The cause of any person believing is the will of God; and the outward sound of the Gospel strikes the ear but in vain until God is pleased to touch the heart within.
Nothing will be ambiguous if we hold fast to what ought to be clear from the foregoing: that there are two kinds of call. There is the general call, by which God invites all equally to Himself through the outward preaching of the word – even those to whom He holds it out as a savor of death (cf. 2 Cor. 2:16), and as the occasion for severer condemnation. The other kind of call is special, which He designs for the most part to give to the believers alone, while by the inward illumination of His Spirit he causes the preached Word to dwell in their hearts.
It is the voice of Christ that wakens the dead soul. Jesus speaks through the Bible, through ministers, through providences. His voice can reach the dead. He quickeneth whom He will. They that hear, live.
When the voice of Christ speaks through the Word, then you will arise, and leave all, and follow Him.
We believe that the Scriptures distinguish between a general work of conviction by the Spirit – such as may make an Esau weep and a Felix tremble – and the special, life-conferring call, given by the grace of a sovereign God to those whom He has chosen. Only those who are predestinated receive this call and it is clearly stated not to follow justifying faith but to precede it (Rom. 8:30; Acts 13:48, etc.) and to secure the consent of those to whom it is given (John 6:36, 37; Eph. 2:1-8). It is those who are born again who “see the kingdom of God” and thus believe the gospel.
The gospel is preached in the ears of all; it only comes with power to some. The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher; otherwise men would be converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were mysterious power going with it – the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. O Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as to preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the Word, to give it power to convert the soul.
The external call may therefore be defined as the presentation of the gospel and offer of salvation to all sinners. This call or invitation to come to Christ to receive the forgiveness of sins is indiscriminate, which is to say it is not restricted to any one group, age, class, or nation. [It] is simply the command of God that all men everywhere should repent and believe in order that they might be saved (see Matt. 11:28; 28:19; Luke 24:47; John 16:7-8; Acts 17:30; Rev. 22:17). This call, because it is external only, may be resisted and refused (see especially Acts 7:51; John 16:7-11).
The “internal” call, on the other hand, may be defined as that summons by which God not only invites a woman externally in the gospel, but also internally enables her to respond to it. Thus the internal call is, in a sense, the external call with an added dimension. Attendant with the spoken word of the gospel is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit which irresistibly secures a positive, saving response from the one called.
Although the internal call which comes only to the elect is ultimately efficacious, it is not always immediately efficacious. Many of the elect hear the external call of the gospel for years and resist the summons in persistent, callous unbelief… But eventually, if they are elect, in God’s appointed time they will believe.