Monday, May 3, 2010

Effectual Calling, Pt. 4

A sermon by Thomas White

QUESTION IV. Upon what account doth God call? What moves the Divine Majesty thus to busy himself about a lump of sin and misery?

ANSWER. What but mere mercy? What but rich and abundant mercy?

1. It is mere mercy.—“When by our own merits we were begotten to death, by his mercy he begat us again unto life."3 “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he hath saved us.” (Titus 3:5.) Indeed we cannot do any works of righteousness before our calling. That righteousness which natural men are subject to glory in, is rather seeming than real; and that which shineth so bright in our own eyes, and perhaps in the eyes of other men, is an “abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15.) God and men do not measure our righteousness by the same standard. Men account them righteous that conform to customs, laws, and constitutions of men; if, at least, they be likewise conformable to the letter of the law of God. But God reckons none righteous beside those that have a singular regard to the spirit of the law, (if I may so call it,) which layeth an obligation upon the inward man as well as the outward, which binds the heart as well as the hand; and commands, not only that which is good, but that good be done upon a good principle, in a good manner, to a good end:—a pitch of obedience that no natural man can possibly arise to; so that, in the sight of God, “there is none righteous, no, not one.” (Rom. 3:10.) “We are all by nature children of wrath, even as others.” (Eph. 2:3.) “Children of wrath” we are by our own desert; if ever we become children of grace, it must be by His mercy.

2. As by mere mercy, so by rich and abundant mercy in God, it is that we are called.—There is a greatness of love in the “quickening of those that are dead in sins together with Christ.” (Eph. 2:4, 5.) There is mercy, in that we have our lives for a prey; mercy in an the comforts and accommodations of life; mercy in the influences of the sun; mercy in the dropping of the clouds; mercy in the fruitfulness of seasons; mercy in the fulness of barns: “The year” is “crowned with the goodness” of the Lord. (Psalm 65:11.) But this is a mercy above all mercies, —that we are “called from darkness into marvellous light,” (1 Peter 2:9,) and from the power of Satan to the service of, and fellowship with, the only living and true God. (Acts 26:18.) Other benefits are extended to the worst of men; nay, the very devils have some tastes of mercy: but this of an effectual calling is (as I said before) communicated to none but those that God hath chosen. Other blessings and benefits, though they be good in themselves yet they cannot make us good: they are but as trappings to a horse, which, if he be a jade, make him not go the better, but the worse. But here God works a marvellous change for the better. Once the man ran away from God and himself; but now he instantly returns. Once he was a hater, a fighter against God; but now the weapons of his hostility are laid down, and he thinks he can never do enough to express his love. Once he was darkness; but now he is “light in the Lord.” Once [he was] dead; but, behold, he lives. Finally: other blessings and benefits can never make us happy; but, as they find us miserable, so they leave us: we may, and are too apt to, bless ourselves in them; yet God never intended to bless us in the sole enjoyment of them. But, O how happy is that man that God hath effectually called to himself! His bosom shall be his refuge in all storms; his grace, his sufficiency in all temptations; his power, his shield in all oppositions. But let the text speak: “All things shall work together for” his spiritual and eternal good.

Before I part with this point, I shall acquaint you with an exposition of my text utterly inconsistent with the doctrine I have delivered and the truth itself, and very unworthy of the authors of it. This it is,—that here we are said to be called, not “according to God’s purpose,” but “according to our own purpose” to hear and obey his call. And perhaps upon this the Papists have grounded their merit of congruity. But this must needs fall, if we consider but this one thing among many,—that those that have been farthest off the kingdom, have been fetched into it; and those that have not been far from the kingdom of God, have never come nearer it. God doth not always take the smoothest, but the most knotty, pieces of timber, to make pillars in his house. He goes not always to places of severest and strictest discipline, to pick out some few there to plant in his house: but he goes to the custom-house, and calls one thence; to the brothel-house, and calls another thence. And if yet you insist upon the purpose of man, as an inducement to the call of God, pray tell me, What was Saul’s purpose, when God met with him in the way to Damascus? Had he any other purpose than to persecute the disciples of the Lord? Enough of that.

