We invite the attention of our readers to the very important and comprehensive subject of the Christian calling. In using the term “our calling” we do not mean the general call of God to mankind, sounding loud and clear in the gospel today (see Prov. 1:20-26), nor do we confine it to that effectual call which in the Spirit’s power reaches the souls of God’s elect (see Rom. 8:28), but rather to that peculiar position of relationship and privilege in the divine economy, with its corresponding responsibilities, to which all Christians have been designated by the sovereign will of God.
When God called Abraham out from the nations He designated him to a place of peculiar privilege. He stands the primary witness to separation by God’s call, and thus becomes the father of the faithful and founder of the henceforth acknowledged line of faith, and the root of the olive tree of promise (Rom. 11:17-24). God called him individually, but with future expansion in view.
God called his descendants out of Egypt, designated them to a position of nearness to Himself, to a land of special fruitfulness, and to a corresponding position of testimony to His name amongst the heathen. Theirs was a national call.
The Christian calling, in which all saints of this present dispensation—beginning with Pentecost and ending with the coming of the Lord—share, is connected not with earth, but with heaven. In it God has designated us to relationships, privileges, hopes, and responsibilities inconceivably great. Our calling, though it reaches us individually, is not on individual nor even on national lines. It is of a corporate character. We are called “in one body” (Col. 3:15).
We will in this brief paper call attention to three cardinal facts.
1. There is but one Christian calling. “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling” (Eph. 4:4). “Our calling” is not sectarian. There is no such thing in Scripture as a special “calling” belonging to a particular class or a special company of Christians. Some Christians understand their calling better than others, and walk, perhaps, more fully in the truth of it, shaping their conduct so as to be consistent with it, but this is in no sense a different calling.
2. The Christian calling abides whatever else may, go. In the epistle which specially contemplates the “last days” of the church’s history on earth and the “perilous times” which accompany them, we find a strong and clear note sounded as to it: “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 Tim. 1:9).
This scripture plainly lifts the Christian calling on to a very exalted plane. It stands severed from earth and time and sense, and connected with heaven and eternity and the whole realm of spiritual realities which centre in Christ Jesus, the risen and exalted Man of God’s purpose. Saints upon earth may come and go; tides of evil may roll in; revivals, God-given, may wax and wane; the last great apostasy, as predicted, may rear its head “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” abides as ever and shines undimmed in lustre for those who have eyes to see.
3. Our calling is intended to govern all Christian life and conduct. Ours is a heavenly calling, and we are saints by calling, that is the name by which God has designated us. The first occurrence of the word “called” in Scripture is in Genesis 1:5, “And God called the light Day.” Day has been its name ever since.
The second occurrence of the word is in Genesis 2:19. Before Adam—God’s vice-regent—are brought the living creatures, and we read, “Whatsoever Adam called . . . that was the name thereof.”
It is thus with the call of God. What we are by divine call, WE ARE. Nothing can alter it, neither failure nor breakdown nor defective state on our side. The way to uplift defective state is to get into the light of the calling. The practical state of Christians does not affect their calling. Their practical acknowledgment of their calling will affect their state.
4. These fundamental yet simple considerations must surely make us feel the immense importance of our calling. They should make us earnestly desirous of learning it as God has presented it to us in all its various aspects in His Word.
Let us beware of a mere textual acquaintance with it in order that we may pride ourselves on our position, apart from an exercised conscience as to whether or no we practically answer to it in the power of the Spirit of God. On the other hand, let us not become so occupied with our degree of attainment that we allow our subjective state to eclipse God’s objective calling. Rather, putting things in their right place and order, let us afresh study our calling that we may judge ourselves and our ways in the light of it, and answer to it by the grace of our God.
The Christian Calling
The first chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians furnishes us with two details of great importance in connection with the Christian calling. First, the position to which we are called. Second, the revelation of God in the light of which the calling is ours.
The position of sons is that to which we are called, for evidently the “calling” of verse 18 refers to the “adoption of children,” or “sonship” (v. 5).
This position, however, is ours as called by “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). Further down in the chapter, when making request that we may know the hope of the calling, it is to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,” that the Apostle prays (v. 17).
These sacred names, in their infinite depth of meaning, imprint their own indelible stamp upon our calling. Let us attempt to glean a little of their force.
“The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What pen can unfold the wealth of meaning enshrined in this wonderful phrase? It sets before us our Lord Jesus Christ viewed as Man. In His pathway of humiliation upon earth from incarnation to death He preserved always the position proper to man—absolute dependence upon and devotedness to God. God was indeed His God. Psalm 16 is the inspired forecast of this. “O my soul, thou hast said to the Lord [Jehovah], Thou art my Lord” (v. 2). “I have set the Lord [Jehovah] always before me” (v. 8).
