The Doctrine of Predestination
October 12th, 1969 @ 10:50 AM
THE DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-12-69 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television—and I suspect that today we have at least one hundred fifty thousand people watching this service on television all across the northern tier of the great state of Texas. And if you will listen with your heart as well as with your mind, you will be blessed today in the message from God’s Word. It is entitled The Doctrine of Predestination, the doctrine of God’s sovereign election. And this is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering God’s Word.
Every Sunday evening, I preach from the life of our Lord. And these Sunday mornings, I am preaching from the book of Paul’s letter to Ephesus, the Book of Ephesians. And I shall read the first part of verse 4, “According as God hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world” [Ephesians 1:4]. Then verse 5, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ… according to the good pleasure of His will” [Ephesians 1:5]. And the last part of verse 11, “Being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” [Ephesians 1:11]. If I turn the page to chapter 3 and verse 11, I read, “According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” [Ephesians 3:11].
We have a tendency to back away from that word “predestination”; to hesitate before that word “election.” But not so God, and not so the Word of the Lord. It is a word much used. It is a revelation much employed, and it is a truth of God foundational on which this earth stands. And the kingdom of God shall abide forever. All of us are introduced to this teaching, though sometimes we do not recognize it., and, as I say, we have a tendency to back away from it. But we are all conscious of it. It is a part of our everyday life. Not that we can explain it. We cannot explain anything. All we can do is observe. We can see. We can describe. We cannot explain. The great mysteries of life are to us inexplicable and unfathomable!
Now, we are conscious in our lives of freedom of choice. I can put my hand up, or I can choose and I can put it down. Or I can place my hand there. Or if I choose, I can put my hand there. We are conscious of freedom of choice. But at the same time, we are also no less conscious that there are choices in which our lives are inextricably involved that are over and above and beyond us. Why was I not born a hundred years ago? Why am I not a Hottentot? Who chose the color of my eyes? My whole life is bound up and enmeshed with a plan and a purpose and a choice into which I do not enter at all. It is above me.
Now, freedom of choice belongs to the moral accountability of a man. I am morally responsible. But there is also a sovereignty in this world above my life, above history, and above all of the story of creation and mankind. Those two things, the sovereignty of God and the free moral agency of man, are two lines that we cannot reconcile. We just observe them. Charles Haddon Spurgeon said of them, that, “Those two lines, I cannot make them meet; but you cannot make them cross.” John A. Broadus said, “To look at the sovereignty of God and the free moral agency of man is like a man looking at a house. He can never see more than half of it at a time.” I can stand and see those two corners, but I cannot see the other two. I can walk around the house and see those two sides, but these two are, therein, hidden from me. I cannot see all four sides of that house at the same time, but somebody above me could look down upon that house and see all four sides at once. So it is with us, we cannot see but ultimately one half of a house at a time. But the great Maker who presides above us can see all of it at once.
The great philosopher—theologian Edgar Young Mullins said that the problems of the freedom of man and the sovereignty of God have been problems that philosophers have wrestled with from the beginning of intelligence, but no philosopher yet has ever arisen who can reconcile them. It is a mystery into which we cannot enter. Like everything else that God does, it’s a mystery we cannot explain. But we can observe it and we know it and we see it, and this is the great foundational fact in human life and in human history; namely, that God is, and that God rules, and that God is sovereign.
Now it is a part of the perfection of God that He should have a purpose and a plan. The more the magnitude of the project, the more the necessity that there be a plan to be followed in it. And the more the artist is an artist or an architect is a fine architect, the more he will be sensitive to the necessity and to the use of that purpose and that plan. Have you seen St. Paul’s Cathedral in London? Many of you have. Before a stone was laid in the construction of that great house of God, it existed in the mind of Sir Christopher Wren. And he saw it in his mind, and he purposed it in his plans. Have you seen Moses, the great, large, impressive statue in the church, [St.] Peter in Chains, in Rome? Before he struck a chisel against that vast block of marble, Michelangelo saw it in his mind and purposed it in his hand and in his heart. Have you seen the Sistine Madonna of young Raphael? Before there was a stroke of the brush against the canvas, that gifted, dedicated, young artist saw the whole marvelous picture in his mind. It is thus in the perfection of God. It belongs to God that He have in His heart and mind a great plan and a goal and a purpose that lies back of the great work that He has done and is doing in the universe and in human life.