QUESTION V: By what means are we called?

ANSWER. Sometimes without means.—As in persons not capable of the use of them. There is highest caution amongst the people of God to avoid that sin—nay, the very appearance—of limiting the Holy One of Israel.

Sometimes by contrary means.—The greatness of a sin being ordered by God to set on the conversion of a sinner: as when a man is wounded with the sting, and healed with the flesh, of a scorpion; or as when we make treacle of a viper, a most poisonous creature, to expel poison.

Sometimes by very unlikely means.—As when by some great affliction we are brought home to God, which in its own nature, one would think, should drive us farther from God; as there is no question but it doth the reprobates, who are ready to tell all the world what king William Rufus told the bishop, if the partial monk doe not belie him: “God shall never make me good by the evil I suffer from him." Or, which is yet more unlikely, when we are brought home by prosperity; God overcoming our evil with his good; heaping, as it were, coals of fire upon our heads, and so melting us into kindly contrition. Gerson, in a sermon of his, tells us of a most wicked priest, that, when he was preferred to a bishopric, became exemplarily holy; but such a convert is rara avis, “seldom to be found.”

Always this work is carried on by weak means.—Thus, I have heard it credibly reported, that a sentence, written in a window, and accidentally read by an inveterate sinner, pierced his heart, and let out the corruption thence. The sentence was that of Austin: “He that hath promised pardon to the penitent, hath not promised repentance to the presumptuous, sinner.” Thus Austin was converted with a Tolle, lege: “Take up the book, and read.” The book was the New Testament; the place he opened was the Epistle to the Romans, where he first cast his eye upon the thirteenth chapter; the words, these: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.” (Verse 13.) This struck him home.

But the most ordinary means of our effectual calling is the preaching of the word.—Which, though the world account [it] “foolishness,” is “the power of God” unto salvation. (1 Cor. 1:18.) And though by other means men may be called, yet seldom or never any are called that neglect and contemn this. God delights to honour his own ordinances, and to credit and encourage his ministers: and because he is pleased to make use of the word they preach as seed, therefore it is his will and pleasure that his people should own and reverence them as their fathers: “In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” (1 Cor. 4:l5.) And therefore I am confident, they can have no good evidences of their Christian calling, that secretly despise, openly revile, secretly undermine, openly oppose, the ministerial calling. Christ will not own them as his children, who refuse to honour his ministers as their fathers. “He that despiseth you despiseth me.” (Luke 10:16.) So much for answer to the fifth question.

QUESTION VI. What is the end of this call?

ANSWER. What but that which is the end of all things,—the glory of God? what but that which should be the end that all men should aim at,—the salvation of their souls? Here we may see the glory of God’s free grace and mercy; the immutability of his purposes; the holiness of his nature, in that he makes us fit for communion with himself, before he admits us to it; (Col. 1:12;) the wisdom of his counsels; and, last of all, the exceeding greatness of his power. For though the effectual calling of a soul be no miracle, yet there is as much power manifested in it as in any miracle that Christ wrought; yea, as in all the miracles which he wrought, if they be put together. For here the blind eyes and deaf ears are opened, the withered hands and lame legs are restored, the bloody issue stanched, the leper cleansed, legions of devils cast out, the dead soul raised to walk before God in the land of the living: in a word, the water is turned into wine,—the water of contrition into the wine of sweetest spiritual consolation.

QUESTION VII. When is the time that God calls?

ANSWER. As the persons are chosen, so the time is appointed called therefore “the acceptable year of the Lord,” “the accepted time,” “the day of visitation,” “the day of salvation.” What hour of the day God will please to call any person in, is to us uncertain. This only is certain,—that we must be called within the compass of this present life, or else we shall never be called. There is no preaching to souls in the prison of hell, no constituting of churches there. If the Spirit of God be not our purgatory fire here, in vain shall we look for any other hereafter. Thus briefly of the seventh question.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Visitor Counter

Flag Counter