By Charles H. Welch
The Greek word translated ‘calling’ is klesis, and it occurs in the New Testament eleven times. Those who receive this calling are denominated ‘called’ kletos, and this too occurs eleven times. Both of these words derive from kaleo ‘to call’, which is found in the New Testament 147 times. Those who receive the call of Divine grace, become members of a ‘called out company’ or ekklesia, which is the primary meaning of the word church. (See article on CHURCH). Calling is employed doctrinally, as in Romans 8:30, ‘whom He called, them He also justified’ and has a great place in the doctrine of grace. We, however, must not allow ourselves in this analysis to attempt to embrace doctrinal themes as well as dispensational, and with this passing reference, we turn our attention to the use of ‘calling’ as a term employed in making known dispensational truth.
We will first of all give a concordance to the word klesis.
We can subdivide these references under three headings:
These three callings differ radically from one another, both in sphere,
constitution and origin. Let us consider each separately.
The calling of Israel (Rom. 11:29)
Romans 9 to 11 is devoted to the dispensational problems that arise out of Israel’s defection, failure and non-repentance. For a complete analysis of the epistle, the article on ROMANS should be consulted, here we limit our survey to these three dispensational chapters.
The exposition moves from sorrow to song, from a remnant out of Israel as a firstfruits and pledge, to the salvation of all Israel at the end. In chapter 9, the apostle enumerates the dispensational privileges of an Israelite in the flesh, which can be appreciated as it stands, but with much greater understanding when placed beside the dispensational disadvantages of being a Gentile in the flesh. The reference to Ephesians 2 which is here made will be better understood if the reader is in possession of the complete structure of the epistle, which will be found under the heading EPHESIANS, p. 275.
In Romans 11, the apostle shows that the failure of Israel was over-ruled
to bring about greater blessing to the Gentile, saying: ‘Now if the fall
of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches
of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?’ (Rom. 11:12). Should the
thought arise in our minds that it is hardly believable that God would
save and use Israel after all that they have done, he says: ‘I would not,
brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be
wise in your own conceits: that blindness in part is happened to Israel,
until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in, and so all Israel shall
be saved’ (Rom. 11:25,26). The salvation of Israel is entirely removed
from the covenant of works and law of Sinai, and is based upon the New
Covenant, as Romans 11:27 shows. The fact of Israel’s enmity is squarely
faced, ‘as concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sakes; but
as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes, for
the gifts and calling of God are without repentance’ (Rom. 11:28,29).
Such is the character of Israel’s calling, it is entirely of grace, and
arises out of the electing love of God, merit, works and law being rigorously
The calling of the Church before Acts 28
Two passages speak of the ‘calling’ in the epistles written before the setting aside of Israel at Acts 28, namely 2 Thessalonians 1:11 and 1 Corinthians 1:26. In one passage, the apostle prays that the believer may be counted worthy of the calling, in the other, the apostle draws attention to the fact that in this calling ‘not many wise after the flesh, not many noble are called’ (1 Cor. 1:26), but that all is in Christ Jesus.
To discover the nature of the calling of this period we shall have to ponder the teaching of the Acts and epistles that cover it. We shall find, among other features, that it differs from the calling of Israel inasmuch as those who belong to this company are comprised of both Jew and Greek, and being made ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ they are necessarily also ‘Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise’ (Gal. 3:27-29). The calling of the Church during the Acts looks to the promise made to Abraham as its foundation. This promise includes ‘the Gospel’ preached (Gal. 3:8), the great doctrine of justification by faith (Rom. 4:3), and the promise of the spirit (Gal. 3:14). The hope that was entertained by this Church was millennial in character (Rom. 15:12,13), and was linked with the hope of Israel which extended right to the last chapter of the Acts (Acts 28:20), which hope was definitely linked with the ‘Archangel’ and the ‘trump’ of God, and so with the hope of Israel. (See HOPE and ARCHANGEL).
There was, however, no equality except in sin and salvation where there was ‘no difference’ (Rom. 3:22; 10:12), for the Gentile believer was reminded by the apostle that his position was that of a wild olive graft, contrary to nature, into the olive tree of Israel (Rom. 11:24), (see articles on OLIVE TREE and ROMANS - Provoke unto Jealousy), and that the Jew was still ‘first’ (Rom. 1:16). The middle wall still stood, and the enmity occasioned by ‘the decrees’ of Acts 15 made it impossible while such a condition lasted that the one body in which every member was on perfect equality could be revealed (see articles on BODY, and MIDDLE WALL). The Gentile had been called and blessed during this period, to provoke to jealousy and to emulation the failing people of Israel. The long-suffering of God waited for thirty-five years, and then the change of which Paul had warned them in Acts 13:40 fell.
While the glorious basic doctrine of Redemption and Justification remains, the dispensational position has entirely changed, and we must turn to the Prison Epistles of Paul, to learn what calling obtains at the present time. There are four references which indicate something of the glory of this new calling. It is a holy calling (2 Tim. 1:9). The context supplies the following distinctive features.
It is a high calling (Phil. 3:14). The interpretation suggested by some, that this should be rendered ‘the call on high’ as though it were a future summons, has been examined in the articles entitled ABOVE, HOPE , and PRIZE , which cannot be repeated here. Our conclusion can be stated, however, the passage in Philippians does not refer to a future summons ‘on high’ but to ‘the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ here and now. Here, in Philippians, ‘the Prize’ of this calling is in view, whereas in Ephesians it is ‘the hope’ of this same calling that is in view. The prize may be won or lost, the hope is intrinsic, it can neither be won nor lost, it is as much a gift of grace as is salvation itself. Hope is related to calling in two passages in Ephesians. The first is in the doctrinal portion, in which after giving ‘the charter of the church’ (see under EPHESIANS) in Ephesians 1:3-14, the apostle pauses to make the new revelation a matter of prayer.
The second is found in the practical outworking of this great revelation and forms a part of the sevenfold unity of the Spirit (see UNITY OF THE SPIRIT) in Ephesians 4:4. ‘There is one body, and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling’. Doctrine - ‘His calling’; Practice - ‘Your calling’; the same calling seen from two points of view.
The doctrinal portion of the epistle (see EPHESIANS for structure of the epistle as a whole) opens with the apostle beseeching his readers that they ‘walk worthy of the vocation’ (calling) wherewith they had been called (Eph. 4:1), and upon that pivot the whole teaching of the epistle is balanced. To appreciate the unique character of the calling we must become acquainted with the meaning and implication of such terms as ‘all spiritual blessings’, ‘heavenly places’, ‘foundation of the world’, ‘seated together’, ‘mystery’, ‘far above all’ and ‘Prison Epistles’. These various and wondrous elements of this unique calling can be considered by turning to articles in this analysis which either bear these titles, or which evidently include them.