May 23rd, 1954 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-23-54 7:30 p.m.
In our preaching through the Word, we are in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts: Acts 27. And as I preach the message tonight, if you have your Book, you can turn with me as we look at some of these verses in God’s Word. The sermon tonight is entitled Predestination: the sovereign, foreordaining decrees of Almighty God. And the reading of the Word will begin at the twentieth verse, and we’ll follow through to about the thirty-fourth. Acts 27 beginning at the twentieth verse:
And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.
But after long abstinence, Paul stood forth in the midst of them and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete and to have gained this harm and loss.
And now I exhort you to be of good cheer, for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, only of the ship.
For there stood by me this night the angel of God whose I am, whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar; and lo, God hath given thee all them
Two hundred seventy-six souls:
God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.
Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer, for I believe God that it will be even as it was told me.
Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.
Now when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in the Sea of Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country, and sounded to let down a line and found it twenty fathoms; and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again and found it fifteen fathoms.
Then, fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day.
And the shipmen, the sailors, were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea,
Another little boat, a little lifeboat:
under color as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.
Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat and let her fall out
And be dashed against the shore; they all were in there to live or to die together now:
And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing.
Wherefore I pray you to take some meat, for this is for your health,
You’ll need it to get to the shore:
for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.
So when he had thus spoken, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all . . .
And they all were full of cheer and took bread: Two hundred three score and sixteen souls – two hundred seventy-six souls;
And the rest of the story how the ship was run aground, the violence of the sea broke it in pieces. Those who could swam, and those who couldn’t clung to pieces of wreckage and debris; and thus they all got to land. "And it came to pass they all escaped safe to land," according to the decree of God [Acts 27:41-44].
Now we’re going to take a look at a mountain. We’re going to look at it. I didn’t say we were going to explain it or say where it came from. We’re going to look at it. We’re going to take a journey and look at one of God’s works – what God does – and I don’t propose to explain it. We are just going to look at it – what God does.
An old woman went to the zoo, and she looked at a giraffe. It was the first long-necked specimen of an animal like that she had ever seen; and she looked at that giraffe, and she said, "There just ain’t no such animal." She didn’t believe it looking at it. Now we’re going to look at a work of God. God’s works are many and manifold. There’s no man that can explain any of them. You just can’t – no man! You just look at it, describe it, delineate it, say how it is; but you don’t know why or wherefore – no man, no man!
One of the most silly things that you’ll ever try to follow in your life will be when you pick up a magazine and the scientist there is going to tell you where the world came from. And he’s going to tell you where life came from; and he spews, and he sputters, and he stutters, and he hesitates, and he writes sentences, and he says words and then finally has to break down and confess he’s just an ignoramus like all the rest of us. He had no idea, no idea. We just look at it. We just look at it. We just look and see what God does and that’s all.
I went to the World’s Fair in Chicago; and while I was there I went to the planetarium and looked on the inside of that planetarium, and they had all the stars and the heavens up there – little specks of light, you know. And they changed them, and they showed us how the heavens were at this season of the year, and how at that season of the year, and how that far it was here, and how far it was there. But all you can do, all any astronomer can do, is just look at the firmament to see what God has done. There’s not any astronomer that can explain to you how that was done and how those stars got there and who made them and where they came from. And man, you’ve got one of two alternatives: either this matter in this universe – these stars and this firmament and this earth – matter is eternal or God is eternal; one or the other, one or the other. Either it came here of itself and made itself and produced you, or God made it. It’s one or the other; you can take your choice. The only thing for me is I never saw matter make anything at all, did you? Did you ever see a rock make anything? Did you ever see a rock produce life? Did you ever see anything born of life out of something dead and inanimate? That’s God’s work, and all we do is just look at it and marvel at it.
I studied botany when I was in school – botany; and we took a microscope and looked at a little leaf. That little leaf, made up out of cells, and on the inside of those cells is protoplasm. And on the inside of those little protoplasmic cells were little "chlorophyll" bodies; chlorophyll, green-colored bodies – chlorophyll, green colored. That’s what makes the earth green. And the little chlorophyll bodies were going around and around and around and around, and they were making tree plant sugar; "glucose" you call it. They were making sugar. Sometimes when it goes into the roots of a tree, it’ll turn into starch like in a potato, and all of our life is dependent upon them little chlorophyll bodies. And when you watch them work, they just go around and around and around and around, and they take energy out of the sunlight; photosynthesis. They take energy out of the sunlight and they take a little molecule, and they store that energy in a little molecule – those little green chlorophyll molecules that go around and around and around. What makes them go around and around and around? Nobody knows. God does that. He makes them go around and around and around and around and puts energy in them; and you eat them, and that’s the way you live. No man explains that. You just look at it; that’s all. You just watch it.
