The Elective Purposes of God
November 11th, 1956 @ 7:30 PM
THE ELECTIVE PURPOSES OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-11-56 7:30 p.m.
Now let us turn to the first chapter of the Book of Ephesians, and we’ll read the first twelve verses – the first twelve verses of the Book of Ephesians. And in our preaching through this book, we’ve come to the fourth verse, and the text will be the fourth verse and the fifth verse, then the same thing repeated in the eleventh verse. Going to preach tonight about The Elective Purposes of God – about predestination, about foreordination – one of the most difficult subjects that we could ever face. But it’s in the Bible, and if we preach the whole Bible – the whole counsels of God – that’s a vital part of it; and that the Holy Spirit will help us, it can be meaningful to us.
All right let’s read together then Ephesians – let’s just start at the first verse even though I’ve preached through the third verse. Let’s start at the first one then read through the twelfth. All right:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,
According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,
To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.
In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace
Wherein He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence,
Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself,
That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth–even in Him.
In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will,
That we should be to the praise of His glory who first trusted in Christ.
And these texts:
In the fourth verse: “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world” [Ephesians 1:4].
The fifth verse: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will” [Ephesians 1:5].
The ninth verse: “Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, which He hath purposed in Himself” [Ephesians 1:9].
The eleventh verse: “The purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” [Ephesians 1:11].
In the third chapter and the eleventh verse, same kind of a thought: “According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” [Ephesians 3:11].
That thing is in the Bible. It’s all through the Bible. It isn’t just here in these texts. We have just met it once again.
Now your greatest theologians, your finest scholars, have wrestled with this problem of the sovereignty of God, the elective purposes of God, the choices, the foreordination of God; and yet to us, we are perfectly, morally unbound and free.
Spurgeon one time said they are two lines, the sovereignty of God and the free moral agency of man [“A Defense of Calvinism,” C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)], and he added, “I cannot make them meet, but you cannot make them cross.”
John A. Broadus one time said a man looking at a house can only see half of it at a time; two sides of it at a time. If he looks at this side, then he can’t see the other side. If he goes around and sees that side, he can’t see this one. But if a man’s in the air – and he wrote it before there was an airplane; he said as though you rose in a balloon – if a man is in the air and looks down, he can see all four sides of the house at the same time. So, Broadus said, our own minds being finite, we can think of sovereignty or we can think of free moral agency, but our finite minds cannot think of both of them at the same time [Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, J. A. Broadus, p.450].
Edgar Young Mullins [1860-1928] said that the philosophical problem of the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man has been discussed since the beginning of time, but no philosopher in the days past, in the present, or ever in days to come shall be able to reconcile them. To man’s mind, they are irreconcilable how God can be sovereign and elective in His purposes – His choices are unfailing, He carries them out – and how we can be perfectly free: our own wills unbound, no man can enter into. It is a mystery of God. But one thing: even though the facts are irreconcilable to us, they are no less true. They are no less real. They are no less facts for the sovereignty of God and the elective purposes of God are seen in Scripture, in revelation, in history, and in experience.
In your books of theology, they will refer to the elections of God, the choices of God, by the term “decrees” – the decrees of God. Let’s use the word “plan” – the plan of God. I think it’d mean more to us to speak of it with that word. So tonight we shall talk of the elective purposes of God in God’s plan.
Now anyone who has a great work to do ought to have a great plan by which to do it; and the greater the work, the greater the plan; and certainly, the finer the artist, the finer the workman, the finer the plan. So we would expect of God: the greatness of God, the wisdom of God, we would naturally think that God would have for us the greatest plan, the best of all plans.
When Saint Paul’s church was built in London, Sir Christopher Wren [1632-1723], the architect, had the entire church in his mind, in the plan, before a single stone was cut or laid. When Michelangelo [1475-1564] sculptured the wonderful piece called Moses [1513-1515] that all of us have seen, Michelangelo’s Moses, he saw that sculptured piece in the rough rock. Before a chisel had touched the stone, it was in his mind, and he could see it in the rock. Before Rafael [1483-1520] touched the colors in painting the Sistine Madonna , he saw that beautiful and elegant picture in his mind.
The soul of the architect is in the plan. The soul of the artist is in the picture. And the Spirit of God is in the world that He made: in the light, in the creation, in history, in time, in the great purposes by which He brings to pass that plan – that elective decree – by which God hath founded and made our world.
