Whereunto He called you by our gospel” (2 Th. 2:14). The word “gospel” means a good tiding , the content of which is as follows: “Poor man, you are subject to sin and to the wrath of God. You are traversing upon the way which will end in eternal perdition. God, however, has sent His Son Jesus Christ to be a Surety; in His suffering and death there is the perfect satisfaction of the justice of God, and thus acquittal from guilt and punishment. In His obedience to the law there is perfect holiness, so that He can completely save all who go unto God through Him. Christ offers you all His merits, and therefore eternal salvation.” He calls and invites everyone: “Turn unto Me and be saved, receive Me, surrender to Me, enter into a covenant with Me and you will not perish but have everlasting life.” This declaration is recorded in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. The first gospel declaration is found in Genesis 3:15, where we read that the Seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent . Since then, God has frequently and in various ways caused the gospel to be proclaimed (Heb. 1:1). “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them” (Heb. 4:2). Prior to the coming of Christ it was called the gospel of promises . “...separated unto the gospel of God, (which He had promised afore by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures)” (Rom. 1:1–2). Subsequent to Christ’s coming it is called the gospel of fulfillment . “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled” (Mark 1:14–15).
The Distinction Between Law and Gospel
Law and gospel are frequently placed in contradistinction to each other. If in such a contradistinction the reference is to the ceremonial law, its purpose is to refer to Christ’s coming in the flesh, whose coming was typified by the ceremonies. The gospel of fulfillment, however, declares that Christ has come . In the matter itself there can be no contradistinction, since the gospel is comprehended in the ceremonies and proclaimed by them.
However, there is an essential difference between the moral law and the gospel . The law has first of all been given by God the Lord as the sovereign, majestic, and sole Lawgiver, and is pertinent to all mankind. The gospel, however, is the manifestation of God as being “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exo. 34:6), and does not pertain to all, but only to some. Secondly, the law can partially be known by nature (Rom. 2:15), but the gospel can only be known by revelation (Eph. 3:5). Thirdly, the law is a condition of the covenant of works which promised salvation upon the perfect keeping of the law and knows of no forgiveness (cf. Rom. 10:5; Matt. 19:17). The gospel, however, is a declaration of the covenant of grace, promising believers forgiveness and salvation by Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:8–9). Fourthly, the law begets the knowledge of sin in the sinner (Rom. 3:20), confronts him with wrath (Rom. 4:15), and thus brings forth fear and trembling (Isa. 33:14). The gospel, however, is the precious administration of the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). This gospel is the means whereby God calls men unto salvation.
God could immediately and nonverbally reveal Christ to man, bring him to Christ, cause him to believe in Him, and thus lead him to salvation. It has pleased the Lord, however, in order that His manifold wisdom be revealed and His other attributes be glorified, to make man a partaker of this salvation by means of the word of the gospel, leading rational man in a rational way. The use of this means is referred to as calling , since all men are going astray on a way which is not good and which leads to destruction. God calls out to men who are going astray that the way upon which they are traversing will make them eternally miserable, and invites them to come to Christ as the only way unto salvation.
The Distinction Between External and Internal Call
Concerning this calling a distinction is made between an external and an internal call. They both proceed from God, occur by means of this Word, pertain to the same matters, and are presented equally to all. Both calls are addressed to human beings who by nature are the same. They are, however, distinguishable. The one functions externally only by means of the Word, to which also the Holy Spirit does join Himself in His common operation, resulting in common illumination and historical faith. The other, however, penetrates the very heart of man, powerfully illuminating it with wondrous light, revealing spiritual mysteries to man in their essential form, and powerfully inclines the will to embrace those mysteries in Christ, and to the obedience of faith.
There is an infinite difference between the corrupt intellect of man—that is, the Arminians and other proponents of free will—and the Holy Scriptures. The question is: Does the obtaining of salvation proceed from man? Is he the only and essential cause of his salvation, or is God the only essential cause and can man, being absolutely incapable, do nothing to obtain salvation? The Arminians will readily admit that God has prepared and accomplished salvation and that God has given and revealed Christ the Mediator. However, they attribute this acceptance and entering in upon that way to the good will and power of man. This could be likened to what transpires on a race track. The government has put the prize on display and has prepared the track. The acquisition of the prize, however, is contingent upon the runners themselves.
In order to protect the idol of man’s own ability and of his good will as being the cause of his own salvation, the Arminians would prefer to do away with the distinction between the external and internal call, between the noneffectual and the effectual call. They would view them as being the same, and thus recognize only one calling. The effect would then not be due to the efficacious operation of God working more in one person than in another. Instead, it would be related to the outcome; namely, that the one person obeys the call by his free will (which enables him either to respond or to reject this call) and thus be saved. Another person will despise and reject this call by the same neutral free will. Scripture, however, rebukes and refutes such foolish thoughts and demonstrates first of all that the calling is effectual unto salvation as a result of God’s purpose, “...who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28); “for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11:29).
The actual exercise of faith in those who are called proceeds from this purpose. “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Scripture conveys in the second place that there is no distinction in man himself, but that this distinction originates with God. “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Man, however, by attributing the cause of one having more faith than another to his goodness and power, would create such a distinction. There is thus a calling which is of an effectual nature and penetrates the inner man—his intellect, will, and inclinations, changing and sanctifying them. This is the internal call . There is a calling by means of the Word of God which is not accompanied by God’s effectual operation (which generates faith and love), but which comes to the external ear only. It leaves man in his natural state, who, in his wickedness, rejects this external call. He despises this call due to his free will which wills by way of necessary consequence. This is true of most who are called (Matt. 22:5, 14). We shall discuss both calls individually, considering the external call first.
The External Call: Not Extended to All Men
Concerning the external call the question arises, Is this call universal; that is, does God call all men upon the face of the earth to Christ, and through Him unto salvation? The Lutherans answer in the affirmative. We maintain that this call does not come to all men. Although it does come to entire areas, nations, peoples, and languages, it does not come to all. The entire Scripture and the experience of all ages contradict this. Cain was the first to be driven away from the countenance of God, whereas the gospel remained in the genealogy of Seth. Abraham and his seed were received into the church of God and to them the oracles of God were committed, whereas God left all the heathen to walk in their own ways (Acts 14:16). “He showeth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for His judgments, they have not known them” (Psa. 147:19– 20).
After Christ’s coming, this calling has also not been universal. The entire continent of America was unknown and remained unknown for at least a thousand years and was thus deprived of the gospel. The interior is still largely unknown. 13There have always been countries where the gospel has not been proclaimed. Also today, most nations upon the face of the earth are deprived of the gospel. This fact is so obvious that it cannot be refuted, and it thus remains a certainty that this calling is not universal.
All men have been called in Adam and in Noah, as well as in other ancestors who have had the gospel and rejected it. For this reason God removed the candlestick from them, as is evident in Revelation 2 and 3.
13 It must again be remembered that this statement was made in 1700. We deny that those descendants to whom the gospel has not been proclaimed can be said to have been called simply because their ancestors were called, for it is true what the prophet says, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father” (Ezek. 18:20). Thus, the rejection of the gospel by our ancestors cannot be imputed to their descendants. We deny that all men have been called in Adam, Noah and in other ancestors, for all who are comprehended in Adam and in Noah are not comprehended in the covenant of grace, nor are they the recipients of the offer of grace. In this respect everyone must be viewed individually, none being called by the gospel but those to whom the gospel is proclaimed.
“Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4); “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11); “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). From these texts it can be concluded that the calling is universal, and that all men are individually called.
The word “all” frequently means “various.” Experience confirms that such is the meaning in these texts. These texts pertain to the proclamation of the gospel over the entire world, in contrast to being previously limited to the seed of Abraham. It refers to all sorts of nations without distinction, but not to every nation without exception.
Scripture indicates that there have been many believers who did not live where the church was situated, such as Job, Melchizedek, Baalam, Cornelius, etc. This proves that the calling extends beyond the limits of the visible church, and thus is universal.
From the calling of some individuals, one cannot deduce the universal calling of all. Some of these individuals lived prior to the time when Abraham’s seed was set apart. Such was true in the life of Shem and the patriarchs, when the knowledge of true religion had not been entirely removed from other generations. Others, even though they did not belong to Abraham’s seed, have lived where the church was situated, and due to such circumstances became believers and proselytes.
There have been many who, though living far from the church, lived godly lives and did good works. Their knowledge was consequently sufficient unto salvation. The calling is thus universal.
The law of nature is innate in all men. From this proceeds natural religion and thus also natural virtues. In chapter one we demonstrated that this is not sufficient unto salvation. This natural knowledge, religion, and virtuousness differ in their essential nature from the true knowledge of God in Christ, and from true religion and virtuousness, so that the one does not necessarily follow the other. From all this it is certain that the calling is not universal.
The External Call of the Gospel in the Old Testament Dispensation
Others, such as the Socinians, hold to an entirely different extreme, and deny that there was a calling by the gospel prior to Christ . They will indeed admit that the gospel was known to the prophets themselves who had extraordinary revelations, unless they be so exceedingly foolish as to consider the prophets as being irrational, merely viewing them as organ pipes which unconsciously bring forth musical sounds. Even if they would admit that the prophets were acquainted with the gospel, they wish to deny that the people had any knowledge thereof. Whatever they did comprehend would then only point to future times; namely, that in the days of the Messiah the Gentiles would call out to Him. We maintain, however, that people in the Old Testament were certainly called to believe in the coming Messiah unto justification, sanctification, and salvation—as is now true in the New Testament—albeit with less light and with less efficacy.
