For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; and being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be made full (II Cor. 10:3-6).

Captive Thoughts” is dedicated to bringing every thought captive to Christ through the study of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, with primary focus on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This effort is a compilation of several years of catechetical study conducted at Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westminster, California, by its Christian Education Committee and the author of this site.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q31


The Doctrinal Heading for this section of questions (Q29-31) is Regeneration; Union with Christ; Effectual Calling. (see Harmony Index)
Today’s topic is effectual calling. As we begin, consider the authors’ use of the word “embrace.” The paraphrase below uses “receive” instead; present-day Christians often speak of receiving Christ. Yet the word “receive” requires a qualifier. It’s possible to receive something with either passive indifference or active enthusiasm. For example, I receive a number of monthly publications. Certain ones hold little interest; I set them aside and eventually discard them. But others, I anticipate and receive with great interest; I read them from cover to cover. You see, they are all received, but only some are embraced. We ought to respond to the gospel by embracing it; that is the evidence of God’s effectual calling in the Christian’s life.
Here’s a challenge. Look up word “embrace” in a dictionary and thesaurus. Then ask yourself these questions: Is the effectual calling of Christ visible in me, in my family, in my friends, and in my church? With what degree of enthusiasm do we receive Jesus Christ? Do we truly embrace him? The answers have implications for this life and the life to come. A thing embraced is owned, held close, and treasured; a thing merely received might not be. Consider II Cor. 13:5—“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.”
May God bless us to face the true claims of the gospel as we review this catechism question.
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WSC Q31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit[a], whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery[b], enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ[c], and renewing our wills[d], he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel[e].
[a] II Tim. 1:8,9; Eph. 1:18, 19, 20
[b] Acts 2:37
[c] Acts 26:18
[d] Ez. 11:19; Ez. 36:26, 27
[e] John 6:44, 45; Phil 2:13; Duet. 30:6; Eph. 2:5
Question #31 asks what is effective calling. It answers that effective calling is the work of God’s Spirit, who convinces us that we are sinful and miserable, who enlightens our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and who renews our wills. This is how he persuades and makes us able to receive Jesus Christ, who is freely offered to us in the gospel.
Comments and considerations:
Here we have the definition of effectual calling. There are several questions in the Westminster Larger Catechism, and several paragraphs in the Confession of Faith that provide additional instruction (see harmony below). Here is the excellent statement from WLC Q67:
Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.
Or as Paul put it 1Thess. 5:24, “Faithful is he that called you, who also will do it.” Of course that verse has to do with the whole package of sanctification, which our Lord promised to complete from beginning to end (Phil. 1:6); and sanctification begins with our effectual calling (see Rom 8:29-30).
WLC Q67 and WSC Q31 share several reference verses. They read as follows:
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:44, 45).
“For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
“And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6).
“…even when we were dead in trespasses,[He]made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph. 2:5).
Although effectual calling is wholly “the work of God’s mighty power and grace,” enabling us “to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein,” our embracing of Christ is no passive act. In fact, “embrace” is an interesting word choice. It is repeated in the WCF:
This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from any thing at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it (WCF X.IV).
Once a person is “quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit” and “enabled to answer this call,” that person is to “embrace the grace offered and conveyed,”—“to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel” (WSC Q31).  This word “embrace” is not merely to receive or accept; it is more intimate than that. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines it like this: 1) to take, clasp or enclose in the arms; to press to the bosom, in token of affection. –Paul called to him the disciples and embraced them (Acts20:1). And again: [em- (intensive) + brace] To fasten on, as armor. Thus: To clasp in the arms with affection; to take in the arms; to hug. 1) I will embrace him with a soldier’s arm, that he shall shrink under my courtesy. –Shakespeare.
This is the embrace of effectual calling, the embrace of the grace offered and conveyed in Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel, resulting in the reception of one into the very person of another. “At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20).
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.     Read (or repeat from memory!) John 3:16. What will those who believe in the Son of God have? What would have happened to those people if they had not believed in Jesus? According to this verse, why did God send his Son? Who will have eternal life?
2.     If it is that simple—“believe and be saved”—why is it that all do not believe in Jesus? See Eph. 2:2:1 (1).
3.     We might ask or call upon a friend to do something, perhaps to attend a party. That person will choose to attend or not to attend. According to our catechism, is this an example how God calls his people to believe in Christ? Also see II Thess. 2:13-14.
4.     We know that the Bible is true when it teaches use that we enjoy sin; we do not always recognize nor want to turn from the sin in our lives (John 3:19). Knowing our lost condition, who did God send to do what on our behalf? See John 16:7-8.
5.     According to I Cor. 2:12-14 and II Cor. 4:4-6, what are the various reasons we need the Holy Spirit to give us understanding of the saving message of Christ and the Word of God?
6.     We are commanded to search God’s Word to understand who Jesus is and what he has done for our salvation (John 5:39-40). If we do come to understanding and faith, where did the power to understand and believe come from? Did it come from within ourselves or from someone else? See I Cor. 2:4-5.
(1) The answer is in the awful effects of sin, being dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1); left to ourselves, we cannot receive him.

Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q# 31, WLC Q66, 67, 68, & 60, & WCF X.I-IV.
WSC Q31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit[a], whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery[b], enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ[c], and renewing our wills[d], he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel[e].
[a] II Tim. 1:8,9; Eph. 1:18, 19, 20
[b] Acts 2:37
[c]Acts 26:18
[d] Ez. 11:19; Ez. 36:26, 27
[e] John 6:44, 45; Phil 2:13; Duet. 30:6; Eph. 2:5
WLC Q66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
A.  The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God's grace[a], whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband[b]; which is done in their effectual calling[c].
[a]   Eph. 1:22; 2:6-8
[b]   1Cor. 6:17; John 10:28; Eph. 5:23, 30
[c]   1Pet. 5:10; 1Cor. 1:9
WLC Q67. What is effectual calling?
A.  Effectual calling is the work of God's al mighty power and grace[a], whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto[b]) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit[c]; savingly enlightening their minds[d], renewing and powerfully determining their wills[e], so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein[f].
[a]   John 5:25; Eph. 1:18-20; 2Tim. 1:8-9
[b]   Tit. 3:4-5; Eph. 2:4-5, 7-9; Rom. 9:11
[c]   2Cor. 5:20; 6:1-2; John 6:44; 2Thes. 2:13-14
[d]   Acts 26:18; 1Cor. 2:10, 12
[e]   Ezek. 11:19; 36:26-27; John 6:45
[f]   Eph. 2:5; Phil. 2:13; Deut. 30:6
WLC  Q68. Are the elect only effectually called?
A.  All the elect, and they only, are effectually called[a]: although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the Word[b], and have some common operations of the Spirit[c]; who, for their willful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ[d].
[a]   Acts 13:48
[b]   Mat. 22:14
[c]   Mat. 7:22; 13:20-21; Heb. 6:4-6
[d]   John 12:38-40; 6:64-65; Acts 28:25-27; Ps. 81:11-12
WLC Q60. Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?
A.  They who, having never heard the gospel[a], know not Jesus Christ[b], and believe not in him, cannot be saved[c], be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature[d], or the laws of that religion which they profess[e]; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone[f], who is the Savior only of his body the church[g].
[a]   Rom. 10:14
[b]   2Thes. 1:8-9; Eph. 2:12; John 1:10-12
[c]   John 8:24; Mark 16:16
[d]   1Cor. 1:20-24
[e]   John 4:22; Rom. 9:31-32; Phil. 3:4-9
[f]   Acts 4:12
[g]   Eph. 5:23
THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH
CHAPTER. X.
Of Effectual Calling.
I.    All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ[a]:  enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God[b], taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh[c]; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good[d], and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ[e]; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace[f].
[a] Rom. 11:7; Rom. 8:30; II Thess. 2:13, 14; Rom. 8:2; II Tim. 1:9, 10.
[b] Acts 26:18; I Cor 2:10, 12.
[c] Ezek. 36:26.
[d] Ezek. 11:19; Ezek. 36:27; Phil. 2:13; Phil. 4:13; Deut. 30:6.
[e] John 6:44,45.
[f] John 6:37.
II.  This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man[a], who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit[b], he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it[c].
[a] II Tim. 1:9; Eph. 2:4, 5, 8, 9; Rom. 9:11; Titus 3:4, 5.
[b] I Cor. 2:14; Rom. 8:7; Eph. 2:5.
[c] John 6:37; Ezek. 36:27; John 5:25.
III. Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth.  So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word[a].
[a] Acts 4:12; John 3:8.
IV. Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved[a]:  much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever[b], be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the laws of that religion they do profess, and to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested[c].
[a] Matt. 22:14; Matt. 13:20, 24; John 6:64, 65, 66; John 8:24; I John 2:19; Heb. 6:4-6.
[b] Acts 4:12; John 14:6; John 17:3.
[c] II John 9, 10, 11; Gal.1:8; I Cor. 16:22.
Questions for further study:
Effectual Calling is a pivotal doctrine with deep and far reaching implications? It would seem that the harmony here presents us with repeated theme and central focus possibly reflected in the leadoff Larger Catechism Question #60.  What is the focus and central theme?

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