Wilhelmus A’Brakel on the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel




The Christian’s Reasonable Service, trans., by Bartel Elshout, (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publ., 1992).  This quote was compiled by David Ponter


The External and Internal Call

Thus far we have discussed the Surety of the covenant and the partakers of this covenant, the church. We shall now proceed to consider the ways in which the Lord brings these partakers of the covenant into the covenant, and how He leads them to the ultimate goal of eternal felicity. The first aspect of this way is the calling.

The Calling: God’s Declaration of the Gospel to Sinners

The calling is a gracious work of God, whereby He invites the sinner by means of the gospel to exchange the state of sin and wrath for Christ, in order that through Him he may be reconciled to God and obtain godliness and salvation. By means of this calling He also, by the Holy Spirit, efficaciously translates His elect into this state.

The calling is a gracious work of God: “And (the king) sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt 22:3,14); “. . .Him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Pet. 1:3); “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9).

God calls neither by the law of nature nor by the works of nature, whereby, in doing good, He nevertheless does not leave Himself without witness to the heathen (Acts 14:17).  “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him” (Acts 17:27).  For in all this Christ is neither proclaimed to them nor are they exhorted to believe in Him.  The heathen are subject to the covenant of works, and whatever God does in and toward them has reference to that covenant.  They are thus obligated to live according to this rule, “Do this and thou shalt live.” Therefore neither the law of nature, nor God’s works belong to the calling; the heathen are not called.

This call also does not occur by way of the moral law of Scripture.  The moral law must be viewed in a twofold sense: It must be viewed either in its demands, whereby it reveals the perfect conditions of the covenant of works, or in its purpose, as having been given to the church as a rule of life and as the standard for true holiness. In its first sense the law is preached to convict man of sin (Rom. 3:20), thus bringing man to despair of being saved by his works. Here the function of the law ends. If, however, Christ is simultaneously preached by means of the gospel, man, being rejected by the law, is allured by the gospel.  Thus, wherever Christ is preached, the law functions as a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ (Gal. 3:24).  The law, however, neither teaches about Christ nor calls to Him, and thus the moral law is not a functional element of the calling.  This is different as far as the ceremonial law is concerned, which belongs to the gospel.

The true means whereby we are called, however, is the gospel.  “Whereunto He called you by our gospel” (2 Thess. 2:14).  The word “gospel” means a good tiding, the content of which is as follows: “Poor man, you are subject to sin and to the wrath of God.  You are traversing upon the way which will end in eternal perdition.  God, however, has sent His Son Jesus Christ to be a Surety; in His suffering and death there is the perfect satisfaction of the justice of God, and thus acquittal from guilt and punishment.  In His obedience to the law there is perfect holiness, so that He can completely save all who go unto God through Him.  Christ offers you all His merits, and therefore eternal salvation. He calls and invites everyone: “Turn unto Me and be saved, receive Me, surrender to Me, enter into a covenant with Me and you will not perish but have everlasting life.”  This declaration is recorded in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.  The first gospel declaration is found in Genesis 3:15, where we read that the Seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent. Since then, God has frequently and in various ways caused the gospel to be proclaimed (Heb. 1:l). “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them” (Heb. 4:2).

Prior to the coming of Christ it was called the gospel of promises. “. ..separated unto the gospel of God, (which He had promised afore by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures)” (Rom. 1:l-2). Subsequent to Christ’s coming it is called the gospel of fulfillment. “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled” (Mark 1: 1415).

The Distinction Between Law and Gospel

Law and gospel are frequently placed in contradistinction to each other. If in such a contradistinction the reference is to the ceremonial law, its purpose is to refer to Christ’s coming in the flesh, whose coming was typified by the ceremonies.  The gospel of fulfillment, however, declares that Christ has come.  In the matter itself there can be no contradistinction, since the gospel is comprehended in the ceremonies and proclaimed by them.

However, there is an essential difference between the moral law and the gospel.  

The law has first of all been given by God the Lord as the sovereign, majestic, and sole Lawgiver, and is pertinent to all mankind.  The gospel, however, is the manifestation of God as being “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exo. 34:6), and does not pertain to all, but only to some.  

Secondly, the law can partially be known by nature (Rom. 2:15), but the gospel can only be known by revelation (Eph. 3:5).  

Thirdly, the law is a condition of the covenant of works which promised salvation upon the perfect keeping of the law and knows of no forgiveness (cf. Rom. 10:5; Mat. 19:17).  The gospel, however, is a declaration of the covenant of grace, promising believers forgiveness and salvation by Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:8-9).

Fourthly, the law begets the knowledge of sin in the sinner (Rorn. 3:20), confronts him with wrath (Rorn. 4:15), and thus brings forth fear and trembling (Isa. 33:14).  The gospel, however, is the precious administration of the power of God unto salvation (Rorn. 1:16).  This gospel is the means whereby God calls men unto salvation.