This is evident first of all in some very clear texts. “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed” (Gal. 3:8). Abraham received the gospel and was called prior to being circumcised. From this the apostle concludes that those who are believers, though uncircumcised, are Abraham’s children. This was not only true for Abraham, but for all his seed to whom He made this known. The Lord Himself testifies of this: “And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD” (Gen. 18:17–19). God knew, chose, and called Abraham for this purpose, and thus proclaimed the gospel to him in order that he would make this known to his children and his house after him. They therefore also had this gospel; it was also proclaimed to them.
Also consider Hebrews 4:2, “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” We in the New Testament have the gospel as did they of the Old Testament. This manner of speech gives expression to the fact that those of the Old Testament were somewhat superior, not as far as the clarity of the gospel is concerned, but in view of the fact that they had the gospel at an earlier time. They had the gospel, and the gospel was intended for them in those days. They heard it and were obligated to embrace it by faith, and it was their sin if they did not do so.
Secondly, this is evident in all the prophetical Scriptures. It is an irrefutable fact that these Scriptures contain many predictions and descriptions of the future Messiah, as well as many exhortations to believe in Him (cf. Psalms 2, 45, 72; Isa. 40; etc). The prophetical Scriptures are summaries of the sermons which the prophets preached to the people, so that the contents of these prophecies were made known to them. They were thus obligated to repent and by means of these sermons were stirred up to believe. The gospel was thus present in the Old Testament.
Thirdly, the entire ceremonial worship confirms this. All these ceremonies were not given to Israel in order that they would end in the external, and in the performance of rituals, but these were shadows of Christ who is the substance of them (cf. Col. 2; Heb. 10:1). By way of these shadows they were thus called to look forward to the coming Messiah and to believe in Him, something which the apostle demonstrates in the entire letter to the Hebrews. Therefore these shadows are an essential element of the gospel. Since they had the one, they also had the other.
Fourthly, the believers of the Old Testament were partakers of the benefits presented and promised in the gospel. They were partakers of the covenant of grace (cf. Gen. 17; Acts 3:25); they had the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 4:13); God was their Father and they His children (cf. Rom. 9:4; Psa. 103:13; Jer. 31:20). They had the forgiveness of sins (Psa. 32:5), and furthermore they had all the benefits of the covenant of grace; they expected and obtained salvation (Heb. 11:16). Wherever all these graces are to be found, there the gospel must be as well. Since these existed in the Old Testament, the gospel was also present.
The gospel was concealed prior to the time of Christ. At that time believers had only the promise, but not the matter itself. This is evident from the following texts.
(1) “These all died in faith, not having received the promises” (Heb. 11:13).
This text says that they did not have Christ in the flesh whose coming was then promised. We do not read, however, that they had not the gospel, nor that they were not called to believe in the Christ who was to come. We read the contrary: They believed. They were thus called by the gospel, being of identical content (1 Pet. 1:20), for faith cometh by hearing.
(2) “...according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:25–26). Here the apostle states expressly that the gospel was kept secret since the world began and only has been revealed in the New Testament.
The text itself refutes this sentiment, for the apostle speaks of a revelation to the Gentiles and not to the Jews. He says that it has been made known to the Gentiles by the prophetical Scriptures, as the gospel was contained and revealed in them. The Jews did have these Scriptures, however, and it was known to the Jews prior to this time, but was unknown to the Gentiles. Other texts also speak of this mystery which was known to the Jews but hidden from the Gentiles. “Which in other ages was not
made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph. 3:5–6). This had previously not been revealed as clearly as it is revealed at this present time . It had not been revealed to the Gentiles at all, and no one had previously witnessed the fulfillment of the promises concerning the calling of the Gentiles. The apostles, however, witnessed that the Gentiles were converted by their preaching. The same meaning is expressed in the following texts: Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:26; 2 Timothy 1:10–11; Titus 1:2.
Moses was the mediator of the Old Testament, and Christ in the New Testament. Christ was thus not proclaimed to them, and they were not partakers of Christ.
(1) Consider John 1:17, where we read, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
(1) Moses testified of Christ and preached Christ to the people (Luke 24). The gospel was thus present during the time of Moses.
(2) The distinction here is not chronological, but pertains to the persons and their work. Moses was the means whereby God gave the law of the ten commandments as a rule of life for the partakers of the covenant and the ceremonial laws as typifying Christ. Neither Moses nor his laws were, however, the substance itself; this is true for Christ who is the same yesterday and today. Christ is the truth, the essence, and the embodiment of the matter which Moses typified.
Consider Galatians 3:19, “It (the law) was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” Moses was thus the mediator of the Old Testament and Christ the Mediator of the New Testament. “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament” (Heb. 7:22); “And for this cause he is the Mediator of the New Testament” (Heb. 9:15).
Moses was a mediator of interposition, who transmitted words back and forth between God and the people. Christ, however, is Surety and Mediator by virtue of atonement. “And for this cause he is the Mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). Moses could only be a mediator as long as he lived, and this was but for a short time, so that succeeding ages did not have Moses as a mediator; Christ, however, is the same yesterday and today. In the ceremonies He has also been slain from before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). Moses being a mediator in the manner just stated made Christ known to the people on God’s behalf, and exhorted them to believe in
Christ (Luke 24:27). This was the reason why the ceremonial law was instituted. Thus, the gospel as well as the calling were a reality in the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament people did not possess the spiritual benefits of the covenant of grace. It thus follows that they also did not have the gospel. They were therefore also not called unto salvation.
(1) This is evident in Hebrews 7:19, “For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.”
It is true that the law in and of itself could not give man hope unto salvation; however, the ceremonies led them unto Christ, by which believers of the Old Testament had access to grace by faith. They believed in Christ, and were partakers of the benefits of the covenant as is also true for us in the New Testament (as stated above).
(2) In Hebrews 9:8 we read “that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing.” “The holiest” refers to heaven. It is a known fact that the way to heaven had not as yet been made manifest. Thus, believers of the Old Testament were not called unto salvation by the gospel.
First of all, the apostle says in the following verse (vs. 9) that the holiest was “a figure for the time then present.” They therefore had a figure of heaven for themselves at that time. Secondly, the Holy of Holies was separated by a veil so that one could not look into it. This meant that all the ceremonies, considered by themselves, could not open heaven. It therefore meant that one could not enter heaven by means of this way, but rather that the antitype of those ceremonies, Christ, is the only way by which one can come to God (John 14:6). Thirdly, the apostle states that the way was not manifest as yet. He does not say that the holiest was not manifest, but that in the Old Testament they did not have Christ in the flesh, who is the way. Fourthly, he says that the way was not yet manifest , which neither implies that this way did not exist as yet, nor that this way was entirely unknown to them. It merely implies that this way was not as clearly known to them as was true after Christ’s coming, for they, by way of dark shadows, had to look upon Christ who was to come. Thus in 1 John 3:2 it is written about the children of God that “it doth not yet appear what we shall be,” although we nevertheless have some knowledge of it. The text in question refers to the measure of knowledge and the various ways whereby one may get to God through Christ, which then was by way of ceremonies, and now is without them.
(3) “But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). Behold, it was Christ who for the first time brought life to light; it was thus not known prior to this.
First of all, it has been irrefutably demonstrated above that eternal life was known prior to the coming of Christ, that they sought it after this life, and that they endeavored to become partakers of that life (cf. Lev. 18:5; Matt. 19:17; John 5:39). This text, therefore, cannot refer to a total ignorance prior to this. Secondly, Christ brought life and immortality to light by making satisfaction for sin in very deed, by delivering His people from death, and by meriting eternal life for them. Thirdly, the prophecies and ceremonies conveyed that He had not come as yet, nor had in reality accomplished this, but that He would come to accomplish all this. The gospel states that Christ has come and has accomplished everything. Fourthly, in former times everything was typified less clearly by way of shadows, which could not be as clear as the substance or the matter itself. In Christ, however, all shadows have been fulfilled so that the matter itself in its true form can be clearly discerned. Fifthly, the apostle actually applies this to the Gentiles who had not been called as yet, but were in blindness. After the coming of Christ, however, they were also called by the gospel to the light of salvation and to eternal bliss, which is evident from the verse which follows: “Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles” (2 Tim. 1:11).
(4) “And these all...received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Heb. 11:39–40). From this it appears that in the Old Testament they did not partake of the heavenly benefits.
First, they had the promise of the Messiah’s coming, but they did not receive the fulfillment: Christ’s coming in the flesh. Secondly, believers in the New Testament have some better thing than those in the Old Testament. This is not true as far as the matter itself is concerned, for the spiritual benefits of the one were also the portion of the other. Rather, some better thing refers to the manner in which they became partakers of it. They became partakers by way of shadows; we, by the matter and truth itself. They anticipated Christ’s coming in the promise, and we may have the fulfillment; they possessed these benefits in hope, and we may view and possess them; they possessed these benefits to a lesser degree, and we may have all things (that is, Spirit, light, and life) in a greater measure. It has pleased the Lord not to send Christ in the flesh immediately after the promise made to Adam and Eve—or to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then they would have already possessed it and there would have been no need for shadows. Since Christ tarried so long, however, causing His people to yearn for the time of fulfillment, and since Christ has come in our era, having accomplished everything, they were not the only partakers of true blessedness. We are partakers with them and they with us, albeit that we may be partakers of a better ministry.
