Charles Spurgeon, from “Christ Crucified.”
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:23–24 — “But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
If the gospel is so good, and if everyone hears it, why do so many reject Jesus?
We like good news, for the most part. So why do so many people hear what is undoubtedly the best news of all time and then simply shrug—or, worse, react in hostility to the One who would love them so perfectly?
This is what theologians—including Spurgeon, in this sermon from February 1855—frame as the difference between the “general call” and the “effectual call” of the gospel. The gospel is general in the sense that everyone hears it. But it has an effect when God’s children hear it.
As my old friend, John Bunyan, says, the hen has two calls—the common cluck, which she gives daily and hourly, and the special one, which she means for her little chickens.
You know how the bell sounds over the workshop, to call the men to work—that is a general call. A father goes to the door and calls out, “John, it is dinner-time”—that is the special call.
What, then, is the essence of the effectual call? Spurgeon lays down a hint by pointing out that in the gospel narratives, the effectual call is frequently seen in action when Jesus speaks the name of someone he loves.
The call which saves is like that of Jesus, when he said “Mary,” and she said to him “Rabboni.” Can you recollect the hour when he whispered your name in your ear, when he said, “Come to me?” There is no resisting it.
Same with Zacchaeus, who was observing the Messiah from an objective distance right up until the moment he heard his name.
Stepping under the tree, he said, “Zacchaeus, come down, today I must abide in your house.” Zacchaeus was taken in the net; he heard his own name; the call sank into his soul; he could not stop up in the tree, for an almighty impulse drew him down.
Theologically, this is incredibly helpful: The effectual call of the gospel is essentially a calling by name of those God intends to save.
What a beautiful thing, to hear your name from Christ’s lips! And if you are troubled that not everyone receives the effectual call, Spurgeon reminds us that it is “a mercy that it is not your hold of Christ that saves you, but his hold of you!”