This revelation of God as one of purpose, of planning, of activity, of expression is found all through the Word. Not just adventitiously or intermittently, but it is woven into the very apocalypse, the very revelation of God, and in ways that many times we do not realize. For example, I open my Bible to the Gospel of John, and I began to read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the same was in the beginning with God” [John 1:1-2]. What is the meaning of that? “In the beginning was the Logos.” That is just the plain Greek word for “word.” “In the beginning was the Logos.” But it had a philosophical connotation that Philo gave it—and other Philonian philosophers like Philo. Philo took that word logos, “word,” and used it in a technical sense to refer to the God of expression, the God of activity, the God who acts, the God who moves, the God who purposes, the God who plans and who does, the God who executes. Now he took that word logos and used it to refer to the expression, the activity of God. And John under inspiration, John the sainted apostle, took that philosophical Greek word and applied it to Jesus. “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was God. And the same was in the beginning with God” [John 1:1-2]. In the beginning, there was purpose, and activity, and planning, and expression in God. And what we see in this universe is the expression, the activity of God. The great plan and purpose of God, this is it. And we are an inextricable part of it.
Now in keeping with that revelation in God’s Book, you will find it all through the Word, as I say. For example, in the fourth chapter of the Book of Galatians, Paul will say, “In the fullness of time, in the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a woman, made under the law” [Galatians 4:4]. “In the fullness of time”—that is, God molded, and directed, and planned, and purposed to that exact moment when—and then John says, “The Word, the Logos, was made flesh” [John 1:14]—when God was manifested in human life and God moved toward that end, and purposed toward that end, and molded and guided the entire civilization towards that one point, “In the fullness of time” [Galatians 4:4], at that plērōma, the exact moment that God chose.
Now all I can do is just observe some of the great movements of God of which that is one. And as you look at what God did through the centuries and the millennia, look at it! When that moment came and the Word was made flesh, there was one language. The entire civilized world spoke Greek. When Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome, even though Latin was the language of the Romans, Paul wrote that letter to the Romans in Greek. There was one universal language. Again, there was one universal empire. And Daniel said there will never be another [Daniel 2:44]. But at that time God moved in human history and there was one universal empire [Daniel 2:40]. There were Roman roads everywhere. There was Roman law everywhere. And there was the Pax Romana, the universal peace, God moving in human history. And again in every city and in every place there was a synagogue. And the law of Moses and the Bible was known and preached. These were the great predecessors and precursors of the evangelists, who on the feet of the apostles and the emissaries and the Christian martyrs, made known the gospel of Jesus around the civilized Mediterranean Sea. And it was prepared by those who had made known the laws of Moses and the prophets of the old covenant before the coming of the evangels of Christ—in the fullness of time [Galatians 4:4]: God working through human history to bring to pass those great divine plans that are in the heart of God.
That is so mentioned so many times; in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Revelation, the Lamb is referred to as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth” [Revelation 13:8]. In the first chapter of 1 Peter, the apostle will refer to the Lord, the Lamb, who was sacrificed and offered for us before the foundation of the earth [1 Peter 1:18-20]. It was in the mind and heart of God before a star was flung into orbit or before this world was created; the purpose and plan of Almighty God. And, a man had as well build bricks to try to stay the floods, or a man had as well try to turn the stars from their courses in their orbits, as for a man to try to interdict the great sovereign will of God. That is predestination! That is election! And that is the foundational truth of Almighty God of human history and of the world in which we live!
Nor, as I say, nor can that purpose or that plan be interdicted—never! Not by age or the passing of time. With God it makes no difference, for yesterday is as today, and the today is as tomorrow, and a thousand years in His sight are but as a watch in the night [Psalm 90:4]. Time and age do not waste away God’s purpose or God’s plan. So the Lord said to Abram when he was a young man and to Sarai when she was a young woman, “Out of your loins shall he be born, the seed who shall be a blessing to all the families of the earth” [Genesis 12:1-3; 15:4]. Well, wouldn’t you have thought as Abram thought? Being young, we shall have a son. And the days passed. And they multiplied in the years and no heir was born. And in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, Abram went before the Lord and said, “Lord, the days are passing and the years are multiplying, and there is no heir in my house but this Eliezer, a servant from Damascus. And Lord, there is no fulfillment of the promise” [Genesis 15:2-3].
And the Lord took Abram out under the chalice of the sky and said, “Count the stars.” And Abram said, “I cannot.” And God said, “Neither will you be able to count the nations and the peoples and the families that shall be born out of the seed, that shall come out of thy loins” [Genesis 15:5]. And the days passed. And the years multiplied, and Sarai lost faith in God and said to Abram, Take Hagar, my maidservant, and have a child by her. And Ishmael was born [Genesis 16:1-4, 158]. And when Ishmael became a boy about twelve years of age, and God renewed His promise [Genesis 17:15-17], Abram bowed before the Lord and said, “O that Ishmael might stand before Thee, that he might be the heir, the seed” [Genesis 17:18]. And God said, “No, out of thy loins and out of the womb of Sarah shall he be born” [Genesis 17:19], as God hath faithfully promised in the years gone by [Genesis 15:4].