(5) “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament” (Heb. 7:22); “He is the Mediator of a better covenant” (Heb. 8:6). From this it is evident that Old Testament believers were partakers of temporal rather than spiritual benefits.
We deny that the word “better” refers to the matter itself; we have shown the opposite to be true in the above. Instead, the word “better” refers to the manner in which the covenant was administered, which frequently is referred to by the name “covenant” (cf. chapter 1 6) .
We have thus observed that since the fall God has called His people by way of the gospel.The External Call of the Gospel Comes to All who Hear the Gospel
Does God call all who are under the ministry of the gospel, but who as yet are not saved, or does God call the elect only?
God calls all and everyone who live under the ministry of the gospel. This must be noted so that one may have liberty to receive Christ by faith, which one would not have if the gospel were not offered—and also in order that the justice of God would be acknowledged in punishing those who neglect so great a salvation and do not obey the gospel. The following must be noted in order that everyone may be convinced of this matter.
First, compare yourself with the wild Indians, who neither know Christ nor have knowledge of salvation. Do you not see that God deals differently with you than with them? Would you wish to trade places with them? Why not? Is it not because there is more hope for salvation where you are than where they are? Will not the condemnation of those who have lived under the ministration of the gospel, but who do not repent, be greater than the condemnation of the wild heathen? Why would this be if salvation had not been offered to you? This therefore proves that all who hear the gospel are called.
Secondly, everyone who is under the ministry of the gospel hears the voice of the minister as he preaches, exhorts, and rebukes. It is thus addressed to him who hears it. The minister is a servant of Christ, a “steward of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1), and an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). Therefore he who hears the minister hears Christ, and he who rejects the minister rejects Him (Luke 10:16). Consider also that the very words of God Himself are contained in Scripture. Since, therefore, everyone hears the voice of the minister and the very words of God resound in his ears, all that is said is addressed to him who hears it and he is called by the gospel.
Thirdly, Scripture states clearly that many who perish had been called. “...many be called, but few chosen” (Matt. 20:16); “...and (he) bade many: and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse” (Luke 14:16–18); “And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come” (Matt. 22:3). Had the guest without the wedding garment been invited? He most certainly was. It was not his crime that he did not come, but rather that he came in the wrong way, that is, without a wedding garment. It is thus evident that everyone who is under the ministry is called and invited to come to Christ.
Fourthly, there is a general and unconditional declaration to all, that is, to him who thirsts, who is without money, and who wills (Isa. 55:1–2; John 7:37; Rev. 22:17). He who neither wills nor is thirsty will refrain from coming. This is his own doing and he will be responsible, having been invited and having heard this general calling.
Fifthly, since many reject the gospel, it is necessarily offered to them, for whatever is not offered cannot be rejected. “It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). Many are disobedient to the gospel (2 Th. 1:8), and are disobedient to the Son (John 3:36). It thus follows that Christ was offered to them and they were commanded to believe in Christ.
Sixthly, the exhortations to repent and to believe are joined together. No one will be in doubt that the exhortation to repent pertains to everyone, and thus each will also have to acknowledge that the exhortation to believe pertains to everyone, for they are of equivalent importance. “...repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Seventhly, unbelief is a dreadful sin; yes, it is a sin whereby we esteem God to be a liar. “He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son” (1 John 5:10); “And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin...of sin, because they believe not on Me” (John 16:8–9). If Christ were not offered to him who remains in his unbelief, he would not be accountable and his unbelief would not be a sin. Since his unbelief is a sin, however, it is clearly evident that the gospel was offered to him.
Eighthly, since a dreadful judgment awaits unbelievers, the gospel has most certainly been offered to them, and they have most certainly been called. Observe this in the following texts: “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th. 1:8); “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin” (John 15:22). If everyone who is under the ministry of the gospel had not been not called, and Christ had not been offered to them, how can they then be punished and how can their condemnation be the heavier? Since, however, they are punished for disobedience to the gospel, and are punished more severely than others, it follows that it was offered to them.
Since Christ is offered to all who are under the ministry, it not only follows that everyone may come and no one needs to remain behind for fear whether he is called or not; but it also follows that everyone is obligated to come to Christ and to receive Him in order to be justified, sanctified, preserved, and glorified. One must not interpret this to mean that everyone is under obligation to believe that Christ has died for him and is his Savior. Far be it from us to suggest this, for this is not the essence of faith. Faith is not assurance; for assurance is a consequence of faith. Faith consists in the translation of a soul—perplexed about his wretched condition and desirous for reconciliation, peace, holiness, and glory—from self into Christ. Faith consists in receiving Him who offers Himself and who calls and invites every sinner to Himself, the promise being added that those who will come will not be cast out. It finally consists in a reliance of the soul upon Him as the almighty, true, and faithful Savior. If, however, someone is lively in the exercise of these acts and truly perceives this to
be so within himself, only then does the assurance follow that Jesus has died for him. He who lives under the ministry of the gospel is obligated to believe in Christ. However, he is not obligated to believe that Christ has died for him and to be assured of this. Far be it from us to suggest this, for then someone could believe a lie, since faith can have nothing else but truth as its object.
God’s Objective in Calling Men
This begets another Question:
In calling the sinner to Christ, does God aim for the salvation of all? In calling all who are under the ministry of the gospel, is it God’s objective that all would become partakers of salvation?
No, for God cannot fail to achieve His objective. Then all who are called would, of necessity, have to be saved.
In order to understand this matter correctly, we should consider the following:
(1) The calling is first and foremost intended to gather in the elect. “And he gave some...pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–12). God does not send the gospel to those geographical regions where there are no elect to be found. Furthermore, when the elect in a certain region are gathered in, God generally removes the gospel from that area. Since the elect are in the world, however, and are intermingled with others, the calling comes to all; that is, to all the elect and also to others. By means of the calling, that is, by means of the proclamation of the gospel, God grants repentance and faith to His elect—which He withholds from others.
(2) We must make a distinction between the objective of God—He who works— and the objective of His work : the gospel. The very nature of the gospel is suited to lead man unto salvation, as it sufficiently reveals to him the way unto salvation and stirs him to be persuaded to believe. The gospel is not to be blamed when all who hear it are not saved; rather, man himself is the guilty one. He is to be blamed if he does not desire to be taught and led.
Such is the objective of the gospel. God’s objective in causing the gospel to be proclaimed to the nonelect is to proclaim and acquaint man with the way of salvation, to command man to enter this way, and to display His goodness, presenting all the reasons to him for doing so and promising him salvation upon repentance and true faith in Christ. The Lord would indeed do this upon man fulfilling the condition for which He holds him accountable, and which the human nature, having been created holy in Adam had been capable of doing. If he does not accomplish this, it is not because God hinders him or deprives him of the ability to do so, but because man wills not; and thus man himself is to be blamed, for it is the goodness of God which should lead him to repentance. It is also God’s objective to convict man of his wickedness in his refusal to come upon such a friendly invitation, as well as of the righteousness of God in punishing such rejecters of this offered salvation (John15:20). Such is God’s purpose and objective in allowing the gospel to be proclaimed to the unconverted. It is, however, neither God’s purpose and objective to give to them His Holy Spirit nor to save them. This is evident for the following reasons:
First, it would be contradictory to the omniscience of God. God knows those who are His. He knows that the reprobate will not be saved, and it cannot be His purpose or objective to save them. Man knows that a dead person will not arise; it therefore cannot be his objective to make him alive by calling him. God also knows this concerning the unconverted and the spiritually dead; this therefore cannot be His objective.
Secondly, it would be contradictory to eternal election. God has eternally chosen certain individuals by name and has appointed them to be the recipients of eternal salvation. This is in contrast to others whom He has not chosen, but concerning whom He wills that they remain in their sins and be condemned for their sins. Since He has decreed to condemn them righteously for their sins, it could not have been His objective to save them in having the gospel proclaimed to them. He had different objectives, however, which we have stated in the foregoing.
Thirdly, God cannot be thwarted in the achievement of His objective. He must of necessity accomplish what He has purposed, since He is omniscient, all–wise, and omnipotent. “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isa. 46:10); “For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it?” (Isa. 14:27). If God had purposed to save them, they of necessity would most certainly be saved. They are not saved, however, and God therefore also did not have their salvation in view.
Those who imagine that man, upon the proclamation of the gospel, has sufficient ability to repent and to believe in Christ (a matter which we shall discuss shortly), object to this. In their view nothing more is necessary than that the gospel be preached. They insist that by allowing the gospel to be preached God has as His objective and intent to save all—and if sinners do not come and believe, this is contrary to God’s objective. God thus does not accomplish what He has purposed; this, however, we have just refuted. They support their proposition as follows:
God would act deceitfully if He were to call someone to salvation, and yet were not sincere in doing so.
