THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-5-78 8:15 a.m.
And welcome once again the thousands of you who are sharing this service over the radio of the city of Dallas and over the radio of our Bible Institute. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church, and the message is entitled The Doctrine of Election.
In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 13. And the background of the text is this:
The next Sabbath day the whole city came together to hear the word of God.
Then when the Jews saw the multitudes . . . they spake against those things . . .
Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold . . . It was necessary that the word of God should first be delivered to you: but seeing ye put it from yourselves, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, we turn to the Gentiles.
For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord.
And then Luke adds this amazing and unusual sentence. “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” [Acts 13:48].
Our message today is a look—and it is just that—at one of God’s wonders. It is the same kind of a reaction and response as though we were looking at one of the vast creative realities flung into space by the hand of our Almighty God, such as through a telescope looking at those vast galaxies filled with millions of universes thronged with billions of stars. This also is one of God’s mighty creations. “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” [Acts 13:48].
And as we look at this sentence that Luke adds, the sermon concerns a verb that the doctor uses, translated here “ordained.” “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed”; esan tetagmenoi, that is a periphrastic, past perfect participle, passive voice, indicative mood of tassō. Tassō is a military term referring to orderly arrangement. So if we were exactly to seek to translate this unusual periphrastic construction that Dr. Luke uses in this sentence, instead of the word “ordained,” which comes from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate—instead of “ordained,” it would be a better translation to use the word “appoint.” “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed” [Acts 13:48]. Tassō means to arrange, to appoint, to allot, to set, to designate. Let’s take the word “appoint.” “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”
He does not say by whom they were appointed. There are those who are extreme Calvinists who would say it is the Lord God who did that appointment—completely fully without any discussion—fully appointed of the Lord God. There are those who would say that the verb does not carry that extreme interpretation. It allows for a disposition on the part of those who heard the gospel to be appointed to eternal life. “As many as were disposed to eternal life believed.” So the Lord may have disposed them to believe, but the people themselves may also have disposed themselves to believe.
Well, I think it says both both. As many as were willing thus to dispose their souls, hearts, lives, mind to receive the word of life, they were appointed to that everlasting kingdom. But those who were not disposed, as it says up here, “And Paul and Barnabas said, Seeing you put this word from you and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” [Acts 13:46]. But however the verb is ultimately interpreted, it is certainly there in the Scripture: “As many as were appointed, ordained, to eternal life believed” [Acts 13:48].
So we’re going to look at both of those facts: the fact of God’s choice, of God’s appointment, of God’s election; and also the fact of a man’s free moral agency. We’re going to look at both of them, as though one would stand, as I said, and look at a great creative work of the Lord in the heavens.
It is a fact that God chooses and God elects. That is as much a part of Scripture as the Scripture itself. Just listen to these words out of the first chapter of Ephesians. This is an encyclical. It is a general epistle to all of the churches of all time. Now you listen to these words:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings . . .
According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world . . . Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself . . . Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which he hath purposed in Himself . . . 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 will:
[Ephesians 1:3-5, 9, 11]
That sounds like sovereignty; purpose, choice, election, predestination. Isn’t that right? Let’s take just once again—in the passage that you read this morning, look at those words: “For whom He did foreknow . . .” This is Romans 8:29:
Whom He did foreknow—foreknowledge of God—He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son. . .
Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He called: whom He called, He justified: whom He justified, He glorified. . .
Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect?
[Romans 8:29-30, 33]
This is in the Holy Scriptures. Or just take again, in the eleventh chapter of this same Book of Romans:
I say then, Hath God cast away His people? God forbid. For I am an Israelite. . .
God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew . . .
Even so then at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
[Romans 11:1, 2, 5]
Not all of Israel has spurned the gospel. There are some who, according to an election of grace, are present here this morning and have been through the ages. “What then?” he says. “Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded” [Romans 11:7]. It’s in the Bible. It is a facet of the glory of God that He is sovereign, that He chooses, that He elects, that He calls. And that is the whole story of redemption from beginning to end, the hand of God working in human history.