Now there is a philosophical term used in Greek literature that the apostle John used to describe the coming of Christ – the elective purposes of God that were consummated in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Philo [25-50 BCE], the incomparable Hebrew philosopher who lived in Alexandria who was a contemporary of Jesus – lived at the same time the Lord lived – Philo, a tremendous philosopher and a gigantic intellectual mind, Philo used the Greek word logos. And in his philosophy in making the Old Testament teach Greek philosophy and Greek philosophy to teach the great principles of the Old Testament, Philo used that word logos, and he used it like this. He made it refer to the active God, the reason God, the mind God, the plan God, the God that works in the universe.
You know, you could have a god like the Stoics and like the Epicureans. You could have a god that, if he is a god, it is practical atheism: he’s out there somewhere; he is unconcerned with the universe. Ah, the Stoic philosopher and the Epicurean might say, “Well, there might be a god, but he’s out there and is unconcerned about man or the world that he made. He just set it in motion, and it goes on of itself.”
Now you could believe that. That’s a philosophical position held by many of the great teachers of ancient times. But Philo said – the great philosopher of the Hebrew said – that God was interested in this world. And he called that active God – the God that intervenes, the God that works, the God whose mind is seen in all of history – he called that God Logos, the Logos.
Now to your amazement, when you pick up the Bible and start reading the first chapter of the Gospel of John, you’ll find that same philosophical term used in the same philosophical way:
In the beginning was the Logos
– the active God –
and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.
Now all of that means that this whole thing that you see is not in the hands of a God without purpose, or without care, or without concern, but that everything you see lies in the hands of a God who has thought, who has planned, who has reasoned, and who is working out in time and in history His great elective decrees.
Now may I say something about the elective purposes of God – that they are incapable of frustration or of ultimate annihilation? They are certainly carried through, and time and tide cannot dissuade and cannot change, but the purposes of God are certain and sure [Job 42:2; Isaiah 14:27, 43:13; Acts 2:23]. He carries them through.
For example, time and age do not deter the elective choices of God. The Lord said to Abraham, “Thou shalt have a son, and thy seed, this son, shall inherit this land and to him will I give the promises” [Genesis 12:2, 7; 13:15-16].
And Abraham was young and vigorous when God made that promise [Genesis 12:4; 25:7], and his wife was young and beautiful when God made that promise [Genesis 12:11-15]. And the days passed, and the days passed, and finally Abraham said to God, “Lord, I have no child and no heir, and this Eleazar, this Eleazar, he’s the heir. He’s the steward in my house, and I have no seed” [Genesis 15:2-3]. And God said to Abraham, “I am thy surety, and thy promise, and thy strength, and thy seed, and thy strength, and thy exceedingly great reward” [Genesis 15:1, 4-5, 7-11, 17-18; Hebrews 6:13]. And Abraham believed God, and his faith was counted for righteousness [Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:20-22; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23].
And the days passed, and the years multiplied, and finally, due to a ruse, Ishmael was born [Genesis 16:1-4; 7-11, 15]. And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might be that seed” [Genesis 17:16-18]. And God said, “Nay, but thy seed that shall inherit the land, that shall receive the promises shall come of thy loins and of Sarah thy wife” [Genesis 17:19, 21].
And the years passed, and Abraham was a hundred years old and Sarah was ninety years old [Genesis 17:17], and when the angel came to announce the birth of the child, Sarah laughed [Genesis 18:10-13, 15]. Sarah laughed. Why, the unheard of impossible thing! And when she laughed, the angel said to her, “Is anything too hard for God?” [Genesis 18:14]. Anything? Anything? God said, “Out of thy loins,” [Genesis 15:4] and God did it! [Genesis 21:1-7] And age and time concern God not at all. His elective purposes carry sure.
Another thing about it: what a man can do and what men are able to do to frustrate do not enter. God carries through His great decrees. It was the purpose of Pharaoh to slay all of the children of Egypt and to keep Israel in bondage as slaves [Exodus 1:8-22], but five hundred years before that pharaoh was born, in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, God had said to Abraham, “And after they have been in Egypt four hundred years, I will carry them out and deliver them and give them this land” [Genesis 15:13-14]. Pharaoh thought – he thought to keep them oppressed and in slavery, but God had said five hundred years before they will rise and be delivered and inherit the land.
Nor does death dissuade, or hurt, or turn, or stop, or destroy the great elective purposes of God. In the second chapter of Hebrews, it says that death is an instrument in the hands of Satan – that Satan has the power of death [Hebrews 2:14]. It’s his fiercest and most vengeful weapon, and how he slays and destroys endlessly even among us: coming into this congregation and cutting down some of our finest men, coming into our homes and destroying and taking away some of our greatest Christian leaders. He comes with his scythe in among us, and he’s done it from the beginning, slaying and destroying [Genesis 3:1-6; John 8:44]. He rose up, and he slew Abel [Genesis 4:1-8]. That was Satan’s work.