God calls all who hear the gospel unto salvation, and it is His objective and intent to give salvation to all who truly believe. Faith and true repentance are, however, singular gifts of God’s grace, which He gives to all whom He wills to save. Others, however, God leaves to themselves who, being unwilling—and due to their wickedness, blindness, and unwillingness, are unable—do not fulfil this condition, and thus will not be saved. Since God has prior knowledge of this and has decreed not to give them the gifts of grace, and since He cannot be thwarted in the achievement of His purpose, He therefore also cannot have their salvation in view. God nevertheless does not deal deceitfully by making the way of salvation known to them, in obligating.
them by way of many arguments to enter upon this way, promising to save them upon repentance and faith in Christ. God sincerely and truly has all this in view. In all this He has in view that the unconverted be convinced of His goodness, their wickedness, and His justice—and to punish them in consequence of this. The fact that man is not able to repent and believe is not God’s fault, but man is to be blamed. God did purpose to provide them with all the means unto salvation, withhold additional grace from them, leave them over to themselves, and condemn them for their failure to repent and for their wickedness; however, He did not purpose to save them. One matter may relate to various purposes, and thus by purposing or not purposing one thing, one cannot conclude the purposing or not purposing of something else. Here the objective relates to the means and not to the ultimate end of salvation. The gospel is an able and sufficient way unto salvation.
God invites everyone to come to the wedding feast, that is, salvation (cf. Matt. 22:3– 4; Luke 14:16). It must thus have been His objective that they would come.
His purpose is to invite them, obligate them to come, propose salvation upon condition of faith and repentance, and not hinder them. The invitation contained a condition to come with a wedding garment. The guest without a wedding garment could not be admitted to the wedding feast—not because he was not invited, but because by not having a wedding garment he did not meet the condition included in the invitation. It is God’s objective to provide them with all the means unto salvation and to be acknowledged and glorified in this. In calling to the wedding feast there is, however, not the objective to carry them to the wedding feast and to give them the wedding garment. It is absolutely necessary that the Lord do this for them, since they of themselves neither understand nor are willing, and thus also are not able to do so. Since, however, it is not His objective to do this for them, not being obligated to do so, it follows that it was not His objective to save them. The invitation therefore obligates them to come and to believe, and if they come in the way of repentance and faith, they will also obtain salvation. This does not imply, however, that it is God’s objective to unconditionally give them salvation or to grant them what is needed to meet the condition.
If God does not purpose the salvation of all who are called by the Word, no one would be able to take it seriously, and no one would dare to come, since none would know whether he were addressed by God.
God’s Word, being the truth, is sufficient for everyone. One may freely rely upon it, and one will not be deceived. That Word promises salvation to all who believe and to all who receive Christ unto justification and sanctification. This declaration is directed to everyone, and everyone must believe it, apply it to himself, and say, “If I believe and truly repent, I shall be saved.” God does have foreknowledge as to who will be unwilling to come. God leaves man over to himself, doing him no injustice by withholding renewing grace from him who once had the ability to obey God in all things. God permits man to exercise his own free will, whereby he voluntarily rejects Christ and all heavenly benefits. However, God grants to the elect, in addition to His Word, the Holy Spirit who bestows upon them faith and repentance. Since the required conditions are thus met in this way, they are saved.
From all this we observe that man from his side must respond to the Word of God and believe that he will be saved if he believes and repents. He thus need not torment himself with the question whether God addresses him personally. He must leave this matter in God’s hands. This is as much as asking: “Is God willing or is He not willing to give faith and repentance to me?” A sinner has no prior knowledge of this, and the Lord will give it to those to whom He pleases. The sinner, however, must understand it to be his duty to respond to the Word of God, to believe in Christ who is offered to him, to repent, and to believe that he will be saved if he does so.
We have thus observed that God from His side has not purposed to give faith and repentance to all men, and it is therefore also not His objective to save them all, but rather the elect only. He nevertheless does not deal deceitfully with men.
The Internal Call
Having dealt sufficiently with the external call, we shall now proceed to consider the internal call which in Scripture is called a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1), a calling according to God’s purpose (Rom. 8:28), the opening of the heart (Acts 16:14), a resurrection from the dead and a quickening (Eph. 2:5–6), God’s drawing (John 6:44), a deliverance from the power of darkness and a translation into the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13), and a calling out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). All this phraseology gives expression to the powerful work of the Holy Spirit who, in conjunction with and by means of the Word of God, operates upon the inner man, that is, his intellect, its eyes being enlightened eyes (Eph. 1:18). Furthermore, He operates upon the will, inclining it toward love for the heavenly benefits to be found in Christ Jesus, and to the very act of receiving Christ (Phil. 2:13).
To facilitate clear comprehension concerning this matter and to deal with points of contention related to this, we shall preface our discussion with these remarks.
First, in the internal call God works in a manner which is consistent with man’s nature. Man is a rational creature who, gifted with intellect, reasons about matters which he encounters, judging whether it is needful or beneficial to have, pursue, or do such matters. If he judges affirmatively, he will also exercise judgment concerning time, place, and means; that is, when, where, and in what manner. This is referred to as one’s practical judgment, for it presents and limits the matter in such a fashion to the will that the will spontaneously embraces the proposition. The will is a blind faculty which can only will that which is comprehended with the intellect, presenting the matter here and now in its desirability, necessity, and profitability. The will is thus also free and cannot be compelled to will something; it cannot be compelled to do something except (as has been stated) the matter be embraced by the intellect and is presented as being desirable. This freedom is not one of neutrality , as if it is immaterial to do or not to do something, or to either do the one thing or the contrary.
It is impossible to will and desire something the intellect perceives to be hateful and to be avoided and presents it to the will as such. This freedom, however, is one of necessary consequence , whereby the will, without external compulsion and thus due to its own inclination, wills to do one thing or the other. (For a more comprehensive treatment of this, see chapter 15.) In calling man, God works in harmony with his human nature. The Lord does not compel the will, but the Lord grants the intellect eyes to perceive the spiritual dimension of spiritual things, and by means of that light the Lord penetrates the will and inclines it to embrace the matters with which it is now acquainted and finds desirable. The Lord thus engages both the intellect and the will.
Secondly, when God calls someone internally, this rarely occurs suddenly as appears to have been the case in the conversions of Zacchaeus, the murderer on the cross, and others. Albeit that for some the act whereby a sinner is translated into the kingdom of heaven and made alive—that is, being dead one moment and alive the next moment (there being no intermediate state)—the Lord generally uses some internal and external preparations, such as poverty, tragic occurrences, loss of property or loved ones, earthquakes, war, pestilence, danger of death, illness, or other things. This causes the person to become unsettled; he begins to contemplate repentance, the Word of God takes hold, he is convinced of sin, and he begins to perceive what eternal condemnation is. He also becomes acquainted with the Lord Jesus and with the blessedness of believers, and he desires to be in such a condition. He reads the Word, prays, joins himself to the godly, escapes the gross pollutions of the world, etc. These matters are but common convictions which are experienced by the unconverted as well as the elect. Many such individuals turn back and depart from the way upon which they first seemed to have entered. When the time arrives, however, the Lord will translate His elect into His kingdom by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. These preparatory circumstances mentioned do not proceed from man, but are God’s common operations. They also are not a step toward regeneration, nor are they sufficient to transform man. Under such circumstances man is not capable by the exercise of His free will to transform himself, to believe, and to repent. The efficacious and almighty power of God must join itself to such circumstances in order for him to be converted. These preparatory circumstances are but means which God gives and uses to deal with man in a manner consistent with his humanity.
Thirdly, when God calls someone internally, he will acquire a disposition which is entirely and essentially different from that which could be produced by nature or preparatory circumstances. The illumination and virtuousness of which man becomes a partaker due to the internal call does not differ from the natural state in degree, but in essence. It is not to be compared to the difference between the sun’s initial rise and subsequent progression, or the beginning of a child’s life and his further growth. The distinction is not by way of increase, such as with a balance. Suppose there is weight in the one scale, but gradually so much sand is added to the other scale that the weight of the sand exceeds the weight on the other scale, causing the balance to go toward the side of the sand. This would suggest that man is born again when human virtue outweighs his flesh and corruption. Far be it from us to hold to such a view, for that would amount to overturning the entire nature of regeneration and to deem pagan knowledge and virtue as being regeneration. No, the light and virtue in regeneration are of an entirely different nature.
The Difference Between a Natural and Spiritual Disposition
Is the difference between spiritual light and virtue and natural light and virtue one of degree or one of essence?
Socinians maintain that it is one of degree, whereas we maintain that there is an essential difference. We shall first demonstrate this to be true for light and then for virtue.
First, the light of nature proceeds from the impression that there is a God, and is only increased by the Word of God itself. Spiritual light, on the contrary, proceeds from illumination of the heart, by the Holy Spirit who shines in our hearts , “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). The Lord enlightens the eyes of our understanding (Eph. 1:18), and draws them out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). Thus, the very cause of this light is different. The most intelligent, brilliant philosophers and unconverted theologians are blind according to Scripture. “...and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:21–22); “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14); “And some of the Pharisees which were with Him heard these words, and said unto Him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth” (John 9:40–41).
Secondly, natural and spiritual light each focus upon a different object. The one focuses upon God as He has revealed Himself in nature and relative to the covenant of works (Rom. 2:14–15; 1:19–22), whereas the other focuses upon God as He has revealed Himself in the covenant of grace, that is, in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). The glory of God may be seen in Him as in a mirror (2 Cor. 3:18). They have the mind of Christ and understand the truth as it is in Christ.
Thirdly, natural light perceives spiritual things in a natural sense, and reduces spiritual things to the realm of the natural, for it is not capable of spiritual discernment (1 Cor. 2:14). “But what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves” (Jude 10). However, the spiritual man joins spiritual things to spiritual things, discerns them spiritually (1 Cor. 2:13–15), and even spiritualizes natural things.