In this dependent Man an altogether new relationship as between God and man came to light. God was His Father from all eternity. He was ever the eternal Son, but when He was “made flesh” dwelt among us . . . the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14.), He became what He was not before, a Man, and as such was saluted as Son. What that relationship involves—the love, the intimacy, the communion of it—is specially unfolded to us in John’s Gospel, until in chapter 17 we find the climax. As we listen to the outpourings from the heart of the Son as Man upon earth into the ear of the Father, we may derive from those incomparable words some idea of what that relationship really means. To Christ as the Word made flesh. God was not only Father, but stood revealed as the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Another thing, however, was needed if we ruined sinners were to be not merely spectators, but participators of the relationship and its blessedness, in which Christ stood as Man. He who was the Revealer of the relationship must go into death and come forth in resurrection. Having risen, His first words are “Go to My brethren, and say to them, I ascend to My Father, and your Father and to My God, and your God” (John 20:17). In those memorable words the Lord Jesus regarded His disciples as “risen with Him” (see Col. 2:12). The relationship in which He had hitherto stood alone could now be shared with others.
Hence the Apostle Paul lifts up his heart in blessing to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” from whom our calling springs. He does not say, “Our God and Father.” Christ must ever have the pre-eminence; it is His God and Father who is addressed here. Ours He is truly, but only ours because His. Here is the new relationship in which we now stand. We are called to “sonship.” Not sonship of some secondary sort, of some inferior degree, but as expressed in Christ as Man risen. As “the Son,” the second Person of the ever-blessed Trinity (Heb. 1:2, 8), He, of course, stands absolutely alone.
The God of our Lord Jesus Christ is also known to us as “the Father of glory” (Eph. 1:17). This is something beyond the “God of glory,” in which character He appeared to Abraham. If that expression indicated is as connected with displayed glory and a heavenly country, this indicates that the Christian calling leads to glory specially characterized by the love and relationship belonging to the highest revelation God has made of Himself. He is the Author of that glorious scene, its producing Cause, the Source of all.
“The hope of His calling,” therefore, is not merely glory, not merely a heavenly country and a heavenly city, as in the case of Abraham, but it is glory for those in relationship with the Father—sonship in its fullest sense will then be known. Our place in glory is as those who are before the Father in association with Christ. All that we shall have we shall have as identified with Him. This is the hope of the calling which comes from “the Father of glory.” We may truly sing:—
“Thy wondrous thought has made our boast
Glory with Christ above.”
This God is our God. He called us of His own free grace to share the glory of which He is Source and Spring. In the presence of such grace we may bow down and worship.
The perfect revelation of God in Christ is, then, the great fact which lies at the very base of the Christian calling; out of it the calling springs; from it its character is taken; for it is in Him we find that to which we are called.
The Heavenly Calling
The Epistle to the Hebrews treats of the heavenly calling in a way that would appeal to Jewish minds, and throws it into relief by the continued, contrast with their previous earthly calling. It is an epistle of great importance for us today, for this reason though the great majority of us never were Jews, yet we were brought up under the influence of a popular Christianity largely corrupted by Jewish elements. Many of us, therefore, have had our thoughts of divine things cast in a Jewish mould, and we need to be emancipated from it and led on to the understanding of our heavenly calling and hopes even as these early Hebrew converts did (see Heb. 6:1-2).
The epistle opens with the perfect revelation of God in the Son. The Son is the Apostle, and His apostleship is set forth in the most exalted terms (chap. 1). This revelation lies—as we have seen— at the very base of the Christian calling; but another thing is intimately connected with it. The Son of chapter 1 is the Son of Man of chapter 2. He who came out from God has gone in to God. The Apostle is the High Priest, He is also the “Captain of our salvation,” having taken up a heavenly position. He has “passed through the heavens” (R.V., 4:14), and He is now crowned “with glory and honour” (2:7). Further, He is not ashamed to call us brethren, for we are “all of one” with Him (2:11). As thus associated with Him in His heavenly position ours is a heavenly calling.
Further on in the epistle we find that “the hope set before us” is connected with that “within the veil, whither the Forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus” (6:18-20). Our hope being heavenly, we have “the holiest” as our present place of privilege in the matter of approach to God (10:19), and further, in heaven our substance lies (10:34), and a heavenly city (11:10) and a heavenly country (11:16), which by their distant rays lighted up the pilgrim path of patriarchs of old, are now full in view for us—to a heavenly order of things have we come (12:22-24).
When Peter wrote his first epistle to the same, or at least to similar Jewish converts, he closed by lifting their hearts out of the scene of their sufferings to the heavenly sphere of their calling. “The God of all grace, who has called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while” (1 Pet. 5:10).
This scripture seems to link itself up very aptly with the close of the Epistle to the Hebrews. There we are bidden to accept the discipline of the divine hand, since we are come not to Mount Sinai, but to Mount Zion and the whole scheme of blessing in connection with it. Here we go a step further and find power to “suffer a while” in the fact that we are called to “His eternal glory” by the God of all grace.
