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Abstract

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part III: The Comfort of Calvinism

Chapter 12

The Gifts and the Calling of God

      Paul uses 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 in life?

     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 by

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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.

     Secondly, in 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).

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     We are 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, 14).

     [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.

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     To 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).

      How much 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

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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 5:811 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

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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 6:1115). So too Moses (Exodus 4:10); and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6, 7); and Paul
(2 Corinthians 12:79). 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." In

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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" (Acts 13:36).
    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 12:1231), 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 calling, 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

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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 7:17, 20).
     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 God.
     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

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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!
     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 together.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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