The Whosoever Wills
May 7th, 1978 @ 8:15 AM
THE WHOSOEVER WILLS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-7-78 8:15 a.m.
And happy day and glorious day. Welcome the great multitude here in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Dallas and the other thousands who are listening on the two radio stations that carry this service. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, preaching the message of appeal and invitation entitled The Whosoever Wills. It is the last invitation in the Word of God, Revelation chapter 22 verse 17:
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will,
and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
The whosoever wills: someone said the elect are “the whosoever wills”; the non-elect are “the whosoever wonts.” “And whosoever will, ho thelōn, let him take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. This is a magnificent text, a gloriously incomparable invitation. The Spirit of God pleads with a man to come, come to Jesus [Revelation 22:17]. The bride of Christ, the church of the living Lord, pleads with a man to come, come to Jesus [Revelation 22:17]. No one is gladder or happier or more thankful in the earth than the church when someone comes down the aisle to give himself to Jesus. “Let him that heareth say, Come” [Revelation 22:17]. Let the stranger, the sojourner, and the passerby repeat the glad refrain: “Come; come to Jesus.” “And let him that is athirst, come” [Revelation 22:17]. Our Lord said, “Whoever drinks of the water of this life shall thirst again” [John 4:13].
Bobby Burns wrote it like this,
Pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flow’r, the bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls on the river,
A moment white—then gone forever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
vanishing amid the storm.
[from “Tam O’Shanter: A Tale”]
“Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will,”—ho thelōn,— “let him take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]; God’s abounding invitation, marvelous, open: “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” You see, God had done everything that even God could do to save the evil, and wicked, and obstreperous, and incorrigible children of old man Adam. When the Lord God placed our first parents in the garden of Eden, He said, “Of every tree in the garden you may freely eat. Just one I reserve for Myself” [Genesis 2:16-17]. And our first parents said, “No, we want it all!” And they took every tree in the garden [Genesis 3:1-6], and died [Genesis 5:5].
And the Lord God looked down from heaven at the progeny of old man Adam and He said, “Thus will I do that they might live.” And He wrote out His Ten Commandments in tables of stone, handed them to the children of old man Adam and said, “Do this and thou shall live” [Exodus 20:1-17]. And the children of old man Adam said, “No, we won’t do this!” And they broke every one of the commandments of the Lord God.
And the Lord God looked down from heaven on the evil children of old man Adam and said, “I will send them My prophets.” And the prophets came and preached saying, “Turn ye, turn ye to the Lord; for why will ye die?” [Ezekiel 33:11]. And the children of old man Adam said, “No we won’t turn to the Lord!” And they took God’s prophets and some of them they sawed asunder, and some of them they fed to the lions, and some of them they threw in fiery furnaces [Hebrews 11:32-37].
And the Lord God looked down from heaven and said, “Thus will I do to save the children of old man Adam. I will send a forerunner to announce the coming of the kingdom of God.” And the great Baptist preacher came, and he said, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” [Matthew 3:1-3]. And the children of old man Adam said, “No, we won’t prepare the way of the Lord!” And it took God’s forerunner and cut off his head and he died in his own blood [Matthew 14:1-11].
And the Lord God looked down from heaven on the children of old man Adam and said, “Thus will I do that they might be saved. They will reverence My Son.” So God sent His only begotten Son into the world [John 3:16]. And the children of old man Adam seized Him and took Him and carried Him outside of their city [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12], and nailed him to a tree like a criminal, like a felon, like a malefactor [Matthew 27:32-50; Luke 23:32-46].
And the Lord God looked down from heaven and said, “Thus will I do to save the children of old man Adam. I will raise up apostles who will preach the gospel. And they will turn and be saved.” And the apostles came and they preached, saying, “If thou shall confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that He lives, thou shall be saved!” [Romans 10:9-10]. And the children of old man Adam said, “No, we won’t confess with our mouths. Neither will we believe in our hearts!” And they took God’s apostles, and some of them they cut off their heads with a sword [Acts 12:1-2], and some of them they stoned to death [Acts 7:54-60], and others they sent to islands to die of exposure and deprivation [Revelation 1:9].
And the Lord God looked down from heaven on the wicked and obstreperous and evil and iniquitous children of old man Adam, and He said, “I will make one other and final invitation. If a man is just willing, I will save him”; ho thelōn, “whosoever will, let him come” [Revelation 22:17].
Now this sermon is based upon your pastor’s persuasion that every word, and every dot, and every tittle, and every syllable, and every sentence, and every paragraph, and every leaf, and every page in the Bible is inspired [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. And when the Holy Spirit said to the apostle John, “When you write this last invitation, do not write, ‘Ho ginōskōn —whosoever understandeth, let him come.’
“Do not write, ‘Ho lambanōn, whosoever receiveth, let him come.’
“Do not write, