Part III: The Comfort of Calvinism
The Gifts and the
Calling of God
two analogies to describe how the personal endeavours of the
Lord's people are co-ordinated with the labours of others for
the fulfillment of his purposes. The first analogy is
the body and its members which are integrated into a viable organism,
the many members acting as one body. The second is the Temple
and its stones which are fitted together to form a unified structure.
Paul speaks appropriately of the organs of the body as being
"fitly joined," articulated, as a functioning
whole (Ephesians 4:16); and of the stones of the Temple as being
"fitly framed" (Ephesians 2:21, 22), much as
a carpenter speaks of framing a building.
Assembling the organs into a viable
organism naturally has to be undertaken before the amalgamation
of the many organisms into a larger community such as a congregation.
In an analogous way, when Solomon's Temple was being built, the
stones were selected and shaped at the quarry before they
were delivered to the site. Presumably this was equally true
of the timbers for the woodwork, and perhaps even the plates
of precious metal that were to embellish the furnishings. In
1 Kings 6:7 we are told that "when it [the Temple] was in
building, it was built of stone made ready before it was brought
thither: so that there was neither hammer nor ax nor any tool
of iron heard in the house while it was in building.
I take this passage as having a
secondary meaning which symbolically looks forward to the building
of that spiritual Temple which was to be formed in this present
age as a habitation for God in the world, the description is
reminiscent of what David says about the prenatal development
of his own body which he speaks of as being "made in secret"
(Psalm 139:15). We are indeed, as Paul puts it (1 Corinthians
3:9), "God's building"; and much of the preparation
of the individual stones of this spiritual Temple is done in
secret, before these "stones" are brought to the site
for incorporation. How does this pre-site preparation work out
First of all,
I think we must assume that our genetic endowment is foreordained.
We are always being told that the genes we inherit are shuffled
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chance, randomly, without
any guiding hand. The only channelling circumstance is that our
parents cannot pass on to us what they do not have, and even
then half of what they do have is withheld in each transaction.
Who, then, guides the shuffling? God, surely. Certainly He is
able. And Scripture shows that such "castings of lots"
may indeed be divinely overruled as the Lord sees fit. In another
connection admittedly, but in a somewhat parallel circumstance,
Joshua 14:2 reads: "By lot was their inheritance as the
Lord commanded." And Proverbs 16:33 says: "The lot
is cast into the lap but the whole disposing thereof is of the
Lord." The basic principle is clear here.
So the foundations of our character,
our temperament, and our capacities are of God's choosing in
so far as they are related to inheritable factors. And from Psalm
139:16 we see that subsequent fetal development is also within
the compass of his oversight.
early life the social and cultural circumstances into which we
are born are under the Lord's control and are arranged to work
in conjunction with our genetic endowment to produce the kind
of person suited to the role we later are to play within the
Body of Christ. All this has been planned from the beginning
of the world before ever we were born or even the human race
existed at all. The personality we have is not an accidental
by-product of chance genetic endowment, nor of the fortuitous
cultural environment which has surrounded us as we grew into
adulthood. It is part and parcel of a grand design in which a
sovereign and gracious God carries forward to completion the
Plan He had from the very beginning.
In this Plan all men are probably
involved in greater or lesser degree, but the elect are uniquely
privileged by being able to co-operate knowingly and therefore
with a measure of freedom. For any plan which we can enter into
understandingly we are also able to enter into willingly, and
God works in us not only to do his will but also to choose it
(Philippians 2:13). And this is possible because, as the Lord
said to his disciples (John 15:15), the elect are no longer merely
servants but friends who know what their Lord is doing. Such
is the prerogative of all those who were chosen to be part of
the Father's household as gifts to the Son, for whom the Son
covenanted to pay the price of ransom.
The extraordinary thing is that
this Plan was formulated before the world began. Consider the
implications of the following passages.
According as He has chosen us
in Him before the foundation of the world . . . having
predestinated us unto the adoption of children by
Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of
his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace wherewith He
has made us accepted in the beloved: in whom we have redemption
by his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches
of his grace (Ephesians 1:4-7).
bound to give thanks always to God for you brethren beloved of
the Lord, because God has from the beginning chosen
you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief
of the truth, whereunto He called you by our Gospel to the obtaining
of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:13,
[God] who has saved us and called
us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according
to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ
Jesus before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9).
And so also
in Revelation 17:8 it seems that "from the foundation
of the world" the names of the elect were entered in
the "account book" of God, which perhaps records the
names of the participants in the covenant made by the Father
with the Son. And according to 1 Peter 1:19, 20 the Lamb Himself
was at the same time foreordained to be our Redeemer: "[You
were redeemed] with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb
without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained
before the foundation of the world."