When I was in school, I took several pre-med courses. I ran down a cat and killed him, and skinned him, and put him in a barrel of formaldehyde. That was the cat course. And I started at the tip of his nose and went clear down to the end of his tail, and I dissected that cat. And I drew all of its parts and all of his organs: its arterial system, and its venous system, and all of its works, and all of its organs all the way through.
But there’s nobody in the earth that can tell you why his tail grows there and his ears grow there and his eyes grow there. Nobody can. Why don’t his eyes grow on the end of his tail? Why don’t they? Nobody knows. Nobody knows. That’s God! That’s the Lord; that’s God.
Now, God not only has a material, nuclear, molecular world – not only has that kind of a world – and He not only has an animated world – a world of life, physical life, animal life. He not only has that; He has another world. He has a spiritual world. And the same Lord God that makes and governs the stars in their courses and the development of life that you see, the same Lord God has great sovereign decrees that He pronounces in our spiritual world; and here is one of them in this chapter tonight. That’s the reason I’m preaching about it tonight. We run across it again in the Bible. And I say, "I’m not going to explain anything to you tonight." I can’t. All I can do is just say, "There’s the star, and it shines; and it’s a glorious sight, and God made it. There it is. Just look and worship." That’s all I’m going to do tonight. I can’t explain these things to you. We just going to look at them.
The Lord God made a decree in His sovereign will. He said, "My chief apostle must preach before Caesar in Rome." God made a decree: "My Apostle Paul shall go to Rome and preach the gospel in the city of Rome" [Acts 27:23-24]. And that decree was repeated. And what do we read? The Lord God made that decree and everything under high heaven, everything under the shining sun, everything in the blackness of night arose up to defy, and to defeat, and to deflect, and to deter, and to delay, and to deny that decree. Everything did. And upon one of those occasions, there were two hundred seventy-five souls along with Paul and all of them faced certain and inevitable death [Acts 27:20, 37]. And the Lord God said to Paul, "Paul, you’re going to be saved. You’re going to be safe; and not only you, but I have given the rest of those two hundred seventy-five souls. I have given them to you also" [Acts 27:23-24]. And the Lord God told Paul, "You’re going to lose the ship. The ship’s going to sink" [Acts 27:22].
And the Lord God told Paul, "You’re going to be cast upon a certain island, but there’s not a hair of any man’s head that’s going to fail, or to fall, or to perish. Every man will escape" [Acts 27:24, 26, 34]. God said so [Acts 27:25]. All of that zig-zagging of the ship – went this way, and that way, and that way, and that way – that didn’t defeat the purposes of God. God said, "They’ll all be saved" and that Paul would stand before Caesar in Rome. When the wind blew fiercely, and it beat on that ship, and they even cast out the tackling of the ship, and downed the rudders, and let her ride – let her drive before the tempestuous storm – that didn’t matter [Acts 27:14-19, 38-40]. Whether that ship was driven to Adramyttium, whether it was driven beyond the Gates of Hercules, whether it was driven back up into the Euxine Black Sea, that didn’t matter. God said, "They’ll all be saved," and that Paul was to preach in Rome; and there’s not anything that can defy, or deflect, or decry, or delay that decree. It’s going to happen. God said so; Lord said so.
Now, every kind of death here seemed to fall upon Paul. There was the death here of drowning in that awful storm [Acts 27:20]. There was the death here threatened by the sailors: "Except these men stay in the ship to guide it as it shift on the ground, we’ll all perish!" [Acts 27:30-32] There was death here threatened by the soldiers. The soldiers said to the centurion, "We must slay all of these prisoners lest they escape!" [Acts 27:42] And finally in this next chapter that we’ll come to next Sunday, there was a snake that fastened on Paul’s hand, a poisonous snake; and when the people saw it they said, "He will immediately convulse, swell and die." He didn’t convulse. He didn’t swell up. He didn’t die [Acts 28:3-6]. Why? God said, "He’s to preach My name before Caesar." And there’s not anything that can happen to change the decree of Almighty God.