And the days multiplied. And the years passed by. And Abraham is a hundred years old, and Sarah is ninety years old [Genesis 17:15-17]. And an Angel messenger came and said, “According to the time of life, she should have a child” [Genesis 18:10]. And Sarah laughed; laughed [Genesis 18:12]. “My lord, a century old? And I dead? I am ninety years old.” And the Angel said, “Sarah, you laughed.” And Sarah said, “My Lord, I did not laugh.” But the Angel messenger said, “I heard you laugh. Is anything too hard for God?” [Genesis 18:13-14] And according to the time of life, God laid in her arms a little boy. And she called him “Laughter,” laughter, because she laughed. She called him Isaac, “Laughter” [Genesis 21:1-7].
Age, time do not waste God’s will, nor does human decree interdict it. When Pharaoh said, “Every male child born into the Hebrews shall be drowned in the river” [Exodus 1:22], he didn’t know it, but five hundred years before he was born, God had revealed to Abram that the children should go through the fiery furnace in the land of Egypt [Genesis 15:13]. Nor does death interdict it. The second chapter of the Book of Hebrews says that Satan has the power of death [Hebrews 2:14]. And from the beginning, he has been seeking to slay the righteous Seed. For God said it would be the Seed of the woman that should bruise and crush his head [Genesis 3:15]. And from the beginning, Satan, who has the power of death [Hebrews 2:14], has sought to destroy that Seed by death. He slew Abel thinking that was the Seed—slew him through Cain [Genesis 4:8]. And he sought through Pharaoh to drown the righteous Seed [Exodus 1:22].
And in the twenty-second chapter of the 2 Chronicles, you have the story of Athaliah, who was the daughter of Jezebel and Ahab. And because God said the Seed shall be born in the line and the lineage of David [2 Samuel 7:16], Satan, moving through Athaliah, Athaliah the queen slew every male child in the family of David. But a nurse hid away, stole away a little baby called Joash, unknown to Athaliah [2 Chronicles 22:10-11].
In the days of the coming of the Prince of Peace in Bethlehem, bloody Herod sought to slay all of the children two years of age and under [Matthew 2:16]. And in the day of the cross, they nailed the Son of God to a tree [John 19:16-18]. And in my mind’s imagination—and it is only in my imagination—in my mind’s imagination, I can see Satan. And I can see every devil and demon and evil spirit in hell as they rejoice they had slain the Son of God! They had done it through Israel’s own hand [Matthew 27:24-50]. But a thousand years before, God, by His servant David, had written that He would not see in that grave corruption [Psalm 16:10], and God raised Him up from the dead for our justification, to declare us righteous—all of us who trust in the atoning grace of the Son of God [Romans 4:25].
There can be no interdiction. There can be no deviation. There can be no destruction in the great purpose and plan of God for His people and for the world in which we live. That is the great, comforting truth in which God’s people are ever to rejoice. Blind unbelief looks at the machinations, looks at the interdictions, looks at the opposition of evil, but faith looks at the infallible faithfulness of Almighty God. Blind unbelief will look at the shifting sands of daily history, but faith looks at the immutable and unchanging Word of God. “For ever, O God, Thy word is fixed in heaven” [Psalm 119:89].
The brothers may sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites [Genesis 37:28], and the Ishmaelites may sell Joseph to Potiphar [Genesis 39:1], and Potiphar may put him in a dungeon [Genesis 39:20], but God says he shall rule the nation! [Genesis 41:41]. Tiglath-pileser may waste Israel [2 Kings 15:29]. And Sennacherib may shut up Judah in a vise [2 Chronicles 32:1]. And Nebuchadnezzar may come and destroy the nation, tear up the city, carry the people into captivity [Daniel 1:1-6]. But a hundred fifty years before Nebuchadnezzar was born and two hundred fifty before Cyrus was born, God said Cyrus—and called him by name—and in his days the walls shall be rebuilt and the temple shall be re-laid [2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4].
Judas may sell the Lord for [thirty] pieces of silver [Matthew 26:14-16]. And the captain to the guard may turn our Lord over to the chief priest. And the chief priest may turn Him over to Pontius Pilate. And Pontius Pilate may turn Him over to a quaternion of legionnaires [Matthew 27:27-30], and the Roman soldiers may nail Him to the cross, and you see Him die [Matthew 27:32-50]. But God said this is the Savior of the world [Acts 4:12; 1 John 4:14]. This is the fountain that cleanses from sin [Zechariah 13:1; 1 John 1:7, 9]. This is the King of glory before whom every knee shall bow” [Philippians 2:10-11]: the sovereign, immutable purposes of God. That is predestination! That is the election of the Almighty!
