The Gospel Call & The Effectual Call

By Anthony A. Hoekema


THE BIBLE leaves us in no doubt about this. In his Great Commission Jesus said to his disciples and to the church of all ages, "Go and make disciples of all nations." Though the churches of Reformed persuasion have always maintained the doctrines of unconditional election (that God has graciously chosen his people from before the creation of the world) and definite atonement (that Christ atoned for the sins of those who had been chosen as his people), these churches have also-though with occasional exceptions-affirmed that the offer of the gospel should be brought to all hearers of the word.

The Scriptures clearly teach that the gospel must be preached to all. Whether we can square this with particular election is another question. But the rule for our preaching must always be the revealed will of God. In the last analysis, it is God's business to bring into harmony the predetermined outcome of the preaching of the gospel with the general offer of salvation. We are bound to the means God has prescribed for bringing people to salvation. And the most important of these means is the preaching of the gospel.

The gospel call can be defined as follows: The offering of salvation in Christ to people, together with an invitation to accept Christ in repentance and faith, in order that they may receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.' We may therefore distinguish the following three elements:

(1) A presentation of the facts of the gospel and of the way of salvation. The work Christ has done for our salvation must be clearly and carefully set forth. This should be done in language which is understandable to people today, and in a way that is relevant to present-day needs and problems. Important as it is to be relevant, however, the preacher must first of all be faithful to the Scriptures. There is a sense in which the message of the crucified Christ will always seem irrelevant and offensive. It is not pleasant to be told that we are sinners, by nature objects of God's wrath, unable in our own strength to work our way out of this predicament. Paul found this to be so; yet he continued to preach the gospel which gave some people offense: "We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:23-24).

(2) An invitation to come to Christ in repentance and faith. The gospel call must be more than a presentation; it must include an earnest invitation. Jesus himself invites people to come to him in repentance and faith: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). The preacher should not minimize the seriousness of sin, but should stress the importance of genuine repentance. It should be made clear that faith is not just intellectual assent to certain truths, but an acceptance of Christ with the total person, including commitment to his service.

The gospel invitation is, however, at the same time a command, like a summons which comes from a king. Note how Jesus expresses this point in the Parable of the Great Banquet: "And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled"' (Luke 14:23). The gospel invitation is not one a person may feel free to accept or decline, as one might with an invitation to go bowling, but it is an order from the sovereign Lord of all creation to come to him for salvation-an order that can be ignored only at the cost of one's eternal perdition.

It is a serious mistake to think that pastors who preach to the members of established churches do not need to issue an invitation to accept Christ for salvation. Herman Bavinck conducts a significant discussion about extremes to be avoided in preaching.' Well-balanced preaching, he says, should combine the covenantal and the evangelistic emphases. In sermons addressed to people who have not heard the gospel previously, the preacher must not merely invite his hearers to believe and repent; he must also build them up in the faith. In sermons addressed to members of established churches, on the other hand, the preacher may not rest content with building up believers in the faith, or with merely drawing out the implications of the faith which is assumed to be in them. There must always be, even in the preaching that is addressed to church members, an earnest summons to faith and repentance. No preacher may blandly assume that everyone in church is saved. There will always be children and young people who have not yet committed their lives to Christ, and there will usually be adults who have not made a clear-cut decision for the Lord. These too must be addressed and urged to come to Christ.

(3) A promise of forgiveness and salvation. The gospel call must also include the promise that those who respond properly to this call will receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in fellowship with Christ. This promise is, however, conditional: you will receive forgiveness and salvation if you repent and believe. In later chapters repentance and faith will be discussed more fully. When I call the promise included in the gospel call conditional, I do not mean that this is a condition which human beings can fulfill in their own strength. God alone can enable the hearer of the gospel call to repent and believe. The hearer must therefore pray that God will empower him or her to do so, and must give God the praise when he does so. But the condition must be fulfilled if the blessing is to be received -this the preacher must make clear.


What are the characteristics of the gospel call? First, it is general or universal, involving an invitation which comes to everyone who hears the gospel. This is clear from the Parables of the Wedding Banquet (Matt. 22:114) and the Great Banquet (Luke 14:16-24). Each of these parables pictures the gospel call. Though there are points of difference between the two parables, the basic thrust of both is the same: someone (in Matthew's parable, a king; in Luke's, simply "a certain man"), having invited many guests to a banquet, sends his servants (or; as in Luke, his servant) out to bid the invited guests to come. When these refuse to come, the host sends his servant or servants into the streets and alleys of the town and into the roads and country lanes to bring others besides the originally invited guests into the banquet hall, so that his house may be filled.

In each parable a form of the word Ulm is used to describe the summoning of the guests who had been invited to the banquet (Matt. 22:3; Luke 14:17). In the Matthew passage, in fact, there is a combination of two forms of the verb: the king sent his servants kalesai tous keklmenous, "to call those who had been called." The call to attend the banquet, therefore, has come and comes again to all the originally invited guests. Yet these guests all refuse to come, though others invited later do come. In both parables there were people who had been called or invited to come, but who did not come. Jesus puts it succinctly in Matthew 22:14, "For many are called, but few are chosen" (RSV).