God called Abraham out of idolatry [Genesis 12:1-3; Joshua 24:2-3]. God called Moses and sent him down into Egypt [Exodus 3:9-10]. God did it. God called David and anointed him above his brethren [1 Samuel 16:1-13]. The Lord chose twelve apostles [Matthew 10:1-4]. The Lord God intervened in the life of Saul of Tarsus and made him the apostle Paul [Acts 9:1-6, 15-16]. God did it. It is the hand of the Lord. God has done that through the years and the centuries since, and God does it today. God calls.
I have a brother. We have the same mother. We have the same father. We were reared in the same home. He never felt the call of God to preach. I did. Why me? I don’t know. He never felt moved to preach the gospel. I did from the beginning of my conscious life. Why did not God call that boy next door to me? Just as everything that I had he possessed also, why didn’t God call him? I don’t know. God called me. This is a sovereign act and choice of the Lord God. God moves, God elects, God calls, and God chooses.
Now the other facet of that is also no less gloriously presented in the Scriptures: a man is morally free, he chooses. That has been true from the beginning. Do you remember in the second chapter of  Timothy? Paul writes that Adam—that’s 1 Timothy second chapter—Adam was not deceived [1 Timothy 2:14; Genesis 3:6]. He willfully chose to eat the forbidden fruit [Genesis 2:17], and to die with his wife rather than live without her. He was morally free, and he chose to die [Genesis 3:6].
Moses stood in the midst of the camp as they were dancing around the golden calf, and he said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come and stand by me” [Exodus 32:26].
Do you remember Joshua in the last chapter of that marvelous story of that hero of the faith? Joshua said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” [Joshua 24:15].
Do you remember Elijah? “How long halt ye between two opinions? If Baal be God, serve him: but if Jehovah be God, serve Him” [1 Kings 18:21]. How many of the wonderful invitations of the Lord are addressed to the human heart? “Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and are heavy laden” [Matthew 11:28]. Come, come, come.
Do you remember the great avowal of the apostle concerning his ministry in the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians? “We then are ambassadors for God; and we beseech you in Christ’s stead,” as though He were saying it, “be ye reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:20].
Do you remember the last invitation in the Bible?
The Spirit and the bride say, Come.
Let him that heareth say, Come.
Let him that is athirst come.
And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
The elect, the whosoever wills; the non-elect, the whosoever wont’s—isn’t that a remarkable thing? Both of those are in the Bible fully and completely revealed, and in no sense and in no wise do they cross or are they contradictory. If we would see God in His fullness, we would see Him in both lights: the sovereignty of the Almighty and the free will of the man.
And there’s a nomenclature used in the Bible, and it is separate and distinct. There is a nomenclature. There is a vocabulary. There are words used in the Bible to describe the great God who “sitteth above the heavens” [Isaiah 40:22], up there. There is a celestial and a heavenly language, and it belongs up there! When a man talks about God up there, these are the words that he’ll use: almightiness, sovereignty, foreknowledge, election, predestination. These are the words a man will use when he talks about God Almighty up there.
Then there is another language, another nomenclature that is used talking about us down here. Down here we speak about freedom of choice, moral responsibility, freedom of the will, a commitment, a response. That’s down here.
And our trouble would lie if we ever mix, inter-commingle, those words. There are certain words that belong up there, there are certain words that belong down here, and when you mix them you fall into grievous trouble. Almightiness; that is up there. When you take that word up there and apply it down here it becomes ridiculous and inexplicable. What is almightiness down here? It doesn’t exist. That’s up there, that’s not down here.
I remember reading about the funeral service of Louis XIV of France—reigned seventy-two years, longer than any despot ever reigned in the history of the world; Louis XIV. The minister who officiated at that funeral service stood in the pulpit with that casket before him, and looked down a long time, and then looked up a long time, and then said, “Only God is great.” There are words that belong up there, but when you put them down here they’re ridiculous!
Foreknowledge: that is a word that belongs up there, not down here. Haven’t you heard me say this, “My brother, if you can know the future two minutes, I can tell you how to be a billionaire immediately. Just two minutes? If you can know the future two minutes, I can tell you how to be a billionaire overnight. Just buy a stock before it goes up and sell it just before it goes down; just two minutes, or however long, if you were on the stock exchange, to make the transaction, maybe one minute, if you could know the future. You see, there are certain words that belong to God; they don’t belong to us. And when you start taking the words of God and applying them to us, it’s ridiculous, because God is not like a man, and we are not like God. Therefore, when we talk about God we’re talking about sovereignty! We’re talking about almightiness! We’re talking about foreknowledge! We’re talking about the reign! We’re talking God’s choice and eternal purpose! That’s up there! And when you’re talking us, you’re talking about free moral agency and freedom of choice. I see things happen a moment at a time, a day at a time. To God it’s all present before Him, the end from the beginning.