Look at Paul: he’s just as serene as he can be there in the midst of that awful storm, fourteen days and fourteen nights – no light at night, no light in the day, no sun, no star – just as serene as he can be, stands there in the midst of those wretches all of whom think they are inevitably, certainly to die [Acts 27:20, 27]. Paul stands there and he says, "I pray you eat. Eat! Eat! This is for your strength. You’ll need it. Eat for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you" [Acts 27:33-34]. And he took bread and he thanked God and he gave to them all; and they all were persuaded by the great optimism of the preacher in a vessel that was certainly going down in a storm incomparable [Acts 27:35-36]. Usually those tempests are brief in the Mediterranean. This thing lasted, terribly, for two solid weeks [Acts 27:33]. Now in the midst of it is this preacher of God, unperturbed, undisturbed with a smile on his face, with a hope in his heart, with an assurance from heaven. "Come," he says, "Break bread with me." And he gave thanks to God – serene, undisturbed – there in the midst of the howling wind and the fierce tempestuous seas [Acts 27:33-35].
That’s the reason God writes over here in this Book all about the future of the church and the future of His people. I tried to preach to you this morning that this sea of life, this ocean upon which we sail, will never be altogether placid and mirror-like. It’s going to be tempestuous. It’s going to be terrible. We’ve had our Tamerlanes and our Genghis Khans; and we’ve had our terrible Hitlers, and our unspeakable Tojos and Mussolinis. And we’ll have them again. There are coming, God’s Book says, fierce adversaries, false prophets, and false beasts, and false teachers, and false leaders, and false teachers, preachers [Matthew 7:14; 24:4-5,11, 24; Mark 13:6, 22; 2 Timothy 3:13; 4:3-4; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1; Revelation 16:13-14]. And God says that the end of this world is going to be in a flame of fire – Armageddon lies ahead, tribulation lies ahead, the days of "Jacob’s Trouble" lies ahead – terrible things lie ahead [Revelation 16:14-16; Matthew 24:21, 29; Mark 13:24; Revelation 7:14; Jeremiah 30:7]. But God says, "Don’t you be disturbed, don’t let it come to mind, don’t you tremble because the Rock on which you stand will never move. You, His people and His church, are coming out triumphant. [Matthew 24:6; Mark 13:7; John 14:27; 16:33; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:9-11; Revelation 17:14; 20-22]." Whether the sun shines or not, whether the stars appear or not, God says we shall have an ultimate victory. That is foreordained and predetermined and predestinated. God says it. And, like Paul in the midst of a world of conflict, and tension, and darkness, we’re to lift up our voices and sing [Acts 16:20-34]. We’re to praise God; the victory is ours [Romans 8:35-39; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58].
Now I want us to look again at this predetermined, foreordained decree of Almighty God. "Paul, the boat is going down and you’re going to be cast on a certain island, but not a single life is going to be lost" [Acts 27:22-26, 34]. God said so: the foreordination of God, the decree of Almighty God.
Now I want us to look at the human response to a sovereign decree of Almighty God. You look at these. They were saved in the most commonplace sort of way that you could imagine; and they labored, and they toiled, and they worked as though there was no such thing as a decree from Almighty God. Like here in this Book. It says when they got to land, some of them swam [Acts 27:43]. And brother, to swim in an ocean – those swells and breakers; if you’ve ever tried it, to swim in an ocean is a hard job anyway. Think of swimming in an ocean when there’s a terrible driving wind and the mountainous waves are pounding against the sea – take all the strength and energy that a man could command. The Lord decreed they were going to be saved; but they swam with all their hearts and all the strength of their bodies, those that could swim. And those that couldn’t swim, some of them got a piece of the mast, and some of them got a great, big timber, and some of them got a plank – anything that they could find that was loose as the ship began to break up [Acts 27:44]. They got everything they could. They hung on to it, and they did all in their might to get to the shore. Even though Paul had said, "Every last one of you is going to be saved," yet they toiled, and they labored, as though there were no such a thing as a decree, a sovereign decree, from Almighty God. When Paul made that announcement, why, they did everything that the skill of the sailors could command. They sounded after Paul said that – took the sound – and then they hoisted the mainsail, and they unloosed the rudders [Acts 27:27-29, 38, 40]. And those sailors did all of the things that only a seafaring man would know to do in order to guide the ship even though God said, "You are certainly going to be saved."
Now that, I think, is an ultimate answer for our hearts and our lives about the sovereign, foreordaining, predestinating decrees of Almighty God. He does it, and He runs it, and He chooses, and He elects, and He guides, and He says certain things, and they inevitably come to pass just like it’s written here in the Book. And yet, and yet, with us down here in this world, there’s no violation of our moral integrity, or our free choice, or the sovereignty of our own lives. The two go together. The great decree of Almighty God leaves me absolutely and perfectly free. I am not bound; I am at liberty. The decree of God has in it my own free choice, and the two are not antagonistic. They go together in the will of God.