We were therefore not shaped as
a mere by-product of blind forces. We were deliberately planned
for, even though we were hewn out of the same lump as the non-elect,
yet singled out with the divine purpose always kept strictly
in view. Each of us in this sense is special by foreordination,
elected to a role, a life work, and a course of life divinely
adjusted to make end products out of us as God sees fit, those
end products representing our "apprehension" in Christ
towards which we, like Paul, are constantly being inclined by
his grace (Philipppians 3:12-14).
We know today that genetic endowment
and prenatal influences play a crucial role in the molding of
our potential. David had a remarkable measure of insight into
these factors when he wrote Psalm 139:13-16:
For You have possessed my reins
[formed by inmost being]: You havecovered me in my mother's womb.
I will praise You; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous
are your works; and that my soul knowsh right well. My substance
was not hid from You, when I was made in secret and curiously
wrought in the lowest parts of the earth [a Hebraism for the
womb]. Your eyes did see my substance yet being imperfect; and
in your book all my members were written, which in continuance
were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
Perhaps in this
Book of which we have spoken already, there was also put down
a specification for each of us, setting forth all these "givers"
which were to guarantee the end result in terms of human potential.
And so we come to our physical
birth already bearing the stamp of God upon us, and already in
part shaped as a vessel of his design, awaiting only to be filled
with his appointed content to serve predetermined functions in
the House of God, in the Body of Christ.
bring this shape to maturity, we must learn obedience by the
things we experience in the process of growing up, even as our
Lord Himself did (Hebrews 5:8), until the time comes for us to
be about our Father's business. It is the common experience of
the Lord's children that after we are converted we can look back
in retrospect over these pre-Christian days and discern the hand
of the Lord at work here and there, monitoring the experiences
of our pagan lives and ruling or overruling the circumstances
of childhood and adolescence, tending all things towards the
service which we later come to see as the Lord's calling for
us to perform as his chosen vessel. It would seem that even the
angels have a part to play in this schooling process, being sent
to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation when
converted (Hebrews 1:14).
thereafter of our life is by God's ordination? A very great deal.
And "ordination" is the proper word to use, for did
not the Lord Jesus say, "You have not chosen Me, but I have
chosen you, and ordained
you. . . " (John 15:16)? To what are we ordained? To
bear fruit. And how? And what kind of fruit?
Let us look first of all at the
how. We may do this by juxtaposing several passages of
Scripture which form a connected thread though they are presented
separately. In Ephesians 2:10 Paul wrote: "We are his workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God
has before ordained that we should walk in them." And
then in Colossians 1:10 he expressed his prayerful concern for
the Colossian Christians that they should "walk worthy of
the Lord, unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good
work. . ."
So here we have a statement to
the effect that God has ordained for his children certain good
works, certain duties to perform, certain responsibilities to
assume, in short, a specific life work. And then is added the
further requirement that we not merely perform these appointed
good works but do so in such a manner that the very doing of
them bears fruit. We have, then, first of all some measure of
understanding of how the gifts of God are arranged for
in the constitution of each of his children, and now we see that
the calling is also pre-arranged. But what is the fruit
this calling is directed towards producing?
Although we commonly assume that
fruit means the "winning of souls for the Lord" and
tend to judge one another's lives chiefly by this criterion,
it does not seem that this is precisely what is meant in Scripture
by the term fruit. Interestingly enough, one passage from
Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians which seems clearly to
be referring to this kind of Christian activity quite specifically
identifies such results as works, not fruits
(1 Corinthians 9:1). The most explicit statement regarding the
nature of fruit is to be found in Galatians 5:22, 23, where it
is spelled out in terms which show unequivocally
that fruit is recognizable
only in terms of the development of character, or even more specifically
in the achievement of a truly Christ-like personality.
For what are these descriptive terms but a word picture of the
Lord Jesus Christ Himself? The object of the works which are
"foreordained that we should walk in them" is to produce
character, which means to exhibit the Lord Jesus Christ in us.
Any other result really misses the purpose which God intended.
It is worth noting that in Galatians
5:22 the word fruit is written in the singular. And this
is in keeping with the fact that the Lord's character was singular,
of a piece. The same truth appears in Philippians 1:11, though
many translations have blurred the fact by using a plural form
even though the Greek is in the singular. It will be noticed
that in Galatians 5:19 Paul speaks of "the works [plural]
of the flesh"; and this plurality is reflected in Isaiah
64:6 which reads, "All our righteousnesses are as filthy
rags." Our good works and what displays of righteousness
we may profess are always piecemeal. The garment of righteousness
with which the Lord clothes us is seamless.
