The Holy Ghost begins His work of applying the grace of salvation through vocation. The expression vocatio, or the call, may be understood in so broad a sense as to include the children at Baptism, who may be said to be the objects of the calling and regenerating grace of God, or to be influenced at once by gratia praeveniens, praeparans et operans, but, strictly speaking, those persons are the objects of the calling activity of the Holy Ghost who are conscious of the call through the Word of God. Therefore the calling grace of God is operative both within and outside the Church through the hearing and reading of the Word of God. Even those children who have remained faithful to the grace of Baptism must in a certain sense experience the call, since the demands of their personal self-consciousness and self-determination require that they in a self-conscious and self-determined way learn of their blessed state and abide in it. While it is true that the gracious work of the Spirit in relation to such persons belongs principally to the province of sanctification, still to a greater or less degree they also experience the leading acts in the order of salvation, since all Christians must live in daily penitence and must daily repair to the throne of grace. The definition of vocation, however, in relation to the members of the Church, has reference, strictly speaking, to such as have to a greater or less extent fallen from the grace of Baptism.
The following definition is taken partly from HOLLAZIUS: VOCATIO is the act of grace whereby the Holy Spirit manifests to those without the Church of Christ or not true members of it through the Word of God His will to save, and offers them the gracious benefits of Christ’s redemption, so that they may become vitally connected with the Church through Baptism or conversion and obtain eternal salvation.
The causa impulsiva interna of the call is the goodness and mercy of God on the ground of the merit of Christ, and causa externa is the profound misery of man and the need of salvation.
1. THE DIVISION OF THE CALL.
The Call is divided as follows: 1) generalis, indirecta sen paedagogica, by which is meant the general call, mediated through the conscience, nature and the world dominion of God. This general call is made operative in three ways: a) objective, through the natural revelation in the manifestation of the divine beneficence toward all creatures and in the divine government of the world; b) effective, through the efficacious divine influence and impulse, by which, both from the theoretic and practical innate notions, and by reason of proofs of the divine benignity, practical conclusions are produced in the minds of unbelievers to inquire concerning the true worship of God; c) cumulative, through the report concerning the Church spread over the world. Compare Rom. 1: 19, 20; 2: 14, 15; Acts 17: 25–28; 1 Thess. 1:8; Acts 14: 17; 2) specialis sen directa, or the special call which is based on the special revelation and is mediated through the Word of God. This special call has the following subdivisions: a) ordinaria sen mediata, by which is meant that as a rule God calls mediately; b) extraordinaria sen immediata, by which is meant an extraordinary or immediate call, which sometimes occurred in the Old Testament dispensation and in the beginning of the New Testament; c) solemnis et minus solemnis, — in the former case when the call comes to a person during the preaching of the Word at a church service, — in the latter case when the call is received during private devotions; d) externa et interna, or the external and internal call. This distinction has arisen on account of the Calvinists. The Lutheran Church acknowledges that the distinction can be made in a formal sense, but it is not a relationship of logical contraries; in a material sense it is the same call. In accordance with their doctrine of predestination the Calvinists present the distinction in the following way: 1) ratione principiorum, or in reference to their origin, — vocatio externa being made through the ministry of the Word to the many, vocatio interna, through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the elect; 2) ratione subjectorum, or in reference to their subjects, so that the former call is designed for all, the latter call only for the elect; 3) ratione efficaciae, or in reference to the efficacy, so that the latter only is efficacious and irresistible.