It seems clear that these parables must be interpreted as referring to the gospel call. The first group of invited guests stands for the Jews, God's ancient covenant people, who had been previously called through prophets, priests, and God-fearing kings, and who are now being called again by Christ and his disciples. In both parables those first invited refuse to come. The second group of invited guests, both in Matthew and in Luke (people who live within the town), seem to stand for Jews other than those previously called-tax collectors, sinners, and the like. The people in this second group are willing to come to the banquet. The third group of guests, mentioned only by Luke (people in the "roads and country lanes," and therefore outside of the town), may stand for the Gentiles to whom the gospel would come later as the church would fulfill Christ's Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). In both Matthew 22 and Luke 14, therefore, Jesus teaches that many are called to accept the gospel invitation who refuse to do so-that, in other words, there is a general call which comes to all to whom the gospel is preached.

In this connection we take note also of Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Though only those who recognize their sinful state will come to Christ, the call is addressed to all who "labor and are heavy laden," whether they realize their condition or not.

Acts 17:30 speaks of the general or universal call in terms of a command: "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent." The last chapter of the Bible, in fact, contains an urgent general call: "The Spirit and the bride say,'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!'" (Rev. 22:17). The New Testament clearly teaches, therefore, that the call or summons of the gospel comes to all to whom the word is preached or taught.

When a preacher or missionary brings the gospel he cannot, of course, restrict himself to those whom the Bible calls "the elect" (those whom God has chosen to be saved); he does not know who they are. The preacher addresses everybody; he invites every listener to be saved. Needless to say, the preacher or missionary earnestly or fervently desires that all to whom the gospel call comes will be saved. But now the question arises, Is there also such a desire on God's part? Does God earnestly desire that all those who hear the gospel should repent, believe, and be saved?

On this question there has been and still is a difference of opinion among Reformed theologians here in the United States, in the Netherlands, and in England.3 Restricting myself to the American phase of this controversy; I observe that the late Herman Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Church in the United States and in Canada of which he was the founder teach that God does not seriously desire the salvation of all those to whom the gospel comes. The Christian Reformed Church, however, in opposition to Hoeksema, and in agreement with the majority of Reformed theologians, affirms that God does seriously desire the salvation of all to whom the gospel comes. This leads us to a consideration of the second characteristic of the gospel call.


So that we may understand this controversy, we first look at the position of Herman Hoeksema on this point. According to Hoeksema, the gospel call is never an offer. For if it were an offer, it would imply that all those to whom the gospel comes are able to accept this offer in their own strength.' This, however, is not true. Only the elect (those whom God chose from eternity to be saved) are given the ability to accept the gospel call. This gospel call is therefore not a universal offer of grace and salvation, but it is an odor of life to life and an odor of death to death, in accordance with the express purpose of God.4

It must be remembered that Hoeksema's theology is dominated by the overruling causality of the double decree of election and reprobation.5 He contends that it is impossible to maintain the decrees of election and reprobation and still speak of a well-meant offer of the gospel to all to whom the gospel comes. For to speak of such an offer implies that God desires that all who hear the gospel should be saved, and that God therefore has a favorable attitude toward all such hearers. But if this is so, counters Hoeksema, how can one explain Scripture passages which teach that God intends to harden the hearts of some to whom the gospel comes? How can God have an attitude of favor toward the reprobate? As a matter of fact, this author contends, God never grants the reprobate any token of grace. Everything God does to or for the reprobate in this life is deliberately designed to prepare him or her for eternal damnation.6

Hoeksema also sees an inconsistency between the teaching of the well-meant offer of the gospel and the doctrine of limited atonement.' "They [people who accept the well-meant offer] profess to believe that atonement is limited, and that Christ died only for the elect; yet, on the other hand, they also insist that God sincerely and well-meaningly offers salvation to all men."8 Hoeksema does no think it possible to combine these two doctrines; they simply contradict each other.

For Hoeksema, the doctrines of election and reprobation make it impossible to speak of gospel preaching as an offer of grace to the reprobate. If preaching, then, is not an offer, what is it? It consists of a universal proclamation joined to a particular promise. This proclamation includes a number of statements concerning the truth revealed in the gospel. It is a declaration that God will save his elect in the way of faith, and that he will condemn the reprobates who refuse to accept the gospel.9

According to Hoeksema, the promise of the gospel does not come to everyone who hears it; it comes only to the elect. This promise is never universal but always particular. Preaching is never grace for the reprobate. Preaching by itself is neither a blessing nor a curse. It is a neutral presentation, which always turns into a curse for the reprobate and into a blessing for the elect.1°

Summing up, then, according to Hoeksema God does not desire the salvation of all to whom the gospel comes; he desires the salvation only of the elect. Therefore we cannot say that the gospel is a well-meant offer of salvation to all who hear it.

Taking issue with Hoeksema on this point, the Christian Reformed Church of North America maintains, in agreement with the majority of Reformed theologians, that the preaching of the gospel is a well-meant offer of salvation, not just on the part of the preacher, but on God's part as well, to all who hear it, and that God seriously and earnestly desires the salvation of all to whom the gospel call comes.

What is the Scriptural basis for the well-meant gospel call? We look first of all at two passages from Ezekiel. Ezekiel 18:23 is in the form of a question: "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" Ezekiel 33:11 gives the answer to this question: "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, 0 house of Israel?"