In Ephesians 5:8‹11 we find
that in the sense of producing Christ-like character the works
of darkness are entirely unfruitful: "Now you are light
in the Lord: walk as children of light; (For the fruit of the
Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth), proving
what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with
the unfruitful works of darkness." These unfruitful
works of darkness are not necessarily evil deeds in the social
sense, they may be good deeds in so far as they benefit others,
yet they are unfruitful to the doer because the motive for doing
them is wrong. Thus we find that in the Great Judgment many will
appear before the Lord and say (Matthew 7:22, 23): "Lord,
Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? And in your name have
cast out devils? And in your name done many wonderful works?"
"Then will I profess unto them," the Lord told his
disciples, "I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work
iniquity." Such works have the earmarks of a certain goodness,
but in terms of their effect on the doer they are evil, even
as the scrupulous fulfillment of the law created a spirit in
the Pharisees which was entirely inimical towards the Lord who
gave them the law.
It is equally possible for
Christians to do unfruitful good works, good works which are
not without benefit to others, but are unfruitful in their effect
upon themselves. The deed itself may be correct enough; the motive
is wrong. This is why the Lord warned against judging by actions.
He did not say, "By their deeds you shall know them,"
but, "By their fruits you shall know them" (Matthew
7:16). Paul said (1 Corinthians 13:3), "Though I bestow
all my goods to feed the poor . . . and have not love, it profits
me nothing." It is most important to note the personal
pronoun here, for it would be quite untrue to say that a starving
man is not benefited when he becomes the recipient of
bread at someone else's
expense. It is not that the poor are without profit, it is the
giver who is unprofited. Or if one wants to be even more precise,
the giver is unprofited in the sight of God. In the sight
of men he receives a reward, for men often do not see the motives,
and men whose hearts are evil are often labelled as public benefactors,
as doers of good.
The manifest objective in foreordained
good works is that the doing of them will prove a fruitful exercise
for the doer. It is thus that we are to be made perfect, not
by meditation or reflection or retreat from all engagement in
the affairs of the world, but by good deeds before ordained that
we should walk in them. And the term walk in them surely signifies
a life work for the Lord. Thus in Hebrews 13:20, 21 the writer
prays: "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the
dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through
the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect [i.e.,
mature you] in every good work, to do his will, working
in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ;
to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
So the pattern of life that will
be most fruitful for the child of God will always be precisely
that occupation which involves doing the work which God has appointed
for him. The reason is clear enough: we are his creation, our
potential is of his making, our capacity of his design. Consequently
for the appointed work we are divinely equipped with the necessary
qualifications. I do not believe that the Lord ever calls any
of his children to a task which they are incapable of doing.
And as we observe others we have to remember that we are not
sufficient judges of whether the demands of a duty or a call
will be beyond the reach of the one who seems to be receiving
it. Because the stones are prepared in secret, often in ways
undiscovered even by ourselves until afterwards, only God knows
what latent capabilities are hidden in his children; and in times
of emergency people surprise us by performing magnificently where
we doubted any capacity at all. Certainly Jonah can hardly have
imagined himself as a successful evangelist to the heathen. Gideon
was sure he was not the man to do the job he heard God calling
him to do (Judges 6:11‹15). So too Moses (Exodus 4:10); and
Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6, 7); and Paul
(2 Corinthians 12:7‹9). Indeed one suspects that because
self-confidence is always so dangerous, we never really ought
to feel adequate for God's work; and when we do we are probably
about to engage in what is either not his work at all, or his
work done in the wrong way.
That every child of God has a specific
work which involves both gifts and calling is clearly indicated
in Scripture. We need only remind ourselves of the man in Matthew
25:14, 15 who upon a leave of absence for a while handed over
to his servants the reins of government and distributed talents
so that they would be equipped ‹ "to every man according
to his individual ability." Mark has a similar account
(13:34) in which a certain man "left his house and gave
authority to his servants and to every man his work."
these two parables we
have it stated by implication that to every man talents are given
and to every man is given a work which is specifically his. Peter
tells us (1 Peter 4:10) that "every man has received a
gift." There is no definite article in the original,
a circumstance which has the effect of strengthening the implications
of universality. We are simply being assured that every one of
the Lord's children (for this letter is specifically addressed
to the Lord's children) does have a gift.
It is impossible to conceive
of God's Plan, thought out in eternity and guaranteed at such
a cost, failing to ensure not only an appropriate work for each
of those who are to engage in it, but also appropriate qualifications.
And as a reflection of the wisdom of God, the perfecting of each
individual involved in the plan is to be secured by fitting his
capacity to the work he has to do. When any man or woman consciously
works at full capacity in the sense of using his abilities with
maximum effectiveness, that individual is likely to derive the
greatest possible personal satisfaction, and will be maturing
most effectively. This is God's way. And it is almost certainly
true, as Augustine said, that the child of God is physically
immortal until his appointed work is done. Indeed, this may be
the intent of Paul's observation regarding David when he said,
"After he had served his own generation, he fell asleep"
It is Paul who was inspired to make it
very clear that the position which any child of God occupies
within the Body of Christ is in no sense accidental; it is a
divinely appointed position effectively realized by the Holy
Spirit. Paul spent a whole chapter on the matter (1 Corinthians
12:12‹31), epitomizing what I have been saying above with
the words, "Now has God set the members every one of
them in the Body, as it has pleased Him" (verse 18).