There is mystery in God always present. We don’t find ourselves able to encompass the infinitude of the Almighty because our minds are limited and circumscribed. If a man could contain God he’d be greater than God Himself. But we are limited and cannot understand.
Job cried in Job 11:7 and following: “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven.” How high is that? “What canst thou do? It is deeper than the abyss” . . . than the downwardness. How far is the downwardness? “What canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea” [Job 11:7-9]. We stand in the presence of God in great awe and wonder and reverence. My brother, there is an inexplicable side to every doctrine, just as there is an unfathomable facet to every creative work of God. It’s all alike, whether it’s in the Book or whether it’s out here in the world of nature. It is unfathomable and inexplicable to us.
Let me show you. In astronomy, in astronomy, looking at this world in which we live, in astronomy there is what is called a centripetal force; a centripetal force, a force that has a tendency to pull all things together down to the center—centripetal force, pull it down to the center. At the same time there is a centrifugal force, a force that has the tendency to fling everything out to the circumference; outside, centrifugal. You see those are the two forces that balance our planets. There is a centripetal force that seeks to pull it to the sun. There is a centrifugal force in its orbit that seeks to fling it out into space. Now to us those are opposite forces; centripetal to pull it in; centrifugal to fling it out. That’s because we don’t understand. If we fully understood it would be one force. He sees it but I can’t. And that’s why your orbits follow that faithful pattern; the sun, the center, and these planets swinging in their orbits, centripetal pulling it in; centrifugal flinging it out. And the two forces opposites keep that planet in perfect order. See, they’re opposites to me, but to Him they’re doubtless one force.
Or take another one in the world of physics, how God does. A law of physics says “As things get colder they contract. As they get hotter they expand, and expand, and expand.” That’s why we’re having to dig up millions of dollars to work on these pavements. This expansion and contraction of water and snow and ice tears up our roads: that’s the law of physics. “As a thing gets colder, it contracts; as it gets hotter, it expands.”
So we look at that law of physics. As things get colder they contract and contract. And then an opposite: when water gets to thirty-two degrees and freezes, it doesn’t contract, it expands; the opposite. To us that’s an opposite. That’s a contradiction. That’s impossible, but that’s God!
If we understood it fully in His mind it would be one force. But to us, see, we have spiritual astigmatism. We can only see just one thing at a time, whereas God sees it all. We are always eccentric. We’re always on one side. It is only God who is at the center, and He sees truth as a great complete circle.
That’s why the apostle Paul in this passage that is so marvelous, closing the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, in Romans 9, 10, and 11 the apostle is discussing election. And he closes it with a marvelous paean: “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! [Romans 11:33]
But—and I must hasten—but, we can see the purpose of God’s sovereign elective grace. We can look at it. Just as I can see the sun, and the moon, and the workmanship of God, and these planets in their orbits, I can look at it and wonder. So I can look at the election of God, the sovereign grace of the Lord, and I can think God’s thoughts after Him. There is a purpose in God’s election. One is for us, and the other is for the blessed Lord Jesus.
First, the purpose of election for us: it is one of grace [Ephesians 2:8] and of mercy [Titus 2:5], always that. The human race is sinful [Romans 3:23], and it has an aversion to the will of God [John 3:19]. You see that in every daily life. You see that in every newspaper. The human race is sinful, lamentably so. And we have no hope or encouragement that it improves on any tomorrow. We are lost in sin! [Romans 7:14]. And the elective purpose of God intervenes. The whole human family, sinful and lost, and God in His grace and mercy intervene [John 3:16]. Always the decrees of God are for good. They are for salvation [2 Peter 3:9]. They are for redemption [1 Peter 1:18-19]. It is the redemption purpose of God that He sovereignly is working out in human history. Always it is for our salvation. As the Lord says:
As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked would turn from his evil way and live: O turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways: for why will ye die?