Ezekiel prophesied to the exiles from the Southern Kingdom, who had been carried into Babylonian captivity because of their shameful unfaithfulness to God. The prophet is pleading with his countrymen to repent of their sins- particularly of the sins of idolatry and covenantbreaking-and to return to God. In these two passages he states emphatically that God takes no pleasure in the death of impenitent sinners, but that he desires that they should turn from their evil ways and live. Though these words were addressed to the Israelites, there is no reason whatever to assume that they are addressed only to "the elect" among Israel. Surely to suggest that all the Israelites in Babylon were elect in the sense defined above is to go contrary to Paul's words in Romans 9:6 ("For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel," ASV), and to the teachings of Scripture in general. In fact, we are given the distinct impression that most of the Jews who were carried away into captivity were covenant breakers who had sunk very far into idolatry and disobedience. So when the prophet here exclaims that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, there is no justification for limiting these "wicked" to the elect wicked. The point is crystal clear: God does not delight in (chaphets) the death of the impenitent hearers of the gospel, but he delights in their turning to him in repentance so that they may be saved. This is God's revealed will toward all who hear the gospel call, including the call to repentance trumpeted by the Old Testament prophets.

Calvin has some significant words to say about the passage from Ezekiel 18:23:

We hold, then, that God wills not the death of a sinner, since he calls all equally to repentance, and promises himself prepared to receive them if they only seriously repent. If anyone should object-then there is no election of God, by which he has predestinated a fixed number to salvation, the answer is at hand: the Prophet does not here speak of God's secret counsel, but only recalls miserable men from despair, that they may apprehend the hope of pardon, and repent and embrace the offered salvation.1I

We turn next to a New Testament passage, Matthew 23:37, "0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing" (cf. the parallel passage, Luke 13:34). Here Jesus, sobbing out his grief, tells Jerusalem how often he has longed to have her citizens come to him to be saved, and how grieved he is at their refusal to do so. He uses the figure of the lien gathering her chicks under her wings to protect her brood from impending danger. The danger of which Jesus is speaking is that of the coming judgment. In the very next verse Jesus tells Jerusalem that her house will be left desolate-a reference to the coming destruction of the city. But in Jesus' final discourses the destruction of Jerusalem is usually a type of the end of the world.12 "Those who are not in Christ when he comes again at the end of the world will be eternally lost. So what Jesus here specifically warns against is the unspeakable tragedy of everlasting perdition.

"But you were not willing!" There is a sharp contrast here between what Jesus wanted and what the inhabitants of Jerusalem wanted: "I longed ... but you were not willing." Most interpreters understand this cry of Jesus as a lament. Christ emphatically declares that though he yearned for the conversion and salvation of the people of Jerusalem, they were not willing to believe on him so that they might be saved.

Since Jesus speaks here as the Messiah, the God-man, the revealer of the Father, we must understand his words as disclosing the attitude of God the Father toward Jerusalem, as well as that of Christ. For Jesus said on another occasion, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9); he also affirmed, "My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me" (John 7:16). Surely it would never do to think of Christ as feeling one way about the salvation of the children of Jerusalem, and of the Father as feeling a different way. Surely there can be no diversity of attitude within the Holy Trinity!

No one would care to contend that every person in Jerusalem was among the number of God's elect. We have, then, in this passage a clear indication that God does seriously and earnestly desire the salvation of all those to whom the gospel comes, including those who do not belong to his elect.

In 2 Peter 3:4 the writer speaks of scoffers who say, "Where is the promise of his [Christ's] coning?" (RSV). It seems that already in Peter's day people were wondering why Jesus had not yet returned. The answer is given in verse 9: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understan'. slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

The word rendered "patient" is makrothymci, literally, "is of long spirit," or "is longsuffering" (KJV) toward you. The apparent delay of Christ's Second Coming, Peter says, does not mean that the Lord is slow or forgetful of his promise, but rather that he is longsuffering toward us, "not wanting anyone to perish, but [wanting] everyone to come to repentance." So the alleged "delay" is actually an evidence of divine grace. The Lord wishes to give human beings living on this earth full opportunity to repent and be saved; hence he has not yet returned.

But now note particularly the words, "not wanting anyone to perish." One might conceivably read into this phrase the meaning, "not wanting any of the elect to perish." But this is not what Peter says; to introduce this thought is to smuggle into the text something which is not there. The negative form of the statement leaves no room for the possibility of excluding anyone: The Lord does not wish that any should perish. According to this passage it is clearly the Lord's desire that all those who hear the gospel should come to repentance and be saved.

Again Calvin's comment on this text is helpful:

It could be asked here, if God does not want any to perish, why do so many in fact perish? My reply is that no mention is made here of the secret decree of God by which the wicked are doomed to their own ruin, but only of His loving-kindness as it is made known to us in the Gospel. There God stretches out His hand to all alike, but He only grasps those (in such a way as to lead to Himself) whom He has chosen before the foundation of the world.13

The word translated "wanting" in 2 Peter 3:9 is boulomenos. As we reflect on the passages we have been looking at, we find a clear parallel between me boulomenos ("not wanting") in this verse, posakis ethelesa (" how often .I have longed") in Matthew 23:37, and 'im-'echpots ("I take no pleasure") in Ezekiel 33:11. God does not want anyone to perish, he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and Jesus often longed to gather the children of Jerusalem to the place of safety. These divinely inspired statements describe God's revealed will that all those who hear the gospel should come and be saved.