In our lives and in our own days, we see so poignantly, so deeply movingly the hand of God in history and in our own lives. I can remember World War I. Much more, therefore, was I an active pastor in the days of World War II. Listening on the radio and reading the newspapers, the entire free world, and especially the Christian world, was plunged into despair. There was a dictator that arose in fascist Italy. There was a companion dictator that arose in Nazi Germany. There was a king, an emperor, who was worshiped as a god across the seas. And when Hitlerite Germany made a treaty with Stalinist Russia, the whole world was plunged into indescribable despair, and as the conflict raged, only the tight little island of England stayed, and her friends in America. The whole earth was plunged in impenetrable darkness and hopelessness.
As one English statesman said, “The lights of the world are going out, out, out. Yet in faith and in commitment, we saw our people rise, rise, rise.” And I lived to see the day when the dictator in Italy, Benito Mussolini, was hung up by his heals in contempt and in shame by the side of his brazen paramour. And I lived to see the time and have walked to the place where Hitler committed suicide in a bunker underground, and for the years and the years, it may still be that way, vacant and empty, with a barbwire fence around it—an unholy, a desecrated place. And I lived to see the day, and I walked in front of his palace wall when the emperor who was god of Shintoism walked out before the Japanese people and said, “I am no god. I am just another little Japanese.” Who would have thought it? The moving hand of God in human history.
And today, sometimes fear grips our souls. Sometimes, despair clutches our hearts. Surely the kingdom will be drowned in atheism, communism, the floodtide of iniquity. There’s no hope for the future. Well, there wouldn’t be except for the God of purpose, and plan, and election, and predestination. “Be of good cheer, little flock,” said Jesus, “it is My Father’s will that you, you should inherit the kingdom—you” [Matthew 25:34]. “Be of good cheer,” said our Lord again, “in the world ye shall have tribulation—trial: but I have overcome the world” [John 16:33]. Little flock, God’s purpose is that we shall inherit the earth [Matthew 5:5]. That is predestination. That is election. And that is the great foundational fact, truth, revelation upon which this earth stands and civilization moves.
I have time. Just let me speak personally—God’s elective purpose. There were times and there were days when, as a lad growing up, I felt God had forgotten me and had left me out of the largess and bounties of His gifts and His blessings. I belonged to a poor family. We had no car, no automobile—we never had. We had no telephone. We had no running water. We had nothing. And as the days passed and I was introduced to other boys and girls, many of them in affluent homes, I could not understand why God was not thus good to me. As I look back over those days, the best thing God ever did for me was to let me grow up in a poor, poor home. I thank Him for it.
And when I began to preach, for years and for years I was left out in the country. And for those years, I would see young men with whom I went to school, and they would be called to great famed pulpits and great high-steepled churches. And I was left out in the country, out in the country. And I used to wonder if God had forgotten where I was and if God had even remembered my name. But as I look back over it now, the best thing God ever did for me, as a preacher, was to leave me for years and years and years out in the country. Romans 8:28: “In all things God works together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” That is predestination. That is election.
God [works] in mysterious ways
His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And He rides on the storm.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour.
The [fruit] may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His works in vain.
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
[ “God Moves in Mysterious Ways,” William Cowper]
Back of your life, and back of human history, and back of the full universe in which we live is the sovereign purpose and will of God who guides toward that ultimate and final consummation when we, as a joint-heir with our Lord, the little flock, shall inherit the kingdom [Matthew 25:34; Romans 8:17]. Comforting; it’s triumphant. It’s victorious. We cannot lose.
Now we’re going to sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you to come, “Pastor, my wife and our children, all of us are coming today.” Make that decision now. Do it this morning, and God will bless you in the way. A couple you, into that aisle and down to the front; or just one somebody you, in the balcony round, down the stairway at the front, at the back, and on either side, and there’s time and to spare; in the throng on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front: “Here I come, preacher.” Make the decision now. If you are a father, your family will follow you. Make the decision and come. If you’re a couple, God will bless you, putting your home and life together in the Lord and in this precious church. Somebody you: “Today, today, I look in faith to the Son of God, and here I come [Ephesians 2:8]. I open my heart to the Lord. I ask Him to forgive my sins [1 John 1:9]. I ask Him to write my name in the Book of Life, and here I am [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]. My life shall be placed in the omnipotent, sovereign hand of God, and here I am. Here I come” [Romans 10:9-13]. Do it now. On the first note of the first stanza, come. Make the decision now—“I am coming”—and then when we stand to sing, stand coming into that aisle and down to the front: “Here I am, preacher.” “Here we are.” Do it now. Make it this morning, and angels will precede you as you come, as we stand and as we sing.