A sermon by Thomas White
The DOCTRINE I present from my text maybe this:—
There are some persons in the world that are effectually called; or, which is all one, who are “called according to the purpose of God.”
There is a call of the gospel that is not effectual: of this our Saviour speaketh, when he saith, “Many are called, but few chosen.” (Matt. 20:16.) How many of the poor ministers of the gospel may complain of multitudes in this generation, saying, with the children that sat in the market-place “We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not lamented!"(Luke 7:32.) “Neither the delightful airs of mercy, nor the doleful ditties of judgment, have moved you.” But the election will certainly obtain; and the call that is “according to God’s purpose,” reacheth not ears only, but hearts also: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God.” (John 5:25.)
This work of grace is presented to our view in a various dress of words. In the scriptures it is sometimes a “teaching,” sometimes a “drawing,” sometimes a “conversion,” sometimes a “regeneration” and all these in divers respects which I cannot stand to unfold. In the schools it is gratia prima, “the first grace,” praeveniens, “preceding grace,” operans, “operating grace.” Among Divines of the Reformed way, it is “an internal and effectual call,” vocatio alta et efficax, after the mind of St. Augustine.
When it is offered to our consideration under this notion, it presupposeth two things:—
1. That natural men stand at a distance from God.—We do not usually call those that stand close by us. This was once the condition of the Ephesians: “Ye sometimes were afar off.” (Eph. 2:13.) “Sometimes;” when? Surely in the time of their unregeneracy. “Far off” from whom? From Christ, from the church, from God, and consequently from themselves. But how could they be “far off” from God? Not in spaces of place; for God “filleth all places with his presence” as to his essence and providential works, he is “not far from every one of us; for in him we live and move” (Acts 17:27, 28): but as to their hearts and affections, all natural men are far from God: “God is not in all their thoughts” (Psalm 10:4): they do not know him, fear, love, and delight in him; they do not breathe after communion with him. Even when they “draw nigh unto him with their lips, their hearts are far from him.” (Isaiah 29:13.)
If it sometimes happens that we call those that are at hand, then usually they are such as are asleep. Sin is a deep sleep of the soul; and as sleep bindeth all the senses of the outward man, so sin all the powers of the inward. A man under the dominion of sin can do nothing for God, neither can he enjoy anything from God. It may be, he dreams of great satisfaction [that] he receiveth from the world’s dainties; but when “he awaketh, his soul is empty.” (Isaiah 29:8.) Or, further: if they be not asleep, they are such as mind something else than He would have them. All natural men mind something else than God would have them: they “mind earthly things.” (Phil. 3:19.) Herod mindeth the dancing of a lewd strumpet more than the preaching of the holy Baptist: the young man mindeth his great possessions; the epicure, his belly; the farmer, his barn; Judas, his bag; the silversmith, his shrines; the Gadarenes, their swine; Pilate, the favour and applause of the people. Let the best men speak ingenuously, and they must needs confess that there were many things (if I may call them “things,” rather “nothings”) which they minded more than God or Christ or heaven, more than the highest concernments of their immortal souls, the weightiest business of eternal salvation. They were all Gallios in respect of these things, they “cared for none of them,” till they were roused out of their waking dreams by the effectual call of the most gracious God. This is the condition of every natural man.
2. It presupposeth, that it is an easy thing with God to bring us home to himself, though we be never so far distant from him.—To awaken us to his service, though in a dead sleep of sin; to raise our minds to higher objects, though they be never so deeply immersed in the things of this present world. Is any thing hard to the Almighty? With a word he made us, with a word he can renew us.
When “darkness covered the face of the deep,” he did but say, “Let there be light: and there was light"(Gen. 1:2,3): with the like facility can he “shine in our hearts, giving us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” (2 Cor. 4:6.) “He uttereth his voice,” saith David, “and the earth melteth.” (Psalm 46:6.) Let but God utter his voice, and the rocks and mountains of our corruptions will melt away like wax.