Perhaps the clearest New Testament passage on this point is 2 Corinthians 5:20, "We. are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." An ambassador does not present his own sentiments or opinions about a matter, but only those of his sender. Paul here calls himself and his fellow apostles ambassadors, implying that when he and others urge people to be reconciled to God, they are uttering not simply their own wishes but the wishes of the God who sent them. The genitive absolute construction, hos tou theou parakalountos di' hemon, expands the thought of "we are ambassadors," and further explains what this ambassadorship involves: "so that actually God is making his appeal through us."14 The appeal is this: "be reconciled to God." Obviously, then, the desire that his readers or hearers be reconciled to God is not just Paul's wish, but God's desire as transmitted by Paul. Applying what this passage teaches about preaching in general, we are certainly justified in saying that the desire that people be reconciled to God which comes to expression in preaching is not just a desire on the part of the preacher or missionary, but on the part of the God for whom the preacher speaks and of whom he is an ambassador.15


Do the Reformed Confessions have anything to say on this matter? In the Canons of Dort16 there are two articles which have particular bearing on this point. The first is found in Chapter II, Article 5:

It is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.

The other article, III-IV, 8, is even more significant:

All who are called through the gospel are called seriously (serio vocantur). For seriously and most genuinely (serio et verissinie) God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him: that those who are called should come to him. Seriously (serio) he also promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.

By way of background, we should note that the expression serio vocantur ("are called seriously") was chosen deliberately. For this expression had been used by the Remonstrants or Arminians at the Synod of Dort when they voiced their objections to the teachings of the Calvinists.17 In reply to a request from the officers of the synod asking the Arminians to state their views more fully than they had done before, the Arminians who were present at the synod handed in a document called "The Opinions of the Remonstrants" (Sententiae Remonstrantiutn). In this document they made the following statements about the well-meant gospel offer: "Whomever God calls to salvation he calls seriously (serio vocat): that is, with a sincere and completely unhypocritical intention and will to save."18 The Arminians were here saying to the Calvinists: "One of the problems we have with your position is that, granted your doctrines of election and limited atonement, you cannot possibly believe in it well-meant gospel call-you cannot maintain that God seriously calls (serio vocat) all to whom the gospel comes."19

Against this background the fact that the Canons of Dort not only affirmed the well-meant gospel call, but did so in exactly the same words used by the Arminians, is all the more significant. In reply to what the Arminians had said, the theologians at Dort stated: " We quite agree with you that God seriously, earnestly, unhypocritically, and most genuinely calls to salvation all to whom the gospel comes. In stating this, we even use the very same words you used in your document: serio vocantur ('are seriously called'). But we insist that we can hold to this well-meant gospel call while at the same time maintaining the doctrines of election and limited or definite atonement. We do not feel the need for rejecting the doctrine of election and repudiating the teaching of definite atonement in order to affirm the well-meant gospel call."


Peter Toon, in his The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity, points out that among the English nonconformists of the late seventeenth and middle eighteenth centuries there emerged a type of Hyper-Calvinism which, like that of Herman Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Churches, denied the well-meant gospel call.2° One of the reasons why this type of theology developed, according to Toon, was an overly rationalistic understanding of God's dealings with human beings.21

The same comment can be made, I believe, about the position of Herman Hoeksema and his followers on the gospel call-it is based on an overly rationalistic understanding of God's dealings with his human creatures. Here is the crux of the matter. The Bible teaches, as we saw above, that God seriously desires that all who hear the gospel should believe in Christ and be saved. The same Bible also teaches that God has chosen or elected his own people in Christ from before the creation of the world. To our finite minds it seems impossible that both of these teachings could be true. A kind. of rational solution of the problem could go into either of two directions: (1) To say that God wants all who hear the gospel to be saved; that therefore he gives to all who hear sufficient grace to be saved if they so desire; this grace is, however, always resistible; many do resist and thus frustrate God's design. This is the Arminian solution, which leaves us with a God who is not sovereign, and which thus denies a truth clearly taught in Scripture. (2) The other type of rational solution is that of Hoeksema and the Hyper-Calvinists: Since the Bible teaches election and reprobation, it simply cannot be true that God desires the salvation of all to whom the gospel comes. Therefore we must say that God desires the salvation only of the elect among the hearers of the gospel. This kind of solution may seem to satisfy our minds, but it completely fails to do justice to Scripture passages like Ezekiel 33:11, Matthew 23:37, 2 Corinthians 5:20, and 2 Peter 3:9.

We must refuse to go into either of these two rationalistic directions. Since the Scriptures teach both eternal election and the well-meant gospel call, we must continue to hold on to both, even though we cannot reconcile these two teachings with our finite minds. We should remember that we cannot lock God up in the prison of human logic. Our theology must maintain the Scriptural paradox.22With Calvin, our theological concern must be not to build a rationally coherent system, but to be faithful to all the teachings of the Bible.

The well-meant gospel call has tremendous significance for missions. The missionary or evangelist must bring the gospel message with this confidence: "Not only do I desire each of you to turn from your sins to God so that you may be saved, but this is God's desire as well. God has no pleasure in the death of anyone who is not living in harmony with his will; God wants you to turn from your ways and live. God is therefore making his appeal through me, as I say to you, Be reconciled to God!'" With this confidence we must bring the gospel to everyone, trusting that God will bless the word and will bring about the results which he has decreed.