Way back yonder in , one of our Baptist associations wrote a confession of faith, and this is it:
God has decreed in Himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever come to pass . . .
Brother, that’s the old-time doctrine: God has decreed in Himself from all eternity whatever comes to pass. That’s what those old-time Baptists wrote. Yet, now look at the second part of that long sentence:
Yet God has decreed from all eternity everything that comes to pass, yet so as thereby, neither is God the author of sin nor has any fellowship therein.
Nor is violence offered to the will of the creature,
Nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away.
But rather established.
[The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689]
That contingency of second causes means this: even though God made the decree that you shall certainly be saved, yet Paul says when those sailors started to get in the boat and escape from the ship, Paul says, "Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved" [Acts 27:30-31]. Now how do you reconcile both of those? Right up here Paul says, "There is not a hair of your head that will perish, every one of you’ll be saved" [Acts 27:34]. And then right here Paul says, when those sailors started to get in the boat and flee the ship and leave it to the ignorance and inexperience of men who knew nothing about a boat, Paul said, "Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved." That’s what these old-time Baptists were saying: God has decreed it Himself from all eternity everything that comes to pass, yet He has done it giving us liberty and the contingency of second causes. That is our working to make a thing come to pass is not taken away but rather established.
Good night alive! I’m over my head! Let’s get in the water real deep now, while we’re in it, way down deep – no need wading out here just a foot. Brother, this water is unfathomable so let’s go on out. Let’s go on out. You are elected. You are elected from before the foundation of the world in Christ [Ephesians 1:4-6]. You are. I didn’t say that. Brother, if I had said that, that wouldn’t amount to anything. I told you we were just going to look at this mountain, that’s all. I can’t explain this thing to you. All I do is just look at it. It’s in the Book, "According as He hath chosen you in Christ, before the foundation of the world," Now, you look again, "having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ," You, you are elected in Jesus, chosen from before the world was made, "And you are predestinated unto adoption of the children of Jesus Christ," Ephesians 1:4-5. And that’s just one passage; you can multiply them endlessly.
You – before the world was made your name was written in the Book of Life [Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; Philippians 4:13; Revelation 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12, 15; 21:27, 22:19]. Before the foundation of the world, you were chosen. You were chosen. And yet, and yet, God also says, "Except ye repent, ye shall in no wise be saved." [Luke 13:3] And God says, "Except ye are born again, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God." [John 3:5] There, God says you are elected from eternity, and then He turns around and says to you, "Brother, you’ve got to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ or you can’t be saved." And there they are side by side. Just look at it. Just look at it. Just look at it.
Well, let’s take another one here while we’re at it. The death of the Lord Jesus was foretold – prophesied minutely – a thousand years before Jesus came into the world [Psalm 22; Isaiah 53]. A thousand years! God said, "It’ll be this way. It’ll be this way." God delineated minutely. If I had another hour here tonight, we’d just follow the minutia that entereth into the description of the crucifixion and death of Jesus a thousand years before Jesus died; and it came to pass just like God said, just like God decreed [Matthew 26-27; Mark 14:17-15:47; Luke 22:37-23:56; John 18:1-19:42]. That’s the sovereign purpose of Almighty God.
Now, when Jesus died, were those who killed Him not responsible because God said it’s going to be that way? You look here and see what Simon Peter says. In Acts 2:23, "Him," Jesus, "being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." He was crucified by the counsel determined before the foundation – He was "the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world" [Revelation 13:8].
"Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands ye have slain" [Acts 2:23]. God said it was going to be that way, and the men who did it on their hands was the blood of a murderer. And there is both of them: God decreed it, and the men who did it were responsible for His death.
May I choose one other passage of a like? Listen to this. In the fourth [chapter] of Acts, in the twenty-seventh verse:
For of a truth against Thy Holy Child Jesus, whom Thou hast anointed,
both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done.
They were doing exactly what God said they were going to do. They were going to take His Son, and they were going to drive nails through His hands and His feet, and pierce His side, and spill out His blood on the ground. God said they were going to do that a thousand years before they did it. And they did whatsoever God, by His counsel, determined before that they were to do. And Jesus died just like the Lord said a thousand years before.
Well, one more wading into the deep: in the tenth chapter of the Book of John, twenty-seventh and following verses:
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone pluck them out of My hand.
My Father, who gave them Me, is greater than all;
– anything in the earth –
and no one is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hands. I and my Father are one.
