A sermon by Thomas White
QUESTION VIII. What are the properties of this call?
ANSWER 1. It is a holy calling. (2 Tim. 1:9.)—Holy is the Author of it, holy are the means of it, holy are the ends of it, holy are the subjects of it. God is the Author, the word is the means, holiness itself the end, none but holy men the subjects.
I cannot but wonder at the impudence of profane men, that they should call themselves “Christians,” that they should call God “Father,” that they should call Christ “Saviour.” If they be Christians, where is the savour of those precious ointments, those special graces, that run down from the Head unto all his members, and give the only just reason why we should be denominated “Christians?”
I wonder the mere civil person can sleep so securely with his short covering. He boasts of a righteousness, and is a mere stranger to holiness: he separates those things which God hath perfectly and inseparably united. Holiness and righteousness God hath so knit and coupled together, that he reckons no service performed to him where either of these is wanting: “To serve him in holiness and righteousness.” (Luke 1:74, 75.) It is a part of our righteousness to be holy in our converse with God: it is a part of our holiness to be righteous in our converse with men. Therefore I shall add the deceitful hypocrite unto the deceived equalist; the one drawing as near to God with his external righteousness, as the other doth with his pretended holiness: both stand at a distance from him; he “beholds them afar off;” and though he hath “called them to be saints.” (1 Cor. 1:2,) yet they are not saints by an effectual calling.
2. It is a high and heavenly calling. (Phil. 3:14; Heb. 3:1.) —A learned critic supposeth that the apostle, in bestowing this epithet, “high,” upon our calling, alludeth unto the Olympic Games; an allusion which, indeed, he much delighteth in throughout all his epistles. There the master or ruler of the game, who was also the keeper and bestower of the prize, (brazeuthı) stood upon the higher ground, [and] called to those that were engaged to that noble exercise to begin the race. Proportionably unto this, Christians having a “race set before” them, which they must “run with patience,” at the call of their great Director, (Heb. 12:1,) who utters his voice from heaven unto their hearts, they first start: so that the calling is high, because we are called from on high.
But this is not all: for, beside that, it is a high way, though it be no common way, that we are called to run in.—All the exercises and employments that a Christian is called to, they are exceeding high; such as are the service of God, the mortification of lusts, the fighting against principalities and powers of darkness, the trampling upon all the gilded, glistering vanities of this world. Such are the denial of a man’s self, the taking up the cross daily, the following of Christ, and the showing forth all his virtues, that hath called us. Such are warm devotions, spiritual meditations, fervent supplications, holy breathings and aspirings after communion with the ever-blessed God, in a conscientious use of his ordinances. All these are employments too high for those that are skilled in nothing else but Satan’s and the world’s drudgery; too high for any but those that are endued with grace and power from on high to perform them.
Yet farther: this calling is high, not only in regard of the Director and the race, but in regard of the prize, as [to] the reward that we shall receive from the righteous Judge.—What is “the end of our faith,” but, the salvation of our souls? “(1 Peter 1:9.) When we come to the goal, here we find no tripods, shields, or caps; but crowns; and no ordinary crowns, but glorious ones; no fading crowns, but everlasting ones. Who would not, with the apostle, but “press toward the mark?”
Lastly. That we may have greater comfort and assurance that we shall not “wax weary and faint” in our course, and consequently not miss of those glorious rewards; there is no calling that hath so high and heavenly assistances as this hath.—God, that calls to the race, engages his power to carry us through it: the Son of God intercedes for us: the Spirit of God is ready to comfort us. The angels of God have the charge of us, to keep us, so that we shall not dash our feet against a stone. “The spirits of just men made perfect,”—though they be not acquainted with our particular wants, yet in general they tender our conditions, and help us by their prayers. All the people of God are constant solicitors for us at the throne of grace; beside those helps [which] they afford us by their watching over us, by their counsels, instructions, admonitions, rebukes, examples; the cheerfulness and alacrity of some in the ways of God having a great and happy tendency to prevent the weariness and discouragements of others. Thus it is a “high calling.”
3. It is a call without a sound.—Or, if it have any, it is heard by none but them to whom it is directed. A good divine calls it “an invisible call." Occultis itineribus sapor nobis vitalis infunditur, as Ennodius speaks: “By hidden paths and passages the vital savour is infused into us.” The seed grows up we know not how. (Mark 4:27.) The Spirit secretly winds himself into the soul. Christ comes into our hearts, as he did into the house where his disciples were met, “the doors being shut.” (John 20:26.) Thus it is ordinarily; though I will not deny but that sometimes it may be otherwise. The Spirit may come with a “mighty rushing,” (Acts 2:2,) and Christ with holy violence break open the doors of our hearts. Saul could well tell the time and other circumstances of his conversion: but it is likely, the holy Baptist could not; in whom, the father saith, there was a Spirit of grace as soon as a spirit of life. The corruptions of some will out, as it were, by insensible breathings: but so obstinate and inveterate are the spiritual distempers of others, that they must have strong vomits, violent purges; and all little enough to clear them. For a man of a good nature, (as they call it,) liberal education, much restraining grace, to take and give notice punctually when his state is changed, is very difficult: whereas this is no hard matter for a gross and scandalous piece of debauchery, becoming afterwards an example of piety. We must not expect the same account from Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of our Lord in point of conversion: yet they both rejoiced in Christ as their Saviour.
This I have the rather spoken, that I might enter a caveat against those rigid and severe triers of men’s spiritual estates, whom (as I have heard) nothing will satisfy but the precise time of conversion. I acknowledge these men great artists and good workmen; but it is in framing new racks for men’s consciences, since the old Popish ones are broken. I make no question but a weak Christian’s soul may be as sadly strained to give an account of his graces, as it would have been to give an account of his sins, had he lived in the days of auricular confession. Beware, my friends, of the devil’s sophistry.
4. And lastly. It is an immutable call.—Immutable as God himself as his electing love, the living fountain from whence it springs. Not as the world loves, doth God love. They love to-day, and hate to-morrow; wearing their friends like flowers, which we may behold in their bosoms whilst they are fresh and sweet, but soon they wither, and soon they are laid aside. Whereas the love of God to his people is everlasting, and he wears them as a signet upon his right hand, which he will never part with. Not as the world gives, doth God give. Men give liberally, and repent suddenly; but “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Rom. 11:29.)