Having looked at the gospel call, we turn next to the question of the response to this call. Not all who hear the gospel can accept it and come to salvation-some do, but some do not. How do we account for this?

Various answers have been given to this question. Some (Semi- Pelagians1 and Arminians2) have said that the acceptance of the gospel call is dependent ultimately and exclusively on the human will. According to this view, all who hear the gospel have the ability to accept iteither by the natural capability of the will to respond (Semi-Pelagians), or because of a sufficient enabling grace given to all whereby inherited depravity can be overcome (Arminians). God does not in any way determine or control the outcome of the gospel call- this outcome is dependent on the human will alone. Here, therefore, is a point in God's universe where God is not in complete control; he chooses to step back, wait, and see what people will do with the gospel call. The sovereignty of God, so clearly taught in Scripture, is here denied.

Augustine (354-430), however, and those who followed the Augustinian tradition in theology, maintained that the reason why those who accept the gospel call do so must ultimately be sought, not in the human will (though they would admit that the human will is active in this acceptance) but in the sovereign grace of God. This Augustinian tradition has been maintained by Calvinistic3 or Reformed theologians. According to Reformed theology human beings are by nature unable to respond to the gospel call with repentance and faith. The reason for this is that they are all born in a sinful state and condition known as 'original sin," consisting in "pervasive depravity" and "spiritual inability"a Because of his or her spiritual inability the unregenerate person is unable, apart from the special working of the Holy Spirit, to change the basic direction of his life from sinful self-love to love for God. Unless God by his Spirit opens the heart of the hearer, thus enabling him or her to believe, he or she will never accept the gospel call. This opening of the heart happens in what Reformed theologians describe as "internal" or "effectual" calling. We shall be looking at the biblical basis for this doctrine in a moment.

First of all, however, something must be said about terminology. Some Reformed theologians use the term "internal calling" to describe the kind of call I am now discussing. This terminology implies that the gospel call should be thought of as an "external call." But that suggests that the call of the gospel never really gets inside the person who rejects it, since it only touches him or her on the outside-since it only reaches the ear, as we sometimes say, but not the heart. This is, however, not necessarily so. In the Parable of the Sower Jesus describes the "wayside" hearer as one who has heard the word but in whose case the evil one comes and "snatches away what was sown in his heart" (Matt. 13:19). The gospel may be rejected by someone not just on the basis of a superficial hearing of it, but despite a thorough understanding of it, despite a receiving of that word in her "heart" -in the inner core of her being.

The expression "internal calling" also has its difficulties. It suggests that the difference between these two ways of looking at calling lies simply in the aspect of the human being to which each calling appeals: the outside or the inside. But surely this is quite inadequate. For these reasons I prefer to designate the calling which refers to God's opening of the heart to enable a person to believe as "effectual calling."


At this point we must step back and reflect on what the Bible teaches about what fallen human beings are by nature. Are they by nature-that is, apart from a special working of the Holy Spirit-able to respond to the gospel call in faith and repentance?
The Bible clearly teaches that they are not. We turn first of all to 1 Corinthians 2:14, "The man without the Spirit [or "unspiritual man," RSV; "natural man," KJV; Gk. psychikos] does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." Paul refers here to man as he is by nature, to unregenerate man. Such people not only cannot understand the things that come from God's Spirit; even worse, these things are foolishness to them. Paul makes a similar point in Romans 8:7, "The sinful mind [or "the carnal mind," KJV; "the mind of the flesh," ASV; Gk. to phronenna tes sarkns] is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." The "sinful mind" is the mind of the human being by nature; if that mind is hostile to God (or "enmity against God," KJV) and is not able to submit to divine law, how can it respond favorably to God's summons to repent and believe? The condition of human beings by nature is described in the most devastating words by Ephesians 2:1-2: "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world." Our condition by nature, Paul is here saying, is not just one of spiritual sickness-a sickness which could perhaps be healed by some efforts on our part. No, our condition is one of spiritual death. And how can spiritually dead people respond favorably to the gospel call?

That we are not able by nature to accept the call of the gospel was clearly taught by Jesus when he said to Nicodemus, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again [literally, "born from above"; Gk. gennethe anothen].... No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit" (John 3:3, 5). Not only can we not enter God's kingdom; we cannot even see it unless we have received new life from above. Note also what Jesus said to the Jews, "No one can come tome unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44). Because we are by nature spiritually dead we need to be made spiritually alive before we can respond affirmatively to God's overtures of grace: "Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions" (Eph. 2:4-5).

If our condition by nature is as described in the passages just quoted, it is obvious that we cannot in our own strength accept the gospel call. To ask people who are by nature spiritually dead, hostile to God, unable to understand the things of God's Spirit, and unable to submit to God's law, to respond favorably to his invitation to repent of sin and believe in Christ is like asking a totally deaf woman to answer your question or a totally blind man to read a note you have written. It is like standing on top of a roof and asking a man on the sidewalk below to fly up to join you.

