In order to hear, the sinner, deaf by nature, must receive hearing ears. "He that hath ears let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." (Rev. ii.7, 11, 17, 29; iii.6, 13, 22).
But by nature the sinner does not belong to these favored ones. This is a daily experience. Of two clerks in the same office, one obeys the call and the other rejects it; not because he despises it, but because he does not hear God's call in it. Hence God's quickening act antedates the sinner's hearing; and thus he becomes able to hear the Word.
The quickening, the implanting of the faith-faculty, and the uniting of the soul to Christ, apparently three acts, are in reality but one act, together constituting (objectively) the so-called first grace. In the operation of this grace the sinner is perfectly passive and indifferent; the subject of an action which does not involve the slightest operation, yielding, or even non-resistance on his part.
In fact, the sinner, being dead in trespasses and sins, is under this first grace like a soulless, motionless body, with all the passive properties belonging to a corpse. This fact can not be stated with sufficient force and emphasis. It is an absolute passivity. And every effort or inclination to claim for the sinner the minutest cooperation in this first grace destroys the Gospel, severs the artery of the Christian confession, and is not only heretical, but anti-Scriptural in the highest sense.
This is the point where the sign-post is erected; where the roads divide, where the men of the purified, that is, the Reformed Confession, part company with their opponents.
Having stated this fact forcibly and definitely, it is of the utmost importance to state with equal emphasis that, in all the subsequent operations of grace (so-called second grace), this absolute passivity is made to cease by the wonderful act of the first grace. Hence in all subsequent grace the sinner to some extent cooperates.
In the first grace the sinner is absolutely like a corpse. But the sinner's first passivity and his subsequent cooperation must not be confounded. There is a passivity, after the Scripture, which can not be exaggerated, which must be left intact; but there is also a passivity which is pretended, anti-Scriptural, and sinful. The difference between the two is not that the former is partially cooperating, and the latter without any cooperation whatever. Surely by such temporizing the churches and the souls in them are not inspired with energy and enthusiasm. No; the difference between the sound and the sickly passivity consists herein, that the former, which is absolute and unlimited, belongs to the first grace, to which it is indispensable; while the latter clings to the second grace, where it does not belong.
Let there be clear insight into this truth, which is after all very simple. The elect but unregenerate sinner can do nothing, and the work that is to be wrought in him must be wrought by another: This is the first grace. But after this is accomplished he is no longer passive, for something was brought into him which in the second work of grace will cooperate with God.
But it is not implied that the elect and regenerate sinner is now able to do anything without God; or that if God should cease working in him, conversion and sanctification would follow of themselves. Both these representations are thoroughly untrue, un-Reformed, and unchristian, because they detract from the work of the Holy Spirit in the elect. No; all spiritual good is of grace to the end: grace not only in regeneration, but at every step of the way of life. From the beginning to the end and throughout eternity the Holy Spirit is the Worker, of regeneration and conversion, of justification and every part of sanctification, of glorification, and of all the bliss of the redeemed. Nothing may be subtracted from this.
But while the Holy Spirit is the only Worker in the first grace, in all subsequent, operations of grace the regenerate always cooperates with Him. Hence it is not true, as some say, that the regenerate is just as passive as the unregenerate; this only detracts from the work of the Holy Spirit in the first grace. Neither is it true that henceforth the regenerate is the principal worker, only assisted by the Holy Spirit; for this is equally derogatory to the Spirit's work in the second grace.
Both these errors should be opposed and rejected. For altho, on the one hand, it is said that the regenerate, considered out of Christ, still lies in the midst of death; yet, tho he be considered a thousand times out of Christ, he remains in Him, for once in His hand no one can pluck him out of it. And altho, on the other hand, the regenerate is constantly admonished to be active and diligent, yet, tho the horse does the pulling, it is not the horse but the driver who drives the carriage.
Reserving this last point until we consider sanctification, we now consider the calling, for this sheds more light upon the confession of the Reformed churches concerning the second grace than any other part of the work of grace.
After the elect sinner is born again, i.e., quickened, endowed with the faculty of faith, and united with Jesus, the next work of grace in him is calling, of which Scripture speaks with such emphasis and so often. "But as He which has called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation" (1 Pet. i.15); "Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Pet. ii.9); "The God of all grace who hath called us unto His eternal glory" (1 Pet. v.10); "Whereunto He called you by our Gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thes. ii.14); "Who hath called you unto His Kingdom and Glory" (1 Thes. ii.12); "I beseech you to walk worthy of the calling wherewith ye were called" (Eph. iv.1); and not to mention more: "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things ye shall never fall." (2 Pet. i.10)
In the Sacred Scripture calling has, like regeneration, a wider sense and a more limited.