And Athaliah, who was the daughter of Jezebel [1 Kings 16:28-31; 2 Kings 8:26], thinking to take to herself all of the kingdom, she thought she had slain all of the seed royal – all of them [2 Kings 11:1; 2 Chronicles 22:10-12]. But God said of the seed of David, shall He come, shall sit on the throne of David forever [2 Samuel 7:12-13; Isaiah 9:7; Luke 1:26-33]. And the high priest had hid away Joash [2 Kings 11:2-12], just a little child of the seed royal [2 Kings 11:2], and escaped the hands of Athaliah. The purposes of God.
And Satan thought, when he destroyed Jesus on the cross and saw Him die, Satan thought that here was the final triumph of the kingdom of death and of darkness. And when He was laid in the tomb and sealed with a Roman seal [Matthew 27:65-66], Satan thought that the triumph of his kingdom, satanic and tyrannical, had forever come. But out of it, the great redemptive purposes of God.
And that leads me to two tremendous conclusions, and the first is this: God is [Hebrews 11:6], and God reigns [Psalm 47:8; Isaiah 52:7; Revelation 19:6], and God is King [John 18:37; 1 Timothy 1:17; Revelation 15:3, 17:14], and God is sovereign [Job 38:3-13; Acts 17:26; 1 Timothy 6:15]. At the foot of every page of the history of mankind, in the annals of all the stories of all the nations in the world, you can write down there at a little footnote, “God reigns. God is supreme forever and ever, and His purposes faileth never.”
Unbelief and infidelity may look at the enemy’s counter avails, but faith looks at the unchanging will and purposes of God [Hebrews 11:6]. Unbelief and infidelity may look at the shifting, changing sands of human thought and life, but faith looks at God’s immovable, unchanging Word [Matthew 14:28-31, 16:8-10; Mark 4:37-40]. “Forever, O God, Thy word is fixed in heaven” [Psalm 119:89].
The brethren of Joseph may sell the boy to the Ishmaelites [Genesis 37:23-28], and the Ishmaelites may sell the boy to Potiphar [Genesis 39:1], and Potiphar may put him in the dungeon [Genesis 39:11-20], but God had said that he shall be ruler in the land [Genesis 37:5-10; 41:1, 14-16, 38-40].
Tiglath-Pileser may waste some area [2 Kings 15:29, 16:7-9], and Sennacherib may encompass Judea [2 Kings 18:13; 2 Chronicles 32:1; Isaiah 36:1], and Nebuchadnezzar may come and destroy the cities [2 Kings 24:1-2, 10-16, 25:1; 2 Chronicles 36:6-7], but two hundred years before Nebuchadnezzar was born and three hundred years before Cyrus [2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4] was born [c. 580 BCE], God had said by his prophet Isaiah, “Cyrus, I have called thee by name and I have said, ‘Jerusalem shall be rebuilt and the foundations of the temple laid” [from Isaiah 44:28, 45:1-7].
Judas may sell the Savior for thirty pieces of silver [Matthew 26:14-16] and deliver Him into the hands of the high priest [Matthew 26:47-50], and the high priest may deliver him to Pontius Pilate [Matthew 27:1-2; Mark 15:1; Luke 23:1; John 18:28-29], and Pontius Pilate may condemn him and deliver him to the soldiers [Matthew 27:24-26; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:20-24; John 19:13-16], and the soldiers may crucify and put Him to death [Matthew 27:5; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:33; John 19:23], and tender hands of loving disciples may wrap Him in a winding sheet and place Him in a tomb [Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42], but one thousand years before that great and tragic day, God had said, “It is impossible for My Holy One to see corruption” [Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27, 13:35], and God raised Him from the dead [Acts 2:24, 13:29-30].
The elective purposes of God never fail, and those purposes are in our lives. They’re in our times. God chooses. God elects. God sees. God has a plan. God’s decrees reach down to us. We live in the will of God we who are chosen in Him before the foundation of the world [Ephesians 1:4], we who are predestinated unto the adoption of children [Ephesians 1:5]. We who are in the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His will [Ephesians 1:11], our lives are in His hands [Psalm 31:15], and our destinies belong to Him [Psalm 139:16], and God rules triumphant and supreme – King forever [Luke 1:33; 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 1:8]. What a persuasion. What a revelation. What a great, unending comfort. What a vast, immovable, unfathomable foundation upon which a man can build his life and his hope [Romans 9:33, 10:11] and all of the destinies of the future, on God’s unchanging plan [Malachi 3:6; Romans 11:29; Hebrews 7:21].