The purposes of God in election are never for damnation, or destruction, or perdition, or for hell. That was created for the devil and his angels [Matthew 25:41]. The purpose of God in election and choice is always that we might be saved. All of the purposes of God, sovereignly worked out in human history, are that we might be delivered from our sins and that we might come to everlasting life in Christ Jesus [2 Peter 3:9].
Let me tell you; would you listen to me a minute? The only doctrine of election that is purposely damnable, full of perdition and condemnation, is in science, pseudoscience. That’s their doctrine of—and they take the word “election” and put a little “s” in front of it—that’s their doctrine of selection. That’s their doctrine of evolution. That’s their doctrine of the survival of the fittest. The evolutionist pseudoscientific doctrine of evolution, of the survival of the fittest, is their doctrine of election without in it a drop of pity or one single gesture of mercy. That’s their doctrine of election: selection. It is vicious. It is animal. It’s of the fang and the tooth and the claw. That’s the scientist, pseudoscientist as I call it.
When you come in the presence of the Lord, it turns into another world. It’s a doctrine of mercy and grace and salvation. You see it in the choice of Israel. Forty-third chapter of Isaiah spoke of Israel, “Ye are My witnesses” [Isaiah 43:10]. And the nineteenth chapter of Exodus, “Ye shall be unto Me a holy nation, and a kingdom of priests” [Exodus 19:6]. God chose Israel to bring the knowledge of the Lord to the whole earth.
I don’t know of a more marvelous sentence than this in [1 Peter 2:9]: “Ye,” the purpose of God in the church, “Ye are a chosen generation, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye might show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” We were chosen of God to exalt the name of the Lord before the whole world! That’s our election. The apostle Paul that I spoke of, the Lord said in the ninth chapter of Acts:
For this purpose, for this purpose have I chosen him that he might bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the whole house of Israel:
And I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake, and do it.
The purposes of God are always that we might be saved [2 Peter 3:9]. Well, that’s the first.
The second is: the elective grace of God not only concerns us who are dying sinners, but the elective purpose of God concerns Jesus [Revelation 13:8]. Here’s what happened. The great Jehovah God said to His Son, “You suffer and You die for the sins of the world, and I will give You a people. There will be somebody who believes.” And that promise of God the Father to the Son, “You die for the sins of the world [John 3:16; 1 John 2:2], and I promise You a people,” that is election.
God has promised His Son that His death shall not be in vain. What if Christ had died, been crucified, poured out the crimson of His life and nobody believed, nobody accepted, nobody be moved? What if God had allowed Jesus to die and there is no response? Nobody respond, nobody believe, nobody accepts, He just died alone—not so! That is election; God promised to Christ, “If You die for the sins of the world, I promise You a people.” That’s why the Lord said in John 6:37, “All that the Father hath given Me will come unto Me: and he that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.”
O God, how I thank Thee and praise Thee that in Thy goodness and in Thy grace the Lord disposed my heart to accept the Lord as my Savior, and I did. I did. Lord, I thank Thee that I have been numbered among those that would believe in the blessed Jesus and accept Him as my Savior. I praise Thee Lord for the grace and mercy that extended to me. And I praise Thee Lord for the merciful, God-blessed providences that guide and help and strengthen my way every day that I live. O God, how could I ever say it? How could I ever frame it in sentence? How could I ever pronounce the word of praise that God should have in His grace and mercy reached down to me?
And that is the gospel message. The Lord sent you here. God placed you in this place. The Lord spoke to your heart. The Lord made the appeal. And the Lord disposes your soul to respond. And the praise and the glory is to “Him who liveth for ever and ever” [Revelation 5:14]. And that’s our invitation to you this solemn morning hour. “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me. I have heard His voice, and I am answering with my life.” In a moment we shall give you opportunity, as these dear people in Pisidian Antioch [Acts 13:14-43], to register for God, boldly and before men and angels, your answer and your response to God’s call in your heart. “Today, I accept the Lord Jesus as my Savior [Ephesians 2:8]. This moment I am declaring openly, publicly, unashamedly my confidence in Him. And I am coming.”
Some of us for the first time accepting Christ as Savior; some of us coming to be baptized, as God hath said in His Book [Matthew 28:19]; some of us placing our lives with this dear people in this wonderful church; on the first note of the first stanza, as we sing the song, come. Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.