Serious External Call to All Who Hear
Reformed Free Publishing Association
Although put forth as true Calvinism, the teaching that denies the call of the gospel to all who hear the preaching is not Reformed, biblical doctrine. It is indeed true that God calls only the predestinated, or elect, with the effectual, saving call. Them and them only he calls by drawing them efficaciously to himself by a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, even as he says “Come!” in the preaching of the gospel. This is the teaching of Romans 8:30: “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called.” But there is also a sense, according to scripture, in which he calls in the preaching of the gospel those who are not elect. Matthew 22:14 teaches this: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” More people than the elect are called by God. As is plain from the parable of the king’s wedding feast that precedes, the reference is to the call that God makes through his church and her preachers when he commands all who hear the gospel to repent of their sins and to believe on Jesus Christ. God calls men to come to the feast of salvation prepared through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The response of many to this call is that they reject it. By doing so, they bring down upon themselves the wrathful judgment of God, terrible exactly because it is the punishment for rejecting the call of the gospel. Theirs is the sin of sins: despising Christ presented to them in the gospel and rejecting God’s call to believe on him.
That the call to repent is not restricted to the regenerated, or to “the sensible sinner,” but goes out to everyone who hears the preaching is taught in Acts 17:30: “[God] now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” This was the practice of the apostles. Having proclaimed Christ to their audience, they called everyone to repent of his sins and to believe on Christ (see Acts 3:19; 8:22; 13:38–41; 20:21). This was the ministry of John the Baptist. He “came . . . preaching . . . and saying, Repent ye.” He called also the Pharisees and Sadducees, “[a] generation of vipers,” to “bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:1–12). Such was the nature of the preaching of Jesus himself: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14–15).
What the Reformed faith, genuine Calvinism, confesses concerning the call of the gospel is set forth plainly in the Reformed creed, the Canons of Dordt. The promise that believers have eternal life and the command to repent and believe must be proclaimed “to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.”14 God himself “unfeignedly,” that is, seriously, calls everyone who hears the gospel. He does this through the gospel. As he calls, he “most earnestly and truly” declares that it is “acceptable” to him that “all who are called should comply with the invitation.”15 One result of this serious call of the gospel is that many “refuse to come and be converted.” This is not the gospel’s fault, nor Christ’s fault, nor God’s fault, but it is their own fault, for they wickedly reject the word of life.16 However, there is also the result that some obey the call of the gospel and are converted. This is not due to free will or any ability in them “whereby one distinguishes himself above others,” but it is due to the sovereign grace of God alone.17 The reason some come to Christ is that God efficaciously draws them by his Spirit. And he draws them, in distinction from others, because he has eternally elected them, whereas he eternally reprobated the others.18
The Canons powerfully refute the Arminian charge that the doctrines of predestination, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of saints hinder, if they do not altogether nullify, the lively preaching, especially the gospel call. What is so striking is the Canons’ refusal to react to the Arminian heresy by denying the call of the gospel to everyone, or even by becoming timid and hesitant concerning this call. They show that the Reformed faith will not allow Arminianism to drive it into the opposite error of hyper-Calvinism.
14. Canons of Dordt 2.5, in Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3:586.
15. Canons of Dordt 3–4.8, in ibid., 3:589.
16. Canons of Dordt 3–4.9, in ibid.
17. Canons of Dordt 3–4.10, in ibid.
18. Canons of Dordt 1.6, in ibid., 3:582.
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