Note that first word. It is “His eternal glory.” In the millennial day the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. The earth shall be full of God’s glory. Many will rejoice in the shining of it. But to walk upon earth in the light of it is one thing, to be called to it so that His glory itself in its own sphere becomes our home, is another. This latter is the Christian’s calling. Eternal glory was the prospect which urged on the Apostle Paul through rejection and suffering, and he connected it with a glorified body; “our house, which is from heaven;” a body, that is, as fitted for a heavenly sphere of glory as our present bodies are fitted for life on this earth (2 Cor. 4:17-5:2).
The Epistle to the Ephesians adds another detail to this wonderful vista of glory. The question naturally arises: granted that we are called to find our part in the heavenly sphere, what is the part there to which we are called? What is our position? Ephesians 1:3-6 supplies the answer.
Our blessings are spiritual as to their character, heavenly as to the sphere of them, and “in Christ,” i.e. ours solely by reason of our identification with our great and glorious Representative and Head. They are in keeping with the fact that in an eternity which is past we were designated to a place of infinite blessedness in an eternity to come, “holy and without blame before Him in love.” In so saying we do not for one moment deny the present application of these words, but we believe that in their full thought they look on, as stated, to an eternity to come.
If we were asked to define what this “heaven” is to which we expect to go, we should reply by quoting those words.
To be “holy and without blame” is much. To be THAT “before Him”—the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—is more. But to be THAT, and THERE “in love,” and that love the love that is proper to the “adoption of children,” or “sonship”—the love of this filial relationship which is ours in Christ, and the blessed character of which is only set forth in Him—is most of all. That is heaven indeed.
Sonship and all the love connected with it is ours now, but in its full meaning it looks on—as often said before—to our ultimate place before the Father in glory.
Who can tell out the wealth of blessedness involved in this most precious grace? What pen can describe the infinite sweetness of this relationship? Here we reach a point where exposition or explanation fails. In the presence of the Father’s love we do not talk, we worship.
“There only to adore,
My soul its strength may find,
Its life, its joy, for evermore
By sight, nor sense, defined.”
It was even thus with the Apostle Paul. He lifted his heart in blessing to God (v. 3), and then fell on his knees in prayer that the hope of this wonderful calling might be known by us all (vv. 15-18).
The Christian Calling
“Lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called” (1 Tim. 6:12).
Here, as elsewhere in Paul’s epistles, eternal life is looked at as future, as something which lies at the ultimate goal of Christianity, that into which we shall be brought. There is no conflict between this and the view of it presented to us in the writings of the Apostle John; in these, eternal life is brought to us in this world. The Son of Man is “lifted up” that we may possess it. The Spirit of God is given that the power of life may be in us (John 4). The voice of the Son of God awakens us that we may live (John 5), and He Himself, incarnate, dead and risen, is the food which sustains that life (John 6). John repeatedly states that he that believes has it. He unfolds the marvellous fact that eternal life in the person of the Son has stooped from its own blissful sphere to become available for perishing men, and the known and enjoyed portion of all who believe.
Paul, on the contrary, regards eternal life as the goal to which we shall be brought (Rom. 2:7). It is not with him the down-stooping of divine grace bringing eternal life to us, but the uprising of the same grace carrying us into eternal life in its own home. Yet he recognizes that eternal life is ours now, hence he says to Timothy, “Lay hold on eternal life,” i.e. make it your own as a matter of enjoyment by laying hold of those things in which, in a practical way, it consists. To these things Timothy and every other Christian are called.
Our businesses, our family and domestic circumstances, and such-like matters are no part of God’s calling, they are most distinctly part of His gracious appointment for us in connection with His governmental ways, but His calling carries us outside the realm of natural life into that of spiritual life, and fixes the choicest energies of our souls on those unseen, eternal realities which centre in Christ—the knowledge of God’s love, His will, His counsels, His purposes, His power—and above all, of Christ Himself personally.
Turn now to 1 Peter 2:20-21. “If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps.”
The call of God for us is to a life of well-doing in subjection to His will, and not a life of self-pleasing. It involves suffering in various forms, including suffering at the hands of man, because of doing well.
Who is there that knows his own heart but will admit that suffering for well-doing is very hard to bear? But it is what we must expect, although we may get but little of it nowadays. Possibly that is one reason why God in His holy government allows so much suffering of other kinds, not directly inflicted by man, to come upon His people.
Be that as it may, suffering is clearly going to characterize our path upon earth.
There is a disposition with every one of us to assume that Christianity means everything going smoothly with us here upon earth; with the result that we get terribly upset and disheartened when trouble comes. Suffering, whether coming from the world without, as in the days of primitive Christianity, or from the church within, as is more common in these days, should not surprise us.
May we have grace to take it patiently and turn our hearts while under it to the bright realms of glory to which we are called.
Our Calling 1910, p.1