Fourthly, natural light does not generate warmth, but leaves man cold, dead, and without faith. Spiritual light, however, generates the warmth of love and faith. “Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
Fifthly, natural light does not sanctify. The external call will at best stir up man to escape the gross pollutions of the world (2 Pet. 2:20). Spiritual light, however, has a transforming effect. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32); “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).
From all this it is evident that the light found within the regenerate is of an entirely different nature than the light within the unregenerate. It therefore necessarily follows that the virtuousness of the converted and unconverted is also of a distinctly different nature. This is evident for the following reasons:
First, these virtues proceed from different causes. Natural virtue is the result of natural light and relates to the law innate in nature (Rom. 2:14–15). Spiritual virtue, however, is the result of the recreating and regenerating power of the Holy Spirit by means of the Word, and thus the result of spiritual light, life, and a spiritual conception of God (cf. John 3:5; 2 Cor. 5:17). “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Eph. 2:10); “Of His own will begat He us with the Word of truth” (James 1:18); “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). They are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4); “Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20). This life, which proceeds from being a partaker of the divine nature, flows out of union with Christ and is thus of an entirely different sort from that which proceeds from the natural man.
Secondly, spiritual virtues proceed from faith which receives Christ, the life of the soul, and unites the soul to Him as such. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6); “...faith which worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6); “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ, from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15–16). This is also confirmed in John 15:4, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.” The virtuousness of the regenerate proceeds from union with Christ. This, however, cannot be said of the unconverted, for they are without Christ. There is thus a very essential difference between them.
Thirdly, the unconverted, however great all their virtues may be, are said to be “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1); believers, however, are spiritually alive (Eph. 2:5). All that stirs within a dead body is essentially different from that which proceeds from a living body. This is also true for the virtuousness of the converted and the unconverted.
Fourthly, the spiritual virtues proceeding from union with God in Christ, and thus from faith and spiritual life, are performed in love for God, in the fear of God, and in obedience to God as their Father, and thus with the heart of a child. None but those who believe can truly love God, for “faith worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6). Whatever does not proceed from love is of no value (1 Cor. 13:1–2). Love is the fountain of virtue, and the contents of the law (Matt. 22:37). Believers are the saints who fear the Lord (Psa. 34:10). “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death” (Prov. 14:27). They serve God as obedient children—and not as a God who is strange to them and from whom they are separated. They, in faith, serve Him as their God and Father in Christ, be this faith weak or strong. “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Pet. 1:14–15). Since the unconverted are not united to Christ, without whom no one can come to God, their activity also does not proceed from this union, and is thus not motivated by love for God, the fear of God, nor obedience to God. From all this it is as clear as the noonday sun that the virtuousness of the converted is of a mold entirely different from that of the unconverted, and they are thus entirely different in essence. Therefore, both light and virtuousness in the converted and unconverted do not merely differ in degree , but their essential nature is different.
The Internal Call: A Work of God’s Grace
Fifthly, we furthermore wish to state by way of preface that the effectual call is a work of God’s grace. The Arminians also use the word grace in order to create the illusion that they speak scripturally. They explain it in such a manner, however, that grace is no longer grace. They acknowledge grace to be nothing else but that which enables man to perform . They maintain, however, that the ability “to will and to do” originates in man himself. They reason as follows: I may thank God that I have been able to repent, but I thank myself for the fact that I was willing to repent. They make a distinction between sufficient grace and efficacious grace .
The Arminians understand sufficient grace to mean that God has given sufficient ability to all men—great and small, young and old, Jews, Turks, heathens, and Christians—to repent and to believe in Christ. They refer to this as quickening, prevenient, operative, instructional, and suggestive grace. This grace, however, by whatever name it is called, is entirely subject to the free will of man which determines whether or not it is to be accepted. They furthermore proceed to refer to grace as being helping, cooperative, and supportive . They understand this grace to be collateral in nature; that is, operating side by side, each functioning independently and the one assisting the other. Thus, each party operates independently—God from His side and man from his side. If therefore man receives the Word of God and begins to repent, God will assist him, stir him up, and will stimulate him all the more by various motives. This operation remains external, however, and man always remains free and in control to either submit to, or to reject the divine operations. Even after he has repented and becomes a believer, he is yet equally independent and is able to overturn the work of conversion again by the exercise of his free will, which does occasionally occur.
Moreover, the Arminians understand effectual grace to refer to the result . It is not effectual by the almighty power of God who would thus in actuality convert man, but only in reference to the result. If man repents and believes in Christ, his calling is effectual because of what man has done. Others call this grace effectual due to some degree of suitability ( congruitas ), when God makes use of opportunities—either a man’s character or his condition being at its weakest and most pliable—making use of a given moment, while simultaneously holding before him and impressing upon him suitable motives which persuade and convince him. All of this, however, culminates in one thing: Free will remains lord and master, having ultimate power to either accept or reject. God is merely a servant or a friend who advises and urges him to act, whereas man himself determines whether or not he will allow himself to be persuaded. All of this we reject.
Over against this we maintain the following:
(1) There must be a distinction between the gift of grace and given grace. The gift of grace is the goodness of God, the fountain from whom proceeds all the good which man receives. Given grace refers to the benefits which man receives, has, and possesses. Concerning the gift of grace we read, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29). Concerning given grace we read, “For this is thankworthy, ” 14 if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. (1 Pet. 2:19).
(2) Grace is either common or special . God bestows common grace upon all men by granting them temporal benefits. “Nevertheless He left not himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven” (Acts 14:17). To this grace also belongs all the good which God bestows upon all who are called, by giving them the Word—the means unto repentance and salvation. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11). In addition to this, God generally gives illumination, historical faith, convictions, and inner persuasion to almost become a Christian (cf. Heb. 6:4–6).
Special grace is the effectual call whereby man is illuminated with wondrous spiritual light, effectually changing his will, and thus in very deed translating him out of darkness into light, out of death to life, and from the dominion of sin and the devil to Christ and His kingdom. “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9); “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:13).
From these four prefatory propositions it is evident what the nature of the internal call is. We must now furthermore observe 1) how man is involved in his conversion, and 2) what God does in this respect.
A Refutation of the Arminian Error that Man Has a Natural Inclination to Repent and Believe
Does man have some internal disposition, propensity, ability, or power to believe in Christ and to truly repent upon the external presentation of the gospel, however powerfully this may be declared?
The Arminians and others answer in the affirmative. We, however, answer negatively and prove this as follows:
First, man is totally blind as far as spiritual things are concerned. “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance
14 The Statenbijbel reads: “For this is grace.... that is in them” (Eph. 4:18); “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen....But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:9, 14). The apostle is here not referring to men as consisting of soul and body. This would be applicable to all men—this also being true for Adam, of whom it must be said that he comprehended spiritual matters. However, the apostle speaks in this chapter of the converted and the unconverted, stating that the converted do discern spiritual things (vss. 9–10). Concerning the unconverted he states (without making a distinction between them as being more or less evil) that they do not discern spiritual things. He refers to the natural man as Ψυχικοι˜ ( psuchikoi ); that is, as having a soul, and thus to men who have a natural intellect whereby they can reason, a natural will whereby they can love and hate, and natural passion whereby they can desire. He is thus in a natural state without the Spirit, of whom Jude writes, “These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit” (Jude 19). Of such the apostle says that they cannot discern spiritual things, which is not to say that it is impossible for a person to imagine them without revelations, for he speaks of such natural men who lived under the ministry of the gospel (vs. 8). This is evident from what he adds, “for they are foolishness to him.” No one can ever speak of or consider to be foolish that which he has never heard. Man is so blind that the ability to see and understand must be given unto him. This is given to some and not to others. “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given” (Matt. 13:11). Someone who is blind to such a degree can neither will, repent of himself, nor believe in Christ, even if he hears the gospel.
Secondly, man by nature is of such a wicked and evil disposition that he is not willing to repent, nor can he will to do so, for he cannot respond with his will to that which he does not know. Even if one judges a given matter to be desirable in its very essence, he will have no interest in this now, here, and for himself , since the things of this world appear to him as being much more desirable and beneficial now, here, and for himself. Since that which is spiritual and that which is sinful stand in direct opposition to each other, one can neither delight in nor be desirous for spiritual things if he finds delight in that which is sinful and of the world. The natural man, however, loves that which is sinful and of the world, and thus he neither can nor is willing to love that which is spiritual. “And ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40); “...and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37). If the natural man perceives but a few rays of spiritual light and life, he will hate it at once. “...men loved darkness rather than light....For every one that doeth evil hateth the light” (John 3:19–20); “...haters of God” (Rom. 1:30); “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me” (John 15:18). Wherever there is such a disposition, it is impossible to be willing and to repent.
Thirdly, since man is ignorant and unwilling, he also cannot repent. “No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” (John 6:44). The phrase “no man” is all–inclusive. Whoever a person may be, he is unable and does not come. An almighty power and drawing is necessary in order for anyone to come. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).
In verse 5 the apostle places the converted and unconverted in contradistinction to each other. Of the unconverted he says that they are after the flesh ; of such he says that their Φρόνηµα ( phronema ) mind , will, thoughts, desires, contemplations, and wisdom are only focused upon that which is visible and sinful. They oppose God as an enemy—they neither subject themselves to His law, nor are they able to do so. Consider also 2 Corinthians 3:5, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” Paul here refers to both himself and the congregation, which is an “epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Cor. 3:3). He defines what he considers himself and the congregation to be by nature. He thus states not what they are by the Spirit of God, but rather what they are capable of themselves; that is, by nature, stating that they are not sufficient to think of anything that has not been revealed. They can, however, only think of, comprehend, lovingly contemplate upon, and find delight in the spiritual things which the Spirit of God has written in the hearts of believers. He declares man to be entirely insufficient for this, and thus whatever they had and did was given of God who enabled them to do this. So much said about man’s inability.
