The General and Effectual Call of the Gospel
The gospel must be preached to the ends of the earth, for the elect of God are spread throughout all the nations of the world. This extensive preaching of the gospel is called the “general” call of the gospel. This general call is “effectual” only to the sheep who are enabled to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. John 6:65 says, “No one can come unto me, unless it has been granted to him by my Father.”
Christ equates the “elect” with His “sheep.” In John 10:26-28 Jesus explains why it is that the Jews rejected Him and others did not. He says, “But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” In the book of Acts, it is noteworthy that Luke comments on the Gentiles who believed the gospel, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).
Again, notice what Paul says in I Cor. 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (cf. also Rom. 1:16).
It is necessary that the general call of the gospel go to all the earth, so that God may work the effectual call in His elect people and save them. This is the Great Commission that is given to the Church by our Lord (Matt. 28:19-20).
Success Guaranteed and Comfort Given
Rather than being a hindrance to missions, this doctrine of unconditional election is a tremendous comfort. The comfort of the Reformed doctrine of evangelism is that it is always successful as long as the gospel is truly preached. We need to be careful that we define “success” in terms of the Bible and not in terms of the world. God will not fail to gather His Church – His called-out-ones. Paul, the great missionary of the Church, also says, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:14-15). Then he goes on to say that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17; cf. also the NIV translation here). It is our task to go to the ends of the earth and preach the gospel to all men, for that is the very method that our Lord uses to gather His Church. Success does not depend on the numbers who respond to the call, but on whether we are faithful in the proclamation (see Joshua 1:7-9). Since it is by the power of the Word and Spirit that God will gather His church, we can be sure that He will do it successfully.
The Lord Jesus explained to the Jews who rejected him that those whom the Father had given him (chosen) would be saved, and not one would be lost. Listen to His words, “And Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day” (Jn. 6:35-39, emphasis mine).
What a comfort is given to us in Romans 8:33 when Paul asks the question, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?” In other words, can man or the devil himself bring any charges against a man that causes him to lose his salvation? Certainly not. Paul answers the question with these words, “It is God who justifies.” God is the one whose justice must be satisfied. And on the basis of man’s faith in the atonement of Jesus, God’s justice is satisfied. By grace through faith the believer is justified and has peace with God (Rom. 5:1). Since it is God who is offended by man’s sin, and since it is God who provides the salvation in His own Son, and since God has accepted the work of Jesus as a perfect satisfaction for the sins of His people, no one can bring an additional charge against God’s elect people.
Paul goes on in Romans 8:34 to ask, “Who is he who condemns?” Who can condemn the believer when it is Christ who has died, risen, ascended to the right hand of God, and makes intercession for His people? Christ is the Judge! If the Judge Himself has paid the penalty, who can condemn those for whom He died? What a wonderful assurance is given to the believer! Paul closes Romans 8 by saying that nothing whatsoever “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39).
Blog post content is taken from Rev. Paul Treick’s book, Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism, available for purchase. It is posted with the gracious permission of the author.
If you’d like to read the blog series from the beginning, start here.