In the former sense, it means to be called to the eternal glory; hence this includes all that precedes, i.e., calling to repentance, to faith, to sanctification, to the performance of duty, to glory, to the eternal kingdom, etc.
Of this, however, we do not speak now. It is now our intention to consider the calling in its limited sense, which signifies exclusively the calling whereby we are called from darkness into light; i.e., the call unto repentance.
This call unto repentance is by many placed upon the same level with the "drawing," of which, e.g., Jesus speaks: "No man can come unto Me except the Father draw him." (John. vi.44) This we find also in some of St. Paul's words: "Who hath delivered [Dutch translation, drawn] us from the power of darkness" (Col. i.13); "That He might deliver [draw] us from this present evil world according to the will of God and our Father." (Gal. i.4) However, this seems to me less correct. He that must be drawn seems to be unwilling. He that is called must be able to come. The first implies that the sinner is still passive, and therefore refers to the operation of the first grace; the second addresses the sinner himself, and counts him able to come, and hence belongs to the second grace.
This "calling" is a summons. It is not merely the calling of one to tell him something, but a call implying the command to come; or a beseeching call, as when St. Paul prays: "As tho God did beseech you, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. v.20); or as in the Proverbs: "My son, give Me thine heart." (Prov. xxiii.26)
God sends this call forth by the preachers of the Word: not by the independent preaching of irresponsible men, but by those whom He Himself sends forth; men especially endowed, hence whose calling is not their own, but His. They are the ministers of the Word, royal ambassadors, in the name of the King of Kings demanding our heart, life, and person; yet whose value and honor depend exclusively upon their divine mission and commission. As the value of an echo depends upon the correct returning of the word received, so does their value, honor, and significance depend solely upon the correctness wherewith they call, as an echo of the Word of God. He who calls correctly fills the highest conceivable office on earth; for he calls kings and emperors, standing above them. But he who calls incorrectly or not at all is like a sounding brass; as a minister of the Word he is worthless and without honor. True to the pure Word, he is all; without it, he is nothing. Such is the responsibility of the preacher.
This should be noticed lest Arminianism creep into the holy office. The preacher must be but instrument of the Holy Spirit; even the sermon must be the product of the Holy Ghost. To suppose that a preacher can have the least authority, honor, or official significance outside of the Word, is to make the office Arminian; not the Holy Spirit, but the dominie, is the worker; he works with all his might, and the Holy Spirit may be the minister's assistant. To avoid such mistake, our Reformed churches have always purged themselves of the leaven of clericalism.
And through this office the call goes forth from the pulpit, in the catechetical class, in the family, in writing, and by personal exhortation. However, not always to every sinner directly through the office. On a ship at sea God may use a godly commander to call sinners to repentance. In a hospital without spiritual supervision the Lord may use a pious man or woman, both to nurse the sick and call their souls to repentance. In a village where the quasi-minister neglects his duty, the Lord God may be pleased to draw souls to life by printed sermons and books, by a newspaper even, or by individual exhortation.
And yet in all these the authority to call reposes in the divine embassy of the ministry of the Word. For the instruments of the call, whether they were persons or printed books, proceeded from the office. The persons were themselves called through the office, and they only transmitted the divine message; and the printed books offered on paper what otherwise is heard in the sanctuary.
This calling of the Holy Spirit proceeds in and through the preaching of the Word, and calls upon the regenerated sinner to arise from death, and to let Christ give him light. It is not a calling of persons still unregenerate, simply because such have no hearing ear.
It is true that the preaching of missionary or minister of the Word addresses itself also to others, but this is not at all in conflict with what we have just said. In the first place, because there is also an outward call to the unregenerate, in order to deprive them of an excuse, and to show that they have no hearing ears. And second, because the minister of the Word does not know whether a man is born again or not, wherefore he may make no difference.
As a rule, every baptized person should be reckoned as belonging to the regenerated (but not always converted); wherefore the preacher must call every baptized person to repentance, as tho he were born again. But let no one commit the mistake of applying this rule, which applies only to the Church as a whole, to every person in the Church. This would be either the climax of thoughtlessness or a complete misunderstanding of the reality of the grace of God.