The Doctrine of Election
April 28th, 1974 @ 8:15 AM
THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Peter 1:10-11
4-28-74 8:15 a.m.
On the radio we welcome you to the services of our First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Doctrine of Election. In our preaching through Simon Peter’s second letter we are in the middle of the first chapter. And these are the words of the text:
Wherefore, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
[2 Peter 1:10-11]
It is noticeable that he says “calling and election” because they are actually turned around. It is God who elects and then He calls. But the apostle does not name it like that. Calling and election. He is speaking from our point of view, the way we experience it. We experience first God’s call, then we learn of His glorious predestination and election that brought us to this present hour of faith and commitment. You will find the apostle Paul doing the same thing in this most famous verse in the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans:
For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose.
Now having said that, our experience in Christ, then he will follow the actual chronological order of it from eternity to eternity: “For whom God did foreknow, them He also predestinated, and whom He predestinated He also called, and whom He called He justified, and whom He justified He glorified” [Romans 8:29-30]; from our election, our predestination in heaven, through our calling and justification and back to the eternity of our glorification.
Our calling and our election; there are two kinds of a calling of God. There is a general call, a call of God to all men everywhere. The apostle speaks of that again in the third chapter of his letter, when he’s speaking of the delay of the Lord in His return [2 Peter 3:8-9].
When the Lord went away He said, “I shall come back” [John 14:3]. Now that’s been a thousand nine hundred years ago and He still hasn’t returned. So there are scoffers, and rejecters, and unbelievers who say, “He has either forgotten us, or He did not intend the fulfillment of the promise.” So the apostle writes here, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is all suffering, long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all men everywhere should come to repentance” [2 Peter 3:9]. That is a general call.
It is not God’s purpose and God’s will that any man be lost but that all men should come to repentance and to the knowledge of salvation in Christ. That same kind of a thing is reflected in Ezekiel 33:11, the prophet quoting God says, “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his evil way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” This is a general call from God to all men everywhere that they turn and be saved.
But there is another kind of a call of God. There is an effectual call. It is personal. It is individual and it is answered by the life of the one in response to whom God calls. That is a calling that all of us who have come to God know in our experience. Out of all that God shall do to call all the world to repentance and to faith, there are some of us who have heard that call especially, and have answered with our lives.
Now I cannot explain, or enter into, or understand the mystery of that effectual calling. Why does it bear fruit in this man’s life and why does this man find himself unquickened and unresponsive? I do not know. I cannot know. Only God knows.
The same message at the same hour in the same place will be preached to the people. When the invitation is given there will be some that will rise to life and faith. They are quickened. They are turned. They are repented. Something on the inside of them responds, and they answer with their lives.
And at the same time that some are quickened, turned, come, respond [Acts 28:24], at the same time there are others who are like corpses. They are unquickened. They are unturned. They are unresponsive. And they remain dead. I cannot understand that. It will be the same service. It will be the same message. It will be the same call. It will be the same invitation, yet one will respond to it and the other is untouched.
I see it in a family. World without end I see it in family life. They have the same father, the same mother, the same environment, the same atmosphere, the same house, the same home. They are brought up together in the same family. And one of them will be quickened, will turn, will respond, will be a marvelous, dedicated disciple of God, and the other will be untouched, uninterested, unturned, unresponsive, dead toward God. I cannot understand it.
In our listening, there are those who, hearing, the words go beyond the ear, and they enter the soul and the heart. There are those who are looking, but the seeing goes beyond the retina of the eye into the deepest soul. There are those who see and see and see, and then they see. There are those who hear and hear and hear, and then they hear. But there are those who see and see and see, and never see! And there are those who hear and hear and hear, and never hear! I cannot understand.
There is an effectual calling, an individual calling that results in a responsive life to God. Now that is election, a mystery, an inexplicable into which we cannot enter. But it brings us to several things, and the first is one of infinite joy and gladness and gratitude; that God should have chosen us. There is an effectual calling, an effectual election, that has brought us to our present life in Christ. And may I speak of it personally now? And how could I otherwise be but filled with gratitude for God’s elective choice? I thank God that I was born in Christian America. Why was I not born a Hottentot in the heart of darkest Africa? I have been in African villages where, through an interpreter, I would talk to the whole people, and there is not one, not one in the village that knows the name of Christ, not one. Why was I not born there?
In an election that I cannot understand, my life was placed in Christian America. But in Christian America there are homes that are not Christian, many of them. But my life was placed in the circle of a home that was very committed to the Lord, and I grew up in that home. I asked my mother how old I was when I first was taken to church. They didn’t have any nurseries in the little tiny crackerbox of a church house that we attended. I asked her old I was. She said, “You were a month old.” She carried me in her arms.
I grew up in the church. How thankful I am that in the election of God my life was placed in a godly home, a Christian home. And how thankful I am that God elected me for service in His kingdom and placed me in this dear church and in this sacred pulpit.