Fourthly, as far as spiritual life is concerned, man is dead, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). The apostle is not only referring to those who had never heard the gospel, but also to those who had heard it, for Paul includes himself. Among the Ephesians there were many Jews (Acts 19:8), and the expression used is general in nature. He is not referring to natural death, but to being spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. Spiritual death consists of the absence of union with God, for spiritual life consists of communion with God (Gal. 2:20). Those who are without such a union are ˜Αθεοι ( atheoi ), that is, atheists or without God (Eph. 2:12); those “having not the Spirit” (Jude 19). He does not speak of the punishment of sin, its wages being death, but of that death which is the very opposite of spiritual life. Since spiritual life is the very opposite of spiritual death, he speaks of spiritual death. “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5). Since man is dead, he can therefore not make himself alive. Both nature and Scripture teach us that a dead person cannot do this, regardless of the manner in which he is dead.
Let us draw these four arguments together and arrive at one conclusion. One who is blind and ignorant is so evil that he is unwilling and instead hates; he is so impotent that he is absolutely unable; and he is dead, has no internal disposition, propensity, ability, or power to repent and to believe in Christ.
The absolute impotence of man is also evident from all the texts which demonstrate that the declaration of the Word, however powerfully this may be done, is not sufficient to the conversion of man. Rather, in addition to the Word of God there must also be the effectual work of God in the heart of man. In 2 Timothy 2:25 we read, “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.” This refers to the Word of God and to the lively manner in which it is proclaimed. Is this sufficient however? Does this result in repentance after some time? No, but he adds, “If God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” The Word of God must thus be joined by the converting power of God. “Ye have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh,” etc.; “yet the LORD hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day” (Deut.. 29:2–4); “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given” (Matt. 13:11). The Jews heard Christ preach; they had the Scriptures, and yet why did they not believe? The Lord Jesus says that more
must happen to depraved man before he will believe; there must be a divine drawing. “No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” (John 6:44). In order for Lydia to be converted it was not sufficient for her to hear Paul preach; this had to be accompanied by the immediate operation of God. “Lydia...whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul” (Acts 16:14). Man is thus unable to bring about his own conversion.
Sixthly, consider also that conversion is a work of God, being of such a nature that it occurs without the involvement of human activity. It is referred to as a creating (Psa. 51:11), a begetting (James 1:18), the removal of a stony heart and the giving of a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26), the enlightening of the eyes (Eph. 1:18), a working both to will and to do (Phil. 2:13), etc. Shortly we shall discuss this more extensively.
“What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?” (Isa. 5:4). If from His side God has done everything toward man that is necessary unto his conversion, and if He furthermore expects repentance and holiness from man, it must be within man’s power to repent.
(1) The reference is here to the church viewed in contrast to all other nations, with which He has not dealt in such a fashion (Psa. 147:20), having permitted them to walk in their own ways (Acts 14:16). This text therefore does not prove that all men have such ability, which is what they had wished to prove.
(2) The reference here is to the external means which lead unto salvation, which can be deduced from the presentation of matters in verses 1–3, and thus not to the work of conversion itself. It is the parable of a farmer who does everything that is required to make the earth fruitful and who, beyond this, can do nothing more toward the bearing of fruit, except to expect this from God. God had likewise done everything to Israel in an external sense as far as the means were concerned, and this obligated them to repent and to bear fruit, worthy of repentance. This is the objective of the parable, and we must not focus on all its particulars and look for analogies.
(3) The fact that God expected fruits neither implies that God could not enable them to bear fruit, nor that God did not know what the outcome would be. It is also not implied that such power is to be found in man who is nothing but barren soil bringing forth thorns and thistles, in spite of the fact that it receives rain and sunshine (Heb. 6:7). It rather states that Israel was obligated to bear fruit. If they did not do this, due to their wickedness, they were to be blamed and would be worthy of being eradicated.
“Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Since God commands man to repent and to believe, it follows that man is able to do this, for God cannot obligate man toward that which is absolutely impossible for him to do. This would be an unjust as well as futile effort.
(1) God created man so perfectly in Adam that he was able to obey and perform God’s commandments. Even though it was not possible for Adam to believe in Christ, this was not due to inability to believe if God were to have made Him known to Adam. Rather, faith in a Surety for the satisfaction of sin could not be required from him in the state of rectitude. The human nature was therefore able to believe. Since man brought himself into the state of impotence, this does not remove God’s right to demand from, and obligate man to do that which He had enabled him to do. A creditor may demand payment from a debtor even if he is unable to pay due to having wasted his resources. Such exhortations therefore do not imply what man is able to do, but rather what he is obligated to do.
(2) Man must acknowledge and approve of the fact that he is obligated not to sin, but rather to obey God. Man is so evil that he is not willing to do that which he knows to be God’s command as well as his obligation. Would God then not know what is man’s duty, when man acquiesces in the fact that he is obligated to such obedience, even if he is so evil that he is not willing to obey?
(3) Such exhortations are not in vain in spite of the fact that man, being so evil, cannot oblige, for they convince man of his duty and of the justice of God were He to punish him for his sin. It is a means which God uses to bring His elect under conviction and to lead them to repentance and faith. Christ said to the dead Lazarus, “Come forth” (John 11:43). This command did not imply what Lazarus was able to do, and yet it was not issued in vain, for it was the means unto his resurrection. Likewise the command to repent as well as the Word of God are means unto conversion in the hand of God, but not in the hand of man.
Even pagans, as well as many unconverted, do good works as well as the converted. It is thus evident that man has retained the natural ability to do good works.
(1) Some pagans have so exceeded in the practice of virtue that they put many Christians to shame. If such virtues had been true virtues, why would there be any need for regeneration? Since regeneration is necessary, however, it is evident that their virtues did not have the nature of true virtues.
(2) There are four types of good works: natural, civil, externally religious, and spiritual good works. Unconverted persons perform the first three types of good works, but not the fourth. Their good works are good in materialiter , that is, in a substantial sense, but not as far as essence is concerned. They are not formaliter (that is, not truly) good works. Spiritual light, life, and virtue are not distinguished from the natural in degree, but rather in essence, as we have demonstrated above. Therefore we cannot make such an inference.
“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath” (Matt. 13:12). This means that those who have sufficient grace—which is true for all—and who use it well, will receive more grace. It thus follows that man possesses the grace and the ability to repent.
(1) The word “for” shows sufficiently that the reference is to those who are converted; that is, to whom had been given what had not been given to others as stated in verse 11, “It is given unto you to know.”
(2) It is evident that the reference is not to what man possesses by nature, but rather to what he has received by means of the Word of God. This is confirmed by the fact that this was said to the disciples who had already been called and converted, and therefore had been given the ability to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, even though they were presented by way of parables. The reference is thus to the growth and increase of truly converted persons.
(3) Those who “have not” are the unconverted who have not received grace. They are of the opinion that they are not blind; they believe they are able to understand these mysteries as well as the most eminent Christian. “Are we blind also?” (John 9:40). Those who have heard the preaching of the gospel, but do not understand it, or do not perform what they have understood, would become more blind and more hardened; their darkened heart would become even darker, and while pretending to be wise, they would become fools (Rom. 1:21–22). Thus, from them would be taken even that which they seemed to have (Luke 8:18). The abused gifts of nature and the common gifts by way of Scripture would be taken away as a righteous judgment.
The same answer must be given in response to Matthew 25:29, where the same words are recorded, and are applied to the good and evil use of the talents. The reference there is neither to gifts which all men have by nature, nor to the good or evil use of these gifts, but the reference is to the church, the kingdom of heaven (vss. 1, 14). Within the church the Lord Jesus gives various gifts, both saving and common. Everyone is obligated to use these gifts for the benefit of others, that is, to the conversion of others. He whom the Lord gifts with grace to be faithful, and to be instrumental unto the conversion of souls, will be graciously rewarded by the Lord with a special measure of glory. The unfaithful servant, however, who had also received gifts (not graces) was cast into hell. Thus, nothing remains of the argument that there is all–sufficient grace in the state of nature.
“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20). Behold, here the act of opening or of not opening is attributed to man. He must therefore possess the ability to do so.
(1) Here the church is addressed, and particularly the church of Laodicea. This therefore cannot be used to prove what ability all men possess by nature.
(2) This shows at best what man’s duty is, but not what he is able to do. This is actually a promise to those who open the door, however, without there being any mention of whether they would open it in their own strength, or whether this would occur by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
(3) The reference is to the external call which is a means used to the conversion of the elect—a means whereby the ungodly are convinced of their wickedness and of God’s justice. This call is therefore not issued forth in vain. We have, at the same time, answered the question as to why Christ calls and knocks if man is not able, and why He does knock and call if He Himself opens the door (Acts 16:14). He uses this as a means.
Man’s Passivity at the Moment of Regeneration
Being as impotent as has been stated, it is clear and self–evident that man at the very first moment of his conversion is not independently active, nor does he cooperate with the prevenient and quickening grace of God, but is a passive object and solely the recipient of the illuminating and quickening power of God . We are not speaking here of a man who already has been regenerated, but rather of an unregenerate man being regenerated. Such a person is passive rather than active.