So there we have in effect the
gifts and the calling which are both of God, and which "are
without repentance" (Romans 11:29), without anything tentative
about them, without any possibility of his changing his mind
about them. The gifts are secured to us by providential overruling
of our genetic heritage whereby we are equipped constitutionally
to fulfill some specific role to which we are elected ‹ for
Election is not only to Salvation. I believe that Peter is speaking
of Election in this sense when he says (2 Peter 1:10): "Wherefore,
brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure,"
and then it follows naturally, as Peter goes on to say, that
"if you do these things, you shall never fail" (so
the Greek). For how could we possibly fail if we are fulfilling
the role which God has called us to fill, and using the talents
with which He has endowed us?
the circumstances in which our lot is cast, are providentially
of his overruling. Should these circumstances become difficult
and we be under the impression that we could do better elsewhere,
nevertheless, we should not be too ready to move away. The casting
of our lot is truly in
God's hands. "As
God has distributed to every man, as the Lord has called
every one, so let him walk. . . . Let every man abide
in the same calling wherein he is called" (1 Corinthians
This is a principle we overlook
rather easily and its denial in practice contributes greatly
to the instability of many young Christians, an instability which
they euphemistically mistake for flexibility. John the Baptist's
advice seems to have parallelled that of Paul, when he admonished
those who came to him seeking baptism and new instructions for
life, to go on in their calling (Luke 3:10-14), seeking only
to fulfill their roles with greater faithfulness.
The difference between the life
thus fulfilled, and the seemingly unfulfilled life of the one
whom, because of gross disobedience, God removes prematurely
to prevent further damage, is one of those secret things which
belong only to Him (Deuteronomy 29:29). We shall perhaps know
the answer in heaven ‹ or we may by then simply have lost
all interest in the question. Possibly even the life thus unfulfilled
is not so much a life unfulfilled as it is a cup reduced in size,
the full filling of which is commensurate to its smaller volume.
It seems almost certain that there will be some "small children"
in heaven and some "young men" and some "aged"
saints. Why not also some "cherubs"? All will be perfect
‹ but at different stages of spiritual maturity. The
Lord was perfect in the cradle (why else could He have been worshiped?),
perfect as He grew through childhood, and perfect in mature manhood.
At no stage was He imperfect. He did always and only those things
which pleased his Father (John 8:29). It is no sign of imperfection
to find in heaven that individuals have achieved different stages
of development. The rosebud may be as perfect in its form as
the full bloom is perfect in its maturity.
The different callings we have
make distinctions among us because they are callings within the
context of the world where we live out our daily lives. It is
not entirely improper to recognize such differences. We attach
more honour to one who can lead and give meaningful direction
to the labours of many others ‹ and rightly so. For only
a few either want to assume responsibility of this kind, or are
able to do so with success. The market place attaches a higher
value to that which is less common but important to a greater
number of people, and our Christian calling operates within this
framework of values. Yet the born leader is just that ‹ a
born leader. The accomplished musician is gifted, talented, use
whatever term you will. These things are indeed gifts or talents,
and whatever term we use it is likely to reflect what the Bible
says about gifts and talents and callings, all of which are of
The credit or discredit which attaches
to the gifts or talents or callings we have is not really in
the gifts or talents or callings themselves but in the use we
make of them, or even more importantly, in the motives behind
these uses. Luther was perfectly right when he said, "Who
sweeps the floor as unto
the Lord makes both that
and the action fine." The floor and the action alike! Often
the action is good enough but not the motive, and the use to
which we put our talent may conceal the truth that we are really
ministering to our own ego, displaying our talents rather than
investing them in the service of the Lord. At such times we need
to remind ourselves of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:7: "Who
makes you to differ from another? And what have you that you
did not receive? Now if you did receive it, why do you glory
as if you had not received it?" Why, indeed!
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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But what a comfort to know that
our lot is cast by the Lord, our gifts are of his appointing,
and our life work planned way back there in eternity! If we could
only rest assured of this in times of delay, or defeat, or uncertainty.
Such assurance does not lead to inaction; it leads to freedom
of action with the right kind of confidence. Any kind of confidence
other than that based securely upon the sovereignty of the grace
of God is misplaced. Isaiah said (26:12): "Lord, You will
ordain peace for us: for You have wrought all our works in us."
Amen! The two, faith in his sovereignty and peace of mind, go