I have a wonderful friend who was professor of missions in the seminary in Louisville, who is now the secretary for all of our mission work in the continent of Africa. He’s a Dallas boy. His father was superintendent of education in Dallas. He was my dear friend in the seminary.
One time in 1944, at the end of the summer, we were eating lunch together, and he said to me, “Has anything happened in the summertime, this past summer?” I said, “No, no, not anything.” Then as we continued to converse, he found out that I was being invited to preach at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, after the death of the great pastor, Dr. Truett. He said, “Oh? I thought you told me that nothing had happened in the summer.” I said, “It hasn’t. Nothing has happened.” That was all that was said.
Years and years later, a quarter of a century later, Dr. Garner was again seated by my side, and we were breaking bread together. And he said to me, “Do you remember in the summer of ‘44 I asked you had anything happened, and you said ‘No’? And then as we conversed I found out that you had been asked to preach at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and you said, ‘Nothing has happened’.”
He said, “I want you to know why it is that I asked you that.” He said, “Being in Dallas, growing up in Dallas, I was interested, as were thousands and thousands of others, in the successor of Dr. Truett in the First Baptist Church.” And he said, “I sat down to write a letter to the pulpit committee about you.” And he said, “As I sat down to write the letter, it came into my heart, I don’t need to do this. This is something I ought not to be doing. If it is God’s will, he will be called as pastor of the church. It is in God’s election. And so,” he said, “I left it there. But,” he said, “I knew you would be called.”
An election: how do you enter into those choices of God? I wish I could say to all of the young ministers, “You don’t need to finagle. You don’t need to pull wires. And you don’t need to have people that are out working for you. It is in God’s elective purpose. And if you give yourself to the purpose of God, His elective choice, God will bring you to that place He has prepared for you. Don’t need to worry. Don’t need to strive. Just need to give yourself to the will and purpose of God, and God will do the rest.”
You will see this in this sermon of the text as we continue it. For you see, there are glorious things that God purposes for us. “For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of Jesus Christ” [2 Peter 1:11]. However God may elect for our place of ministry and service here, and each one of us has an assignment, an election, whatever it may be, yet in this world it is temporary. It is for just awhile. Dr. Truett had a pastorate here, undershepherd of this church for forty-seven years. But it came to an end, so brief a time when it is passed.
Yesterday afternoon here in this very sanctuary, we buried, we had the memorial service for one of the old-timers of our congregation. And after the service was over, I was talking to two of our members just outside the door. And they had been here likewise for many, many years.
And one of them said to me, “You know, practically all of the old-timers of our church are gone.” And the other one said, “I have been in recent months to nine different funerals of these older members of our church.”
And I replied, “I sense that so poignantly. There is just a handful of people here now who were in the church when I was called as pastor about thirty years ago.” It is so brief a time, our election here. But the apostle says there is an entrance for us, abounding and abundant into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord’; a brief while here, but an eternity there [2 Peter 1:11].
Thus has God been good to us, to elect us in His name that we have faith in Christ [Ephesians 2:8]; to elect us in service that we have an assignment in the kingdom, a work to do [Ephesians 4:7-13]; and an election to an everlasting life that shall be ministered unto us in Christ abundantly, aboundingly [2 Peter 1:10-11].
Now, let me take a moment to speak of that doctrine; God’s election for us, God’s calling for us. It is easy to remark, “You know, if you believe that, well, why strive, why work? If God elects, well, then it is going to be yes or no. It will be done or it won’t be done according to God’s predestination. Why should you strive?” And then the concomitant: “Why does it not minister to an ease in Zion where we don’t strive or work at all? We just leave it to God if it is predestinated. If it is elected of God, then why strive?”
Now I have a firm, full answer to that, both in history and in experience. Here is what I read in the lives of the saints, and here is what I see in our own lives. There is no doctrine that will put iron in a man, there is no faith that will make a lion out of a man like his conviction that this is the will of God. “And I am elected and called and destined for this holy purpose.”
Peter the-Hermit said, “God wills it, God wills it!” And there was born in Europe those holy crusades to take the holy shrines in Israel from the infidel Mohammedan and bring them back into the hands of the Christian. But the thrilling word that was like liquid fire in the nations of Europe in those medieval days were those three words, “God wills it!”
Take again, Martin Luther facing a prelate and the papacy and the whole strong arm of the entire ecclesiastical world. Standing at his trial, he said, “I can do no other. Here I stand so help me God!” It puts iron in a man. It makes a lion out of him. This is God’s will!
When we read the story of our Puritan fathers and the coming of the Pilgrims, all of us are familiar with their search for freedom, religious liberty to have their church and their homes and to worship God as they might feel led of the Lord to do, but there is another side to that that I have never heard referred to. Those Calvinistic Puritan Pilgrims said, “God is sending us to the New World that we might evangelize it and that we might build there a base for the evangelization of the world. God wills it!” And the awesome trials they faced were as nothing, as they were doing what they believed to be their call in God.