This is first of all evident from what has been stated before concerning the impotence of man who is blind and does not know how matters ought to be; who is evil, unwilling, and hates that which is spiritual; who is impotent, thus rendering him unable; who is dead, and therefore in the initial moment of regeneration and conversion is not able to cooperate, but is merely passive. Such is the state of man according to the foregoing proposition. It thus follows that he functions neither independently nor cooperatively.
Secondly, since the difference between natural and spiritual light, life, and virtue is not one of degree, but of very essence (as stated in the foregoing), man is not able to change from one state to the other, nor is he able to cooperate in the act of translation from one state to the other. Rather, an almighty power is necessary for this. Who can change a stone into flesh, or an irrational animal into a man? Who then would also be able to change a dead person into a living person?
Thirdly, regeneration is a work that must be attributed solely to God and is an omnipotent work of God:
(1) It is a work of God: “It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture” (Psa. 100:3); “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13); “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:13); “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
(2) It is an omnipotent work, a work which has man as its only object. It is an act of creation , and by way of this creative work a new creature is formed. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17); “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Eph. 2:10). We know that in the act of creation a creature is brought forth without any cooperation whatsoever. Regeneration is an act of resurrection from the dead and of making alive. “And you, being dead in your sins...hath He quickened together with Him” (Col. 2:13). It is an act of being begotten, of being reborn. “Of His own will begat He us” (James 1:18); “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). All these expressions refer to the work of the Creator, the Giver of Life, and the Generator, in which the creature who is resurrected and generated is entirely excluded from any cooperation. It is thus certain that man does not cooperate in the initial moment of regeneration, but is passive, and as the object, is the recipient of this operation. Even if, prior to this, he was human and thus functioned as a man, yet in reference to spiritual life he was dead and thus could no more cooperate in regeneration than a dead person could.
Fourthly, if man were to cooperate in the initial moment of conversion—if he were to act independently in the most significant and essential aspect of conversion; that is, to be willing of himself to come to Christ upon the invitation of the gospel due to ability which he has in common with all men and is inherent in his nature—a spiritually dead person would not only be able to be active, but would himself be the cause of his salvation and would distinguish himself from other men. This is contrary to the entire Scriptures which attribute this to God rather than to man. “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7); “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Man, therefore, does not cooperate, but he is entirely passive in this matter.
“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities” (Rom. 8:26).
The apostle does not refer to the unconverted to whom the point of contention pertains. Rather, he refers to the converted who have been saved in hope (vs. 24). The Holy Spirit teaches such persons how to pray when they know not what to pray for as they ought.
“For we are labourers together with God” (1 Cor. 3:9); “We then, as workers together with Him...” (2 Cor. 6:1).
The reference is not to man’s work in his own conversion, which is the point in question, but to the work of the ministry, that is, the proclamation of the Word of God. In that capacity ministers are the instruments of God and thus work together with Him as means to the conversion of other men. No one will maintain, however, that they are able to convert men in their own strength. They cooperate as an instrument cooperates.
“But I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).
Paul does not refer to his labors prior to and at his conversion, but to his labors after his conversion. This labor did not pertain to himself, rather to others. He states here that his work in the ministry had not been fruitless as far as the benefit of others was concerned, but that he had been extraordinarily abundant and fruitful. However, he did not exalt himself because of this, but instead acknowledged the grace of God as having been operative in him as the cause. Thus, this text, rather than supporting this objection, states the contrary.
If man must be viewed solely as passive in his conversion, and is but merely the object and thus the recipient of divine operation, man can only be considered to be a stock and a block.
Man cooperates no more than did the body of Adam in receiving the soul, and as Lazarus did in his resurrection. Man, however, is neither a block nor a stock which is incapable of being the recipient of God’s converting power, not being a suitable object for such operation. Instead, man is rational, has intellect, a will, and inclinations, and is thus a suitable object to be the recipient of God’s operations toward conversion. Thus, God enlightens the intellect, inclines the will, and makes man willing without violation of the will. In this manner God makes man alive. It is true, however, that man can cooperate no more than that a stock or a block would be able to move from one place to another.
Then man may as well let everything run its course and merely let God work when it pleases Him.
Even though a blind and crippled person could not help himself, did this mean that he therefore did not have to avail himself of the waters at Bethesda or of a physician? Man’s impotence ought to motivate him to use the means unto his conversion and attend church with the hope that it would please the Lord to deal with him. It is also his duty to repent and to believe in Christ. If he fails to do so, he sins and acts contrary to his duty and to his own judgment. It thus remains certain that man does not cooperate.
Having observed what man neither can nor will do toward his regeneration, we shall proceed to consider God’s work in the internal call and regeneration, demonstrating that God works powerfully and irresistibly.
The Internal Call: The Immediate and Effectual Operation of God
Is the internal call, even though it occurs by means of the Word, an immediate and effectual operation of God which is exercised upon and changes the intellect, the will, and the inclinations, thereby in a spiritual sense making man alive from the dead?
Arminians answer negatively, whereas we answer affirmatively.
Even though man cannot comprehend God’s supernatural operations wherewith by means of the Word the soul is immediately wrought upon, changed, illuminated, regenerated, and endowed with spiritual life, God’s Word nevertheless teaches us that God does this. He who changed Saul’s heart in one moment (1 Sam. 10:9) and forms the heart of all men (Psa. 33:15), also transforms the heart of man. Man does not accomplish this himself, but God is the origin and the only cause of this. God endows man with a supernatural propensity by which man, after the endowment of this propensity and regeneration—due to divine cooperation—performs spiritual deeds. God acts in harmony with the object, but the operation itself is supernatural. God indeed uses the Word as a means, but joined to this means is an immediate, omnipotent operation which touches the soul, thereby powerfully changing the soul as far as intellect, will, and disposition are concerned.
This is first of all evident when considering the evil disposition and impotence of man prior to his conversion, as we have comprehensively shown. In order for one who is totally blind, for whom the crucified Christ is an offense and foolishness, who is only evil, is unwilling and hates that which is spiritual, and one who cannot do anything and is dead, to be converted and changed, an almighty power must be exercised which will interact immediately with him and change him. However, men are indeed converted, and this necessarily requires the exercise of almighty power.
Secondly, Scripture states plainly that the Word alone can have no effect upon the heart of such a person, but that the Word of God must be accompanied by a powerful operation of God upon the soul. He must give eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to understand (Deut.. 29:4), and the enlightening of the eyes of the understanding (Eph. 1:18). With the revelation of Scripture, God must make the heart to burn within (Luke 24:32). His instruction must be accompanied by the gift of repentance (2 Tim. 2:25), and under the hearing of God’s Word He must open the heart (Acts 16:14). This is also confirmed in 1 Corinthians 3:6–7: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” If man cannot accomplish this, and if the Word of God alone cannot exercise such power upon the heart of man, the Word of God must be accompanied by the immediate, almighty power of God to change the heart, which is indeed the case as these texts have shown.
Thirdly, the manner in which God’s work is denominated gives expression to such an immediate and efficacious work of God. From God’s side conversion is referred to as a creation (Eph. 2:10), as begetting (James 1:18), and as a making alive and a resurrecting from the dead (Eph. 2:5). For a more comprehensive treatment of this, please refer to the foregoing.
From the following and similar texts it is evident that God indeed promises to work in such an immediate and efficacious manner, and also that He indeed operates in this manner.
(1) God promises to do this: “I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jer. 31:33); “I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me” (Jer. 32:40); “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26). Neither man, nor the Word of God would do it, but God Himself would conquer all opposition. God Himself would work so efficaciously upon the heart unto repentance.
(2) God does work efficaciously upon the heart unto repentance. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Paul writes to the believers (ch. 1:1), exhorting them (ch. 2:12) to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. He further exhorts them to be neither proud nor puffed up, to do all things without murmurings and disputings, and to walk upon the way of godliness with childlike reverence and carefulness. He stresses that their faith and activity did not proceed from them, but that they were active by the power of God, “for it is God which worketh in you,” etc. They have to avail themselves of and act upon this prevenient grace and operation, and be engaged by means of this power. God, who created the will, also recreates the will in His elect. He does not need to deal with man as one man deals with another, who can only by way of a variety of motives seek to persuade someone to be willing in regard to a certain matter. Rather, God works as God, illuminating the intellect with a new light and giving to man a will so that he wills voluntarily and with desire. God causes this willingness to be followed by working.
The apostle demonstrates this very same truth in 2 Thessalonians 1:11, “...that our God would...fulfil all the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power.” They had the Word of God and it was preached to them in a most lively manner. The apostle demonstrates this to be insufficient to bring forth believers, that faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8), and that the Word of God must be accompanied by an almighty power of God to thus cause man to believe. “And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power” (Eph. 1:19). The apostle says likewise, “ (God) make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well–pleasing in His sight” (Heb. 13:21).
Consider all this together for a moment. Man is as blind, evil, impotent, and dead as has been stated above. God permits the gospel to be preached to many, but this has no effect upon most who hear it. However, others are converted because God joins His Holy Spirit to that Word, working in them what He does not work in others. He illuminates them with a marvelous light which He does not do unto others. He removes the heart of stone from them and gives them a heart of flesh, not doing so to others. He works in them to will and to do the work of faith with power, not doing so in others. It is thus an irrefutable fact that God interacts with the heart of man in an immediate sense and thus changes it.