God could immediately and non-verbally reveal Christ to man, bring him to Christ, cause him to believe in Him, and thus lead him to salvation.  It has pleased the Lord, however, in order that His manifold wisdom be revealed and His other attributes be glorified, to make man a partaker of this salvation by means of the word of the gospel, leading rational man in a rational way.  The use of this means is referred to as calling, since all men are going astray on a way which is not good and which leads to destruction.  God calls out to men who are going astray that the way upon which they are traversing will make them eternally miserable, and invites them to come to Christ as the only way unto salvation.

The Distinction Between External and Internal Call

Concerning this calling a distinction is made between an external and an internal call.  They both proceed from God, occur by means of this Word, pertain to the same matters, and are presented equally to all.  Both calls are addressed to human beings who by nature are the same.  They are, however, distinguishable.  The one functions externally only by means of the Word, to which also the Holy Spirit does join Himself in His common operation, resulting in common illumination and historical faith.  The other, however, penetrates the very heart of man, powerfully illuminating it with wondrous light, revealing spiritual mysteries to man in their essential form, and powerfully inclines the will to embrace those mysteries in Christ, and to the obedience of faith.

There is an infinite difference between the corrupt intellect of man–that is, the Arminians and other proponents of free will–and the Holy Scriptures.  The question is: Does the obtaining of salvation proceed from man?  Is he the only and essential cause of his salvation, or is God the only essential cause and can man, being absolutely incapable, do nothing to obtain salvation?  The Arminians will readily admit that God has prepared and accomplished salvation and that God has given and revealed Christ the Mediator.  However, they attribute this acceptance and entering in upon that way to the good will and power of man.  This could be likened to what transpires on a race track.  The government has put the prize on display and has prepared the track.  The acquisition of the prize, however, is contingent upon the runners themselves.

In order to protect the idol of man’s own ability and of his good will as being the cause of his own salvation, the Arminians would prefer to do away with the distinction between the external and internal call, between the non-effectual and the effectual call.  They would view them as being the same, and thus recognize only one calling.  The effect would then not be due to the efficacious operation of God working more in one person than in another.  Instead, it would be related to the outcome; namely, that the one person obeys the call by his free will (which enables him either to respond or to reject this call) and thus be saved.  Another person will despise and reject this call by the same neutral free will.  Scripture, however, rebukes and refutes such foolish thoughts and demonstrates first of all that the calling is effectual unto salvation as a result of God’s purpose, “. . .who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28); “for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11:29).  The actual exercise of faith in those who are called proceeds from this purpose. “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).

Scripture conveys in the second place that there is no distinction in man himself, but that this distinction originates with God. “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).  Man, however, by attributing the cause of one having more faith than another to his goodness and power, would create such a distinction.  There is thus a calling which is of an effectual nature and penetrates the inner man–his intellect, will, and inclinations, changing and sanctifylng them.  This is the internal call.  There is a calling by means of the Word of God which is not accompanied by God’s effectual operation (which generates faith and love), but which comes to the external ear only.  It leaves man in his natural state, who, in his wickedness, rejects this external call.  He despises this call due to his free will which wills by way of necessary consequence.  This is true of most who are called (Mat. 22:5,14). We shall discuss both calls individually, considering the external call first.

2:202-209,  This quote was compiled by David Ponter

The External Call of the Gospel Comes to All who Hear the Gospel

Question: Does God call all who are under the ministry of the gospel, but who as yet are not saved, or does God call the elect only?

Answer: God calls all and everyone who live under the ministry of the gospel.  This must be noted so that one may have liberty to receive Christ by faith, which one would not have if the gospel were not offered–and also in order that the justice of God would be acknowledged in punishing those who neglect so great a salvation and do not obey the gospel.  The following must be noted in order that everyone may be convinced of this matter.

First, compare yourself with the wild Indians, who neither know Christ nor have knowledge of salvation.  Do you not see that God deals differently with you than with them?  Would you wish to trade places with them?  Why not?  Is it not because there is more hope for salvation where you are than where they are?  Will not the condemnation of those who have lived under the ministration of the gospel, but who do not repent, be greater than the condemnation of the wild heathen?  Why would this be if salvation had not been offered to you?  This therefore proves that all who hear the gospel are called.

Secondly, everyone who is under the ministry of the gospel hears the voice of the minister as he preaches, exhorts, and rebukes.  It is thus addressed to him who hears it.  The minister is a servant of Christ, a “steward of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1), and an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).  Therefore he who hears the minister hears Christ, and he who rejects the minister rejects Him (Luke 10:16).  Consider also that the very words of God Himself are contained in Scripture.  Since, therefore, everyone hears the voice of the minister and the very words of God resound in his ears, all that is said is addressed to him who hears it and he is called by the gospel.

Thirdly, Scripture states clearly that many who perish had been called. “. ..many be called, but few chosen” (Mat. 20:16); “. . .and (he) bade many: and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse” (Luke 14:16-18); “And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come” (Mat. 22:3).  Had the guest without the wedding garment been invited? He most certainly was.  It was not his crime that he did not come, but rather that he came in the wrong way, that is, without a wedding garment. It is thus evident that everyone who is under the ministry is called and invited to come to Christ.

Fourthly, there is a general and unconditional declaration to all, that is, to him who thirsts, who is without money, and who wills (Isa. 55:l-2; John 7:37; Rev. 22:17).  He who neither wills nor is thirsty will refrain from coming.  This is his own doing and he will be responsible, having been invited and having heard this general calling.

Fifthly, since many reject the gospel, it is necessarily offered to them, for whatever is not offered cannot be rejected. “It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).  Many are disobedient to the gospel (2 Th. 1:8), and are disobedient to the Son (John 3:36).  It thus follows that Christ was offered to them and they were commanded to believe in Christ.

Sixthly, the exhortations to repent and to believe are joined together.  No one will be in doubt that the exhortation to repent pertains to everyone, and thus each will also have to acknowledge that the exhortation to believe pertains to everyone, for they are of equivalent importance. “…repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

Seventhly, unbelief is a dreadful sin; yes, it is a sin whereby we esteem God to be a liar. “He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son” (1 John 5:10); “And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin.. .of sin, because they believe not on Me” (John 16:8-9).  If Christ were not offered to him who remains in his unbelief, he would not be accountable and his unbelief would not be a sin.  Since his unbelief is a sin, however, it is clearly evident that the gospel was offered to him.

Eighthly, since a dreadful judgment awaits unbelievers, the gospel has most certainly been offered to them, and they have most certainly been called.  Observe this in the following texts: “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th. 1:8); “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin” (John 1522).  If everyone who is under the ministry of the gospel had not been not called, and Christ had not been offered to them, how can they then be punished and how can their condemnation be the heavier? Since, however, they are punished for disobedience to the gospel, and are punished more severely than others, it follows that it was offered to them.

Since Christ is offered to all who are under the ministry, it not only follows that everyone may come and no one needs to remain behind for fear whether he is called or not; but it also follows that everyone is obligated to come to Christ and to receive Him in order to be justified, sanctified, preserved, and glorified.  One must not interpret this to mean that everyone is under obligation to believe that Christ has died for him and is his Savior.  Far be it from us to suggest this, for this is not the essence of faith.  Faith is not assurance; for assurance is a consequence of faith.  Faith consists in the translation of a soul–perplexed about his wretched condition and desirous for reconciliation, peace, holiness, and glory–from self into Christ.  Faith consists in receiving Him who offers Himself and who calls and invites every sinner to Himself, the promise being added that those who will come will not be cast out.  It finally consists in a reliance of the soul upon Him as the almighty, true, and faithful Savior.  If, however, someone is lively in the exercise of these acts and truly perceives this to be so within himself, only then does the assurance follow that Jesus has died for him.  He who lives under the ministry of the gospel is obligated to believe in Christ.  However, he is not obligated to believe that Christ has died for him and to be assured of this.  Far be it from us to suggest this, for then someone could believe a lie, since faith can have nothing else but truth as its object.

God’s Objective in Calling Men

This begets another question: In calling the sinner to Christ, does God aim for the salvation of all? In calling all who are under the ministry of the gospel, is it God’s objective that all would become partakers of salvation?

Answer: No, for God cannot fail to achieve His objective.  Then all who are called would, of necessity, have to be saved. In order to understand this matter correctly, we should consider the following:

(1) The calling is first and foremost intended to gather in the elect. “And he gave some. . .pastors and teachers; fo; the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:ll-12).  God does not send the gospel to those geographical regions where there are no elect to be found. Furthermore, when the elect in a certain region are gathered in, God generally removes the gospel from that area.  Since the elect are in the world, however, and are intermingled with others, the calling comes to all; that is, to all the elect and also to others.  By means of the calling, that is, by means of the proclamation of the gospel, God grants repentance and faith to His elect- which He withholds from others.

(2) We must make a distinction between the objective of God–He who works–and the objective of His work: the gospel.  The very nature of the gospel is suited to lead man unto salvation, as it sufficiently reveals to him the way unto salvation and stirs him to be persuaded to believe.  The gospel is not to be blamed when all who hear it are not saved; rather, man himself is the guilty one. He is to be blamed if he does not desire to be taught and led.

Such is the objective of the gospel.  God’s objective in causing the gospel to be proclaimed to the non-elect is to proclaim and acquaint man with the way of salvation, to command man to enter this way, and to display His goodness, presenting all the reasons to him for doing so and promising him salvation upon repentance and true faith in Christ.  The Lord would indeed do this upon man fulfilling the condition for which He holds him accountable, and which the human nature, having been created holy in Adam had been capable of doing. If he does not accomplish this, it is not because God hinders him or deprives him of the ability to do so, but because man wills not; and thus man himself is to be blamed, for it is the goodness of God which should lead him to repentance.  It is also God’s objective to convict man of his wickedness in his refusal to come upon such a friendly invitation, as well as of the righteousness of God in punishing such rejecters of this offered salvation (John 15:22).  Such is God’s purpose and objective in allowing the gospel to be proclaimed to the unconverted.  It is, however, neither God’s purpose and objective to give to them His Holy Spirit nor to save them.  This is evident for the following reasons:…



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