Does the Bible teach that there is such a thing as an effectual callone in which God efficaciously enables us to respond to the gospel call with a Yes? Indeed it does. It will be helpful to turn first of all to I Corinthians 1:22-24,

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called [literally, "to the called ones"; Gk. autois de tois kletoisj, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

When Paul preached he found that some of his hearers accepted and some rejected his message. The only way he could have found out that the crucified Christ whom he preached was a stumbling block to certain Jews and foolishness to certain Greeks was by preaching to them and noting their responses. Even those to whom the preached Christ became a stumbling block or foolishness, however, would have received the gospel call. When Paul adds, "to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God," he can mean nothing else than "to those whom God has effectually called" -called in such a way that they responded favorably to the gospel. So the word kletois as used in this passage must refer to the effectual call. - -- - -- - - -- - -- - -

- To prove that effectual calling is described here, ask yourself whether those for whom the crucified Christ is a stumbling block or foolishness have been called. If Paul had been thinking only of the gospel call, he would have had to say Yes to this question. But here Paul particularly excludes these unbelieving hearers from the number of those who have been called; only those for whom the gospel is the power of God and the wisdom of God are here designated as the kletoi, those who have been called. And in this sense, the sense of having been effectually called, the former class of people were not called.

To highlight the difference between these two types of calling once again, compare this passage with Luke 14:24, "I tell you, not one of those men who were invited [literally, "those called," ton keklemenott] will get a taste of my banquet." In the Luke passage none of the called are saved; but in the passage from 1 Corinthians only the called are saved.

The distinction, therefore, between these two types of calling is not just a "Calvinistic fiction," as some Arminians allege,' but is clearly based on Scripture.

We look next at Romans 8:28-30. We begin with verse 28: "We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose."' Who are the people for whom all things work together for good (or for whose good God works in all things)? They are described in two ways: "those who love God," and those "who have been called according to his purpose." The first of these two expressions describes what these people do: they "love God." The second expression describes what God has done for them: they are people "who have been called according to his [God's] purpose" (tois kata prothesis kletois). Surely much more is meant here by kletois (those "who have been called") than having been summoned by the call of the gospel. To be sure, the gospel call is a call according to God's purpose. But can it be said that all things work together for good for all those who have been called by the gospel, regardless of whether they believe or not? Can it be said that all those who receive the gospel call. are people who love God? Obviously not. It is quite clear, therefore, that here, as in 1 Corinthians 1:24, the word kletois (those "who have been called") refers to effectual calling: those in whom God by his Holy Spirit has effectually brought about new life, thus enabling these hearers to respond believingly to the gospel call. This calling is "according to his purpose" to bring them to salvation-a purpose rooted in his having chosen them in Christ before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4).

The verses which follow, 29-30, give the reason for the statement made in verse 28:

(29) For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (30) And those he predestined, he also called (ekalesen, from kaleo); those he called (ekalesen), he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

"Called" in verse 30 must also be understood as referring to effectual calling, for two reasons: (1) "Called" is only expressing in the form of a verb (ekalesen) what was previously expressed in verse 28 in the form of a substantive: " [those] who have been called" (kletois). The persons designated "those he called" in verse 30 are the same persons described as "[those] who have been called according to his purpose" in verse 28. For, as was noted, verses 29 and 30 give the ground or reason for what was said in verse 28. (2) All those said to have been "called" in verse 30 are also said to be justified: "those he called, he also justified." One cannot say that all those who have received the gospel call, regardless of their response to it, are justified. But one can say that all those who have been effectually called are justified-and will eventually be glorified. "Called," therefore, both in verse 28 and verse 30, must mean effectually called.?

Another passage where the word for calling is used in the sense of ef fectual calling is 1 Corinthians 1:9, "God is faithful, by whom you were called (eklethete, from kaleo) into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (RSV). The fellowship of God's Son means union and communion with Christ-a fellowship which implies that Christ will sustain to the end the believers Paul is addressing (v. 8). "Called" in this passage, therefore, cannot mean simply the gospel call which can be either rejected or accepted; it must mean the effectual call whereby these Christian friends have been brought into a living relationship with Christ.

Paul, in fact, usually uses the word "call" in the sense of effectual calling. See, for example, also Romans 1:7; 9:23-24; 1 Corinthians 1:26; Galatians 1:15; and Ephesians 4:1, 4. But this use of the word "calling" is not limited to Paul; we find the word used in this sense also by other New Testament writers.

Peter uses the word in this way in 1 Peter 2:9, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you (kalesantos, from kaleo) out of darkness into his wonderful light." Since Peter here addresses his readers as "a chosen people" and "a people belonging to God," it is clear that "called" means more than the gospel call which could be refused. You are no longer in the darkness, but you are now in the light, Peter is saying, because of God's effectual call.

We should look also at 2 Peter 1:10, "Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure." In this passage calling is not only mentioned in the same breath with election; it is treated as inseparably united with our election. There is only one definite article (ten) before the two nouns, klesin (calling) and eklogen (election). This means that these two are treated as one unit and are to be thought of as such: not your calling as somehow separate from your election, but your calling and election together.8

Obviously, therefore, "calling" (klesin) here cannot refer to the gospel call alone, for two reasons: (1) It is linked with "election" (eklogen) by a single definite article, and "election" can only refer to God's choosing of his own from eternity. A calling which is of one piece with election can only be effectual calling. (2) There is no particular point in telling someone to make sure or to confirm his or her gospel call; once having heard the gospel or once having read the gospel message, she has been called in that sense. "Making your calling sure" must therefore mean: make sure that you have been effectually called-that is, that you have been elected to eternal life in Christ. You can make sure of this, Peter explains, by "making every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control," and so on (vv. 5-7). By observing the fruits of effectual calling in your lives, Peter is saying, you can make sure that you have been effectually called.