If a man who has trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been born again, if there is one man that fails of heaven, God is lying! The eternal purposes of God have failed and fallen to the ground if one of the Lord’s chosen doesn’t make the shore in the storm and the sea of this life.
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall
anyone pluck them out of My hand.
My Father, who gave them Me is greater than all;
and no thing is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hands.
Held in the hand of God and yet, in that same book in the tenth chapter, I mean, in this same Bible, in the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, it says if any soul draw back, "if any man draw back, God will have no pleasure in him" [Hebrews 10:38]. And in the tenth chapter of the Book of Matthew it says, "And he that endureth to the end shall be saved" [Matthew 24:13]. And there they are again side by side.
My simple explanation of that is this as I look at that side of the mountain: a man that is really saved – he may fall, he may get in the mud, he may apostatize, but he’s like a sheep and not like a hog. He’ll get up. He’ll come back. He’ll love the Lord. He’ll return. The truly saved are those who will always come back even though they go away. But they’re there – God’s elected purposes. And the great appeal to the soul: that we toil and labor that we might be acceptable unto Him [Philippians 2:12-13].
Have I been preaching that long? I just got started. That was my introduction! Bless your heart. Nobody is leaving?
By way of summary as we go back to our blessed chapter, God said and the decree was made, "Paul, don’t you be afraid. You’re going to Rome. And Paul, don’t you be afraid for these two hundred seventy-five souls with you. Every one of you is going to be saved. Every one of you" [Acts 27:23-24, 37]. And yet they toiled, and they worked, and they tried, and they swam, and they clung to pieces of debris; and exhausted, and drained, and wet, and cold, and shivering, they all finally made the shore, and not a one of them was lost according to the decree of God [Acts 27:27-29, 38-44].
So with us: the elect are the "whosoever wills" and the non-elect are the "whosoever won’ts;" one or the other, one or the other. That’s the only way I know to tell – God’s sovereign grace up above. All I do is look at it and thank God that He chose me. O Lord, thank God He put my name. Thank God He didn’t overlook and forget me. Thank God for you. But I just look at that. I don’t understand. Why did He call me? Thousand, thousand men – why did He call me? I don’t know. I don’t know. Thank God that He did. Thank God that He did. But down here, all I know is His elect are the "those that will," and His non-elect are "those who won’t."
All I know down here is that Paul plants and Apollos waters [1 Corinthians 3:6-7]. And if Paul doesn’t plant, and if Apollos doesn’t water, God can’t give the increase. That’s all I know down here. In His great sovereign purposes, His will is being worked out in your life and in the history of the world. But all I know is, if I don’t try, and if I don’t work, there’s not any increase, not any increase. And in the sovereign purposes of God, that’s included – that my will is given to Him, that the energies of my life are dedicated that this church works for Christ.
And the whole summary of it: when they came to the shore, drenched and shivering and wet, every one of them saved [Acts 27:44]. Each one had a story to tell to the natives – how it happened and how he got there. One of them swam; he just barely made it. One of them clung to a big piece of timber; and he barely made it. "Judgment must begin at the house of God; and if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" [1 Peter 4:17] Barely made it, but they all got there; barely made it, saved by the skin of their teeth.
And I think when we get to glory, when we stand before the White Throne in the other world, I think each one of us is going to have a story to tell [Revelation 20:11-12]. Each one of us is going to have a wonderful thing to relate: how it was with you, and how you came out, and how you tried, and how you worked, and how you cried, and how you prayed, and how you strove, and how you gave everything you had even though God says, "You’ve been elected from before the foundation of the world" [Ephesians 1:4-5]. Up there in His book, the Lord chooses and writes our names [Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; Philippians 4:13; Revelation 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12, 15; 21:27, 22:19], but down here we work, and pray, and do our best to make it to the shore [Philippians 2:12-13].
Well, as the Lord shall have His will in our lives, may He use me, us, you to glorify the great elective purpose by which He preached to us the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. Chose us in Jesus – may we not fail of that choice; and that’s our appeal as we sing tonight. Anywhere, everywhere, somebody you, give your heart to the Lord; that’s in His will. Come down this aisle by my side; that’s in His will. Stand up here before this congregation, confessing the Lord Jesus as the Savior; that’s in His will. To be baptized and belong to His church; that’s in His will. To put your life with us in this ministry if you’ve already been saved and belong to a church; if that’s in His will, would you come and stand by me? In the balcony around from side to side, while we make appeal tonight, would you come? Would you come while we stand and while we sing?