March 20, 2013
ii. This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.
Charles Spurgeon once sat listening to a boring sermon, and his mind began to wander. He asked himself how he had become converted. It was because I prayed. But then it occurred to him, why did he pray? I was moved to pray by reading the Scriptures. But the questions persisted; why had he read the Bible? And suddenly, Spurgeon realized that God was at the bottom of it all, and He is the author of saving faith.
We often want to claim something for ourselves in our conversion. One way of doing this is to say that God looked ahead into history and foresaw that you would trust in Christ, given the opportunity to do so. God therefore chose you, in this scheme, because He knew you would choose Him. But why would you choose Him? No one seeks for God (Rom. 3:11). In reality, we only choose Him because He first chose us.
The Westminster Confession reminds us that God did not choose or call you because He knew that you would respond positively. God announced the destiny of Esau and Jacob when they were "not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth" (Rom. 9:11).
God did not save you because you were better or more worthy than anybody else. He did not succeed in converting you because you cooperated more than other sinners do. Salvation is by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9). You were dead in sin, utterly unable to move towards God and horribly offensive to His holiness (Eph. 2:1-3). You played no more role in your effectual calling than a corpse plays in its being raised from the dead (Eph. 2:5).
This is what the Confession means when it says that mankind "is altogether passive therein, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit." We contribute nothing to our salvation except our desperate need. That is not to say that unconverted people can do nothing at all. The same legs that take them to a bar can carry them to a church service. They can read, listen to, and think about the Word of God (Acts 17:10-11). They may even fear God's wrath. Like the blind man, they can cry out for Christ to have mercy upon them until He gives them sight. Sadly, most fallen human beings are not willing to do even what they can.
Most importantly, lost sinners cannot stir up the least drop of saving faith, hope, or love in themselves. Man is perishing in spiritual inability. Without the Holy Spirit, they are unable to receive the truths of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14), unable to submit to God's law (Rom. 8:7-8), and unable to come to Christ (John 6:44). They cannot bow before the Lord Jesus, and confess Him unto salvation (1 Cor. 12:3).
Grace alone makes us alive and enables us to repent, and to believe, love, obey, and hope in Christ. Whoever believes in Christ has been born of God--the perfect tense of "has been born" showing that our faith comes from God's regenerating work within us (1 John 5:1). We do not love God by nature, but by grace, we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:10, 19).
This is why Paul erupted into praise to God whenever he heard that someone had been converted (1 Thess. 1:2-4; 2:13). Why else would he thank God for the faith, hope, and love of converts, unless all the glory or credit for them must go to God? Let us therefore praise God fervently for our effectual calling, and rejoice whenever a sinner repents! As the psalmist teaches us to sing:
Lord, if Thou shouldst mark transgressions,
In Thy presence who shall stand?
But with Thee there is forgiveness,
That Thy Name may fear command.
Hope in God, ye waiting people;
Mercies great with Him abound;
With the Lord a full redemption
From the guilt of sin is found.
--Psalm 130:3, 4, 7, 8 (The Psalter, No. 363:2, 5)