A similar use of the word "calling" can be found in the first verse of the Epistle of Jude: "Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, to those who have been called (kletois), who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ." Surely not all who have received the gospel call are loved by the Father and kept by Christ, but only those who have been effectually brought into the fellowship of the Triune God. There is also a passage in the Book of Revelation in which the word "called" is used to describe the "chosen and faithful followers" of Christ: "They [the ten kings who are associates of the beast] will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kingsand with him will be his called (kletoi), chosen and faithful followers" (Rev. 17:14). We conclude that the New Testament does indeed teach that there is an effectual calling by God which is not the same as the gospel call.9

How, now, shall we define effectual calling? Briefly, the effectual call is the gospel call made effective to salvation in the hearts and lives of God's people. The gospel call was described in the previous chapter. But unless God supernaturally changes the heart of the hearer, he or she will not respond in faith. This changing of the heart occurs in effectual calling.10 A more complete definition of effectual calling, therefore, might be: that sovereign action of God through his Holy Spirit whereby he enables the hearer of the gospel call to respond to his summons with repentance, faith, and obedience.


The last word, obedience, suggests another aspect of effectual calling, namely, that it is directed toward certain goals. This is implied in the concept of calling: we are called to something, to some end or goal. The New Testament indicates in a number of ways to what goals God's effectual calling summons us.
We are called into fellowship with Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9). We are called to eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12), to God's kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:12), and to a holy life (1 Thess. 4:7; see 2'Tim. 1:9). We are called to follow Christ as an example of godly suffering (1 Pet. 2:21). We are called to Christian freedom (Gal. 5:13) and to peace (Col. 3:15). We are called to win the prize: "1 press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:14).

The effectual call, therefore, summons us to a distinctive kind of life, a life that is different, that separates us morally and spiritually from this present evil world. To use the language of Ephesians 4:1, those who have been effectually called must live lives worthy of the calling to which they have been called.

But living such lives requires our own diligent involvement. Though the effectual call is a fruit of God's sovereign grace, it brings into play our full responsibility. As John Murray puts it, "The sovereignty and efficacy of the call I that is, the effectual call] do not relax human responsibility but rather ground and confirm that responsibility. The magnitude of the grace enhances the obligation."t1


As was mentioned, the doctrine of effectual calling has been and still is a significant aspect of Reformed theology. We find a reference to this type of calling already in Augustine:

When, therefore, the gospel is preached, some believe, some believe not; but they who believe at the voice of the preacher from without, hear of the Father from within, and learn; while they who do not believe, hear outwardly but inwardly do not hear nor learn; that is to say, to the former it is given to believe; to the latter it is not given. Because "No man," says He, "cometh to me except the Father which sent me draw him" (John 6:44).12

John Calvin also taught the effectual call, designating it "the inward calling":

... Only when God shines in us by the light of His Spirit is there any profit from the Word. Thus the inward calling, which alone is effectual and peculiar to the elect, is distinguished from the outward voice of men.13

The Canons of Dort speak of effectual calling. When they do so, they generally qualify the word "calling" by some such word as "effectual." Note, for example, the following statement: "This elect number [those whom God has chosen from eternity], though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call (efficaciter vocare) and draw them to His communion by his Word and Spirit." 14 Elsewhere in the Canons both the gospel call and the effectual call are mentioned in the same paragraph:

But that others who are called by the gospel (per ministerium evangelii vocati) obey the call and are converted is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise of free will, ... but it must be wholly ascribed to God, who, as He has chosen His own from eternity in Christ, so He calls them effectually (efficaciter vocat) in time.15

The Westminster Confession similarly teaches the effectual call: "All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ.... 16

How is effectual calling related to the gospel call? As we have seen, these two callings are not the same. Not all those who are summoned by the gospel call respond to it in repentance and faith; "for many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14, RSV). On the other hand, all those who have been called effectually do turn to God in faith and repentance.

It is important, however, to keep these two types of calling together. Reformed theologians often speak of the gospel call and the effectual call as two aspects or sides of one calling.17 Ordinarily God calls effectually where the word is being preached or taught. The powerful working of the Spirit then unites itself with the presentation of the word by the preacher or the teacher. How does the Spirit then work? By (1) opening the heart and thus enabling the hearer to respond (Acts 16:14), (2) enlightening the mind so that the hearer can understand the gospel message (1 Cor. 2:1213; cf. 2 Cor. 4:6), and (3) bestowing spiritual life so that the hearer can turn to God in faith (Eph. 2:5). One could say, therefore, that the word which is heard in the gospel call is made effective in the effectual call. Herman Bavinck puts it this way: "It is one and the same word which God allows to be proclaimed through the external [or gospel] call and which he writes on the hearts of the hearers through the Holy Spirit in the internal [or effectual] call."18


At this point it may be helpful to consider certain objections which have been raised against the doctrine of effectual calling. One is this: this doctrine takes away every incentive for evangelism and missions. For if only those who have been effectually called are able to respond to the gospel call in faith, why should we preach to people? Why should we not simply wait for God to call his elect with the effectual call? Does not this doctrine make missionary preaching and teaching useless?