We live in a tragic day and a tragic hour and just any time you expect any kind of a screaming headline across the papers. And it seems as if the righteous never prevail and darkness is triumphant forever. It’s always seemed that way. It’s never been different any yesterday nor is it any different today [Ecclesiastes 1:8-9].
Three hundred and some odd years ago in the midst of the most powerful empire, as powerful as the world had ever seen, there was a little band of Christian people in Holland who had founded a little republic. And the Armada [Spanish Armada], the king [Phillip II of Spain, 1527-1598], and the empire swept to destroy them from the face of the earth. It was a little band of Christian people, and they had a prince at their head, and his name was William, the Prince of Orange [1533-1584].
When I was in Ireland last year, they were celebrating the great victories of the Prince of Orange, William. When it seemed as if all hope was gone and the battle lost, one of his generals sent word to him and said, “Sir, have you made ally with any foreign power to help us?” And William, the Prince of Orange, sent word back to his general, saying, “Before I accepted the leadership of this band of God’s people, I made an ally. I made an alliance with the King of Kings, and the victory is sure, and it’s certainly ours.” Isn’t that wonderful? Enemies around us, like the servant of Elisha, “Sir what shall we do, surrounded on every hand?” [2 Kings 6:15]
And Elisha, unperturbed, prayed, “Lord, open the eyes of the young man.” And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and the mountains were filled with chariots of fire round about Elisha [2 Kings 6:17.] We don’t lose. We can’t. It’s in the great elective purposes of God. The Lord reigns! He’s King forever.
When I walked around Robert College Campus in Istanbul, there came back to my heart that tragic and awful hour when William Goodale, a great Christian American missionary over there in Turkey, came to the home of Cyrus Hamlin [1811-1900], the first president of Robert College, our Christian institution in Istanbul. And Goodale said to Hamlin, “President Hamlin, we have to leave. We have to give it up. I have been to see the American consul. I’ve been to see the British ambassador, and the Sultan of Turkey has said every Christian must leave the empire; and the consul of America and the ambassador of Britain says and it will do no good but yet only to antagonize the fanatical sultan, and we have to leave.”
And the president of the Christian school said to his friend, the missionary William Goodale, he said, “The Sultan of the skies, the Sultan of heaven, is mightier than the Sultan of Turkey! Let’s take it to God in prayer.” And the two men knelt down on their knees. The next morning, the Sultan of Turkey wasn’t. He’d died, and the decree was never executed, never implemented. God in heaven overruled. And all things are in His hands – all things: He who chooses before the foundation of the world [Ephesians 1:4], He who predestinates us according to His eternal purpose wherein He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will [Ephesians 1:11].
And so much of our lives are plunged into things that we cannot understand and we do not know and we cannot explain.
But God moves in mysterious ways
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps on the seas
And rides upon the storms.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Unbelief and infidelity scan His works in vain;
But God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
[“God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” by William Cowper, 1774]
Our part in God’s hands is to accept in faith, in humble belief, His elective purposes for us. We who are chosen in Him before the foundation of the world [Ephesians 1:4], He knew you’d be here tonight, and He knew this passage of Scripture would be our text tonight, and He knew we’d make an appeal for you tonight, and He knew your choice in Him tonight.
Ah, would you make it known? Would you? “Pastor, God hath called me.” I can’t do it – such puny hands, such feeble work – but God can. He to whom you can carry all of the years and destiny of your life, and He can answer, and He can see you through. Make it known tonight. “Here I come, Pastor, and here I am. The Lord hath called me, and in faith, I yield to Him all the destiny of my life.” Would you? “As my Savior and as my Lord, I accept Him tonight, the King of my life, my Lord and my God.” Would you tonight? Or into the fellowship of His church, “Here I come, Pastor, and here’s my family,” or one somebody you, a child feeling in his heart the call of God. God has to call. I cannot. It has to come from the soul. The Lord must speak. If He does, would you make it known? “I feel in my heart God’s call, and here I am, Pastor. My hand I give to you. My heart I give to God.”
As the Lord shall make appeal, as the Spirit shall press, as God shall open the door, would you enter in taking Him as your Savior or coming into the fellowship of His church? While we sing this song, would you answer now while all of us stand and all of us sing?”