I see that in men of God as I have looked at them over the face of this earth. I am thinking now of a pastor and his wife. They have built a fine and flourishing church in a difficult situation. But when he began his work they would take guns and shoot at him through the window. And they would take garbage and throw it down the aisle of his little church. These are just some of the awesome things that he faced.
Why did he not quit? Why did he not go to a more salubrious clime? Why did he not seek out a more felicitous endeavor? Why did he not say, “This is difficult. This is hard. This is impossible. I am moving out. No!”
“God wills that. He has called me! This is my assignment, and here I stand so help me God!”
I am just avowing to you that there is not anything that will put iron in a man’s soul like election. God wills it. This is God’s call to me.
Bear with me for a moment longer. These things just burn in my soul as I read them here in the text. “Wherefore, my brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure” [2 Peter 1:10]. How do I know that I am called? How do I know that I am elected? Well, look closely, “Give diligence,” spoudē, earnest diligence, commitment [2 Peter 1:10].
You know what we do and what I did for years to make my calling and election sure? I sought some esoteric, extraneous, monstrous experience from heaven. “Lord, give me a sign that I am saved, that I am born again. Lord, give me a light from heaven. Let me see a vision of angels. Let me see a ball of fire break over my head.” As I listened to these marvelous experiences of other people, “Lord, Lord, give me a sign that I am born again, that I am saved, that I am called. Lord, give me a sign.” And I used to pray that every night and did so for years.
That is the most beside the point thing that I know. I am going to seek a confirmation, an establishment of my calling and my election by asking God for a vision of an angel or a ball of fire to break over my head or a light from heaven. No! No! How is it that I verify, establish, bebaian, give diligence to make your calling and election sure, established, certain, confirmed? How do I do it? By bowing and saying, “Lord, confirm it with a vision of angels from heaven or with a light from above”? How do I do it?
The apostle says we are to give diligence; diligence to make the calling and election sure [2 Peter 2:10]. Did you notice he used that word just before?
Beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love.
For if you do these things, and abound, they make you to be not unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[2 Peter 1:5-8]
Then how do I make my calling and election sure? I give diligence! I give diligence! I give myself to that calling and that election. I am committed to it [2 Peter 1:10].
Well, let’s take the two things that I have mentioned, and then I must close. Our time is already gone.
That God elected me to be a child of the King; that God elected me that I be saved; that God called me effectually, and I took the Lord as my Savior: now how do I make that calling and election sure? [2 Peter 1:10]. I do it by serving Jesus, by loving the Lord, busy about our Lord’s business. That is the way I confirm it. I confirm it in what I seek to do for His name and in His kingdom. I’m given to it, and in that I am confirmed and established in my calling and my election.
All right, take the other one, that God called me and elected me to be a minister in His name and to be pastor of this dear church. How do I make that calling and election sure, confirmed, established? I do it by being the best undershepherd that I know how to be, to minister to the flock, to pray for their souls, to deliver to them the Word of life, and to make appeal that they turn in fullness of faith and dedication to our blessed Lord. That’s how we make our calling and election firm—established, confirmed, sure—making our calling and election sure. How? By our diligence, by our consecration in it, by our commitment to it.
Let me say one other word. He says that if you do this, then you will not fall [2 Peter 1:10]. Now he is not talking about falling away as though we’d be lost. What he’s talking about is, then you don’t get into the pitfalls and snares of the evil one. Now what he is saying to us is this: that when the church, when I, when my deacons, our Sunday school teachers, our choir people, our members, when our people are diligent in making their call and election sure, when they are busy about God’s work, then they don’t fall into all of those divisivenesses that hurt our lives and hurt our church. We are too busy doing work for God to be little, and mean, and carping, and critical. We’ve got to big a work to do. I can’t turn aside from it in order to be little, and insignificant, and caustic, and mean. I’ve got big things to do for Jesus. He has called me and I must be at it.
Wouldn’t that be a glorious thing? Our people so submerged in the work of the Lord, and so given to the ministries of Christ, that we don’t have time to criticize each other and find fault for anything except just to pray, and to love God, and to work for Jesus, and to have a part in bringing in His glorious kingdom.
Our time is far spent and we must stand and sing our invitation hymn now. And thus, to sing it, and thus to extend it, and thus to respond to it, in the balcony round, a family, a couple, you, on this lower floor, a couple, a family, you, as God shall say the word and lead the way, as God shall call, will you answer with your life? “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me. Here I am, here I come.”
One of the things that I had in my sermon and don’t have time to preach: a long time ago I felt in my heart, though the church is downtown and miles away from where we live, if we would be faithful to the Word and preach God’s Spirit of grace loyally, lovingly, faithfully, God would send us these He has chosen to be with us. And that has been confirmed for thirty years.
Where do you live? Not close by. Why do you come here? Because of something on the inside of your heart. Now that’s what I mean. If God hath spoken to you, if He said a word to you, will you answer with your life? A family, a couple, you, “Take Jesus as my Savior, and I am coming.” “Putting my life in this dear church, I am coming.” As God shall say the word, to answer, “Here, my Lord, I am coming,” while we stand and while we sing.