The answer is a decisive No. For the preaching and teaching of the gospel are the divinely ordained means whereby people are brought to faith. Note Paul's words: "And how, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Rom. 10:14).

Another way of meeting this objection is to point out that, though only God's elect (those chosen by him from the creation of the world) will be effectually called and will therefore come to salvation, we do not know who they are. Bavinck again is helpful here: The gospel is proclaimed to human beings, not as elect or reprobate, but as sinners who are all in need of redemption." 19 It is our task to preach the gospel to all; we must trust God to enable those whom he has chosen in Christ to respond with saving faith. The doctrine of effectual calling, therefore, far from being a deterrent to evangelism and missions, is rather an incentive and a source of encouragement: we are confident that God will bring his own to salvation through the preaching and teaching of his word.

A second objection is this: Does not the doctrine of effectual calling put into the hands of unbelievers a tool whereby they can excuse them selves for not accepting the gospel? In the light of this teaching, can't they defend themselves for not believing by pointing out that they have not been called with the right kind of calling, and can they then not blame God for their unbelief?

By way of reply, we may say that the Bible clearly teaches that a person who rejects the gospel call has only himself or herself to blame. Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem: "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (John 5:39-40). On another occasion Jesus wept over Jerusalem, saying, "How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing" (Matt. 23:37). And when Paul was in Pisidian Antioch he said to the Jews who were abusing and insulting him, "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it . . . we now turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46). The Bible never says that a person who rejects the gospel does so because God did not call him or her effectually; the rejection of the gospel is always ascribed to human refusal to believe. The Canons of Dort put it this way: "The cause or guilt of this unbelief [that is, refusal to believe the gospel], as well as of all other sins, is in no wise in God, but in man himself; whereas faith in Jesus Christ and salvation through Him is the free gift of God. ..."20

A final objection which could be raised is that the doctrine of effectual calling violates the paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility that was discussed earlier.21 I there pointed out that since human beings are both creatures and persons, they are at the same time both totally dependent on God and able to make responsible decisions. This means that God does not deal with us as robots but as persons. This also means that both God and believers are involved in the process of salvation; in faith, repentance, sanctification, and perseverance both God works and we work. If this is so, the objector affirms, why do you say that effectual calling is exclusively the work of God and not in any way the work of man? If the human being is both a creature and a person, why is not effectual calling a work in which both God and man are active? Does not effectual calling as you have defined it mean that God is now treating us as robots rather than as persons?22

So much for the objection. What shall we say in reply? The answer to this objection depends on one's anthropology-one's view of the natural state of man after the Fall. If you believe that the natural state of human beings today is that of moral and spiritual neutrality, so that they can do good or bad as they please (the Pelagian view), you will not even feel the need for an effectual call or for regeneration. If you believe that our natural state is one of spiritual and moral sickness, but that we all still have the ability to respond favorably to the gospel call (the Semi-Pelagian view), you will not need an effectual call. If you believe that, though we are partially or totally depraved, God gives to all a sufficient enabling grace so that everyone who hears the gospel call is able to accept it by cooperating with this sufficient grace (the Arminian view), you will not feel the need for an effectual call. But if you believe that we are by nature totally dead in sin, and therefore unable to respond favorably to the gospel call unless God in his sovereign grace changes our hearts so that we become spiritually alive (the Reformed view), you will realize how desperately you need God's effectual call. The view last described, I believe, most faithfully reflects biblical teaching.23

Let me use an illustration. Let us suppose that you are drowning within earshot of friends on the shore. You cannot swim. Wishing to respect your integrity as a person, and wanting to enable you to help yourself as much as possible, one of your friends standing on the shore, an excellent swimmer, shouts to you that you should start swimming to shore. The advice, though well-meant, is worse than useless, since you can't swim. What you need, and need desperately, is for your friend to jump in and tow you to shore with powerful strokes, so that your life may be saved. What you need at the moment is not just advice, good advice, even gracious advice-you need to be rescued!

This, now, is our situation by nature. We are lost sinners. We are dead in sin. Being dead in sin, we cannot make ourselves alive. Since we are dead in sin, our ears are deaf to the gospel call and our eyes are blind to the gospel light. We need a miracle. This miracle occurs when God in his amazing grace calls us effectually through his Spirit from spiritual death to spiritual life, from spiritual darkness into his marvelous light. After we have been made spiritually alive, we can once again become actively involved in the process of our salvation-in repentance, faith, sanctification, and perseverance. But at the very beginning of the process, at the point where, being spiritually dead, we need to become spiritually alive, we need nothing less than a miraculous rescue from the murky waters of sin in which, if left alone, we would drown. This is what happens in the effectual call.

So let us praise God for the marvel of effectual calling!

I sought the Lord and afterward I know
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of Thee


From Saved by Grace By Anthony A. Hoekema

By Topic


By Scripture

Old Testament









1 Samuel

2 Samuel

1 Kings

2 Kings

1 Chronicles

2 Chronicles








Song of Solomon


















New Testament







1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians





1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

1 Timothy

2 Timothy





1 Peter

2 Peter

1 John

2 John

3 John



By Author

Latest Links