2. THE MEANS AND MODE OF THE CALL.
The Holy Ghost calls regularly through the Word of God in the ordinary sense and also through the Word in the Sacraments. HOLLAZIUS says: “God calls poor sinners directly and savingly to the Church by the Gospel (2 Thess. 2: 14) , to which Baptism also pertains (John 3:5). Nevertheless the divine Law contributes something to the call of sinners, but only indirectly, negatively and accidentally.” The Gospel is not to be interpreted here in its narrow sense but in its entirety. The call is experienced as an invitation and at times as a warning and a rebuke in order to arouse sinners. It may be brought about by a special Scripture passage or word that has caught the ear in hearing or the eye in reading the Word, or it may be that such a word is recalled in memory in the hour of silent meditation. These are moments of visitation for man, and he is unable to hinder the prevenient grace from exercising its influence. Such times of visitation are indeed critical, since the question is as to whether man will oppose the grace of God, or whether he will enter into a passive state and permit the Holy Spirit to continue the work of grace. Such times of visitation may occur often. The experience of the call to repentance is in principle the same for all, but the external manner in which attention is directed to the significance of the call may vary with a variety of experiences and conditions. We might call to mind the instances of Paul, the jailor at Philippi, Augustine and Luther, noting that while different conditions surrounded them, the call was the same.
3. THE ATTRIBUTES OF VOCATION.
The following attributes are ascribed to vocation: 1) universalis, or that the call is universal. This term is used against the Calvinists, who teach that the call, strictly speaking, is merely intended for the elect. But we teach that the call is intended for all. The special call reaches all within the Church and many outside of the Church through missionary activities. The old Dogmaticians endeavored to prove that the call had gone forth into the world three times, namely, at the time of Adam, of Enoch and Noah, and in the Apostolic period. This contention may be true with regard to the first two periods, but not with regard to the last named. Hutterus, Gerhard, Quenstedt and Hollazius declare that the nations themselves are to blame because they do not as yet belong to the Church of Christ, since they despise or are indifferent toward the Christian teaching which they must know by report. They neglect to seek knowledge concerning the worship of the true God, although the general natural call ought to prove a sufficient incentive to that end. It is also objected that the children ought not to suffer for the transgressions of their fathers, to which the old Dogmaticians answer that while the children are born outside the Church, which is a temporary punishment, still they are not on that account barred from entering into connection with the Church, which occupies a prominent place in the world and is not unknown. In this connection it may be remarked that the Church has not been as faithful as it should have been in relation to foreign mission work, for if the mission work had been carried on energetically, then it would seem that the whole world long ere this would be Christian, at least in a nominal sense. But even when all the nations shall have received the Gospel of Jesus Christ and thereby received the call, there will nevertheless be countless masses of men who died in the ages past without having received the special call. The Bible indeed states that they have received the general natural call, but it does not deal further with the question, wherefore every attempt to solve the problem carries us into the realm of abstract speculation. The love, righteousness and wisdom of God are a sufficient guarantee that the righteous dominion of God shall sometime be justified, although the secret councils of God are for the present inscrutable. It is not our duty to concern ourselves anxiously about the world dominion of God, but to see to it that we ourselves do not neglect the call of God, while at the same time we ought to labor for the propagation of the kingdom of God in all the world. Furthermore the call is: 2) seria, or serious, which term is used against Calvinism; 3) efficax, or efficacious, both the external and internal, while the Calvinists say, as before stated, that only the internal vocation is efficacious with regard to the elect; 4) resistibilis, or that man can resist the call.
4. THE OBJECT OF THE CALL.
The object of the call is twofold: 1) finis proximus, which is excitatio or awakening; 2) finis ultimus, which is conversion and regeneration together with their effects.
The old Dogmaticians say that excitatio is prima initia fidei et conversionis. Man is aroused when he pays heed to the call and under the influence of the co-operating grace begins to seek the way of salvation. Awakened out of the death slumber of sin, he realizes in a measure the dangerous situation in which he has been and still continues to be. His eyes are directed toward the straight gate and the narrow way. The illuminating grace of God is active in connection with the call, as it has been from the moment of awakening. In some instances the emotions are very greatly aroused; indeed, these emotions may at times become peculiarly delightful, for which reason it may happen that this awakening may be mistaken for the completed conversion. At so-called “revival meetings,” especially among the Reformed, great emotional excitation is often called conversion. But awakening is only the beginning of conversion. It is not sufficient that the emotions are aroused; the understanding must be illumined and the will transformed. The Scripture passage to which reference is made with regard to awakening is Eph. 5: 14: “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee”; cf. Acts 2: 37: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart”; Acts 16: 29, 30: “And, trembling for fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, and said. Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”