The Word of God is the seed of regeneration (1 Pet. 1:23), enlightens the eyes, converts souls (Psa. 19:8–9), is a two–edged sword, is lively and powerful, “to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12). The Word of God is therefore sufficient; nothing needs to be added to it, and it is not accompanied by an immediate, illuminating, and transforming power of God.
(1) All these texts indicate nothing but that God works everything by means of His Word.
(2) If the Word of God had such inherent power, it would likewise have an effect upon all who hear it, that is, upon those who are in like circumstances; however, this is not the case.
(3) Scripture states clearly that the Word of God does not have such inherent power, but that the Word of God must be accompanied by the immediate, efficacious operation of God. “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6).
If the Word of God needs to be accompanied by the immediate and efficacious operation of God, man lacks a sufficient means unto salvation.
It is not the means which can be the moving cause to bring forth the effect. The Word of God is not a moving cause, but only a means in God’s hand. The immediate operation is not the means, but is rather the moving cause. God does not give this means, that is, the Word of God, to all men, and wherever God gives this means, He does not interact with all by way of this means, but only with those whom He pleases. If one maintains, however, that the Word of God must still be accompanied by divine operation, and that the Word of God is not sufficient unto man’s salvation, we indeed agree that man cannot convert himself by means of the Word of God.
If the Word of God must be accompanied by a work of God, man is to be excused if he does not repent, for he is not able to.
(1) By way of such reasoning a heathen could also be excused for not perfectly fulfilling the law of nature, for he is not able to do so. The apostle states, however, that they are without excuse (Rom. 1:20).
(2) It is not so that man is able to progress to a point; that is, until he encounters the obstacle of his inability ; but he is already obstructed by his unwillingness . If, as some maintain, man has a neutral will enabling him to will or not to will, he has no reason to complain, for he is using his free will to avoid God and to live in sin.
It is maintained, however, that man cannot will to do so, and therefore he is to be excused.
He is neither hindered nor restrained by either God, His Word, or by any creature. Instead, man is left to himself and he is so evil and hostile toward God, having such strong inclinations toward sin, that he is not able to will. He is thus to be blamed himself.
By maintaining that there is such an efficacious and immediate operation of God upon the soul, the freedom of man’s will is destroyed and removed.
This we deny. God works in harmony with man’s nature; however, He does not do so as one man would interact with another man. God causes man to will voluntarily, as was true when man was created. If God, who created the will in man, touches the will and the soul without removing the freedom of the will, why can this not be true in re– creation? In the first [creation], man and his will did not exist, but were created. In the second [recreation], man and his will are spiritually dead.
At regeneration the soul already possesses its capabilities and they are activated only in the realm of the spiritual. As the will is activated in the natural realm by natural motives, it is likewise activated in the spiritual realm by spiritual motives. It therefore cannot be maintained that there is an immediate operation of God upon the will without impinging upon the freedom of man’s will.
(2) In the natural realm man has some principles, enabling him to will by way of natural motives; however, in the spiritual realm man is entirely dead, entirely evil, and not able to be activated to will and to work spiritually by way of motivation. There is thus a need for an almighty, supernatural power in order to cause the faculties to be engaged in a spiritual sense.
To hold to such an immediate interaction of God with the soul and its faculties is nothing but fanaticism.
This is not so, for fanaticism adheres to revelations outside of and contrary to God’s Word. It yields to passions and sudden motions which override the mind and the will, being but vain delusions and fantasies. Regeneration, however, occurs by means of the Word of God and is active according to the Word of God. If, however, one understands fanaticism to be “being driven by the spirit,” 12 that is, to be regenerated by the Spirit and thus to live and walk by the Spirit according to the rule of God’s Word, we have no objection, and the proposed absurdity is no absurdity.
We have thus demonstrated that man by nature is entirely impotent and unable. In the initial moment of his conversion he neither acts nor cooperates, but is only passive. God, by a supernatural and almighty power, interacts with and changes the intellect and will in an immediate sense, changing man from being blind to receiving his sight, and from evil to good. That which has been said confirms the validity of the question.
The Irresistible Nature of the Internal Call
Does God work irresistibly in those who are converted, conquering all the opposition of their evil nature, and in very deed translate them from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life?
The Arminians deny this, but we confirm this. Man by nature hates God and is opposed to God, His Word, and the gospel. Such is the state of all men. If, however, the one person is converted and not the other, this is not to be attributed to man—as if it were true that the one accepts this grace by his free will and the other rejects it; rather this is to be attributed to the effectual operation of God, who works one thing in the one and not in the other. He not only effectually illuminates the intellect—doing so irresistibly—and irresistibly activates man’s inclinations, but He also irresistibly works upon the unwilling will in such a manner that the will wills voluntarily. This 12 The difficulty here is that the word “geestdrijverij,” translated in the dictionary as “fanaticism” or “zealotry,” can literally be interpreted as “being driven by the spirit.” When à Brakel uses this word the second time he undoubtedly interprets it in such a literal sense.
(1) Such reasoning presupposes that natural and spiritual virtue do not differ in essence but in degree. In the above we have shown this not to be so; this argument is therefore futile.
freedom is not one of neutrality (it being immaterial whether or not to do something), but one of necessary consequence , a person being willing by his own choice and inclination. This is evident from the three propositions which we have proven in the preceding material.
First, if man is blind and ignorant as to how matters ought to be; if man, who is evil and hostile towards God, hates and opposes whatever he encounters of God in His Word and in the converted; if he is entirely impotent and unable; if he is entirely dead as far as spiritual life is concerned; if he is entirely as we have proven him to be— when such a person is converted, he with all his opposition will then not be able to resist the efficacious operation of God. He will not be able to prevent himself from being changed, nor prevent the translation of his heart and will into another state—as is true for a dead person who, after having been restored to life, cannot resist being alive. Thus, the converting, almighty power of God functions in an irresistible manner.
Secondly, if man is only passive in his conversion, and is the recipient of divine operations only as object, and therefore does not cooperate at all (as has been proven)—if such a man is converted, he is changed by an almighty, all–conquering, all–penetrating, and irresistible operation of God. Any object which is the passive recipient of action can neither oppose nor cooperate.
Thirdly, if God, in conversion, does not only illuminate the intellect by an almighty power and incline the inclinations, but also in an immediate sense interacts and changes the will, making it from unwilling to be willing—then God’s operation in the conversion of man is irresistible. It is an almighty working power, a creative act, a begetting, a resurrection from the dead, a change of heart, the removal of the heart of stone and the giving of a heart of flesh, etc., as has been shown prior to this. God’s operation in the conversion of men is thus irresistible, almighty, all–conquering, and all–penetrating.
Fourthly, the calling is according to God’s purpose; that is, He gives specific individuals eternal life. In the way of repentance and faith He makes all those partakers of this life, and those only, whom He has elected unto that end (cf. chapter 6: Election). “Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). Behold, there is thus an unbreakable chain: God leads His elect by way of the calling to eternal felicity. God saves them and calls them “with an holy calling...according to His own purpose and grace” (2 Tim. 1:9). If therefore they are called according to this purpose in order that they might be saved, the calling power of God cannot be resisted, for God will accomplish His purpose. He has purposed this in His decree “and who shall disannul it?” (Isa. 14:27). It is thus both clear and certain that the calling is irresistible. Let us now consider for a moment what objections are made against this.
There are texts which state expressly that man resists this calling, such as, “I have spread out My hands all the day unto a rebellious people” (Isa. 65:2); “Thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house” (Ezek. 12:2); “How often would I have gathered thy children together...and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37); “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51).
All these texts do not refer to the internal call, nor to the moment of spiritual transformation, nor to regeneration. This is, however, the point in question; namely, whether the operation of the Holy Spirit can be resisted. Instead, these texts refer to the external call and to Christ being offered unto justification, sanctification, and glorification. We readily admit that the person who is not elected resists this call, for the carnal mind is enmity against God. The natural man hates both God and holiness, and can do nothing else but reject and resist this offer. It does not follow, however, that those who are regenerated would be able to resist the omnipotent operation of the Holy Spirit, whereby He makes a dead person alive, and from being unwilling, to be willing. This we deny, and these texts do not suggest this. Concerning the distinction between the external and internal call, we refer you to that which has been stated before.
“For if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matt. 11:21). It thus appears that man can convert himself, and if this is possible, it is his free and arbitrary choice whether or not he will repent. It therefore follows that conversion does not come about due to the irresistible power of God.
(1) This text does not refer to the true change and regeneration, but rather to an external conversion in sackcloth and ashes, which results from historical faith or as a response to miracles.
(2) This is a hyperbole whereby the Jews were convinced of their irresponsible wickedness and unbelief, this being even greater than that of the heathen. Observe this in Luke 19:40, “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.”
“But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves” (Luke 7:30). If it is possible to reject the counsel of God, this counsel can be resisted.
“The counsel of God” is not to be understood to refer to God’s purpose, but rather to the external offer of the gospel which gives counsel how we may flee from the wrath of God. We fully agree that this can be resisted and is indeed resisted by the unconverted, until an all–conquering and irresistible operation of God takes place. This irresistible, divine operation, however, is manifested toward none other than the elect. It is God’s will that they will be converted and there is no one who will be able to prevent this.
The objections which remain have already been dealt with previously. The practical application will be dealt with in the two succeeding chapters.
Excerpt from The Christian's Reasonable Service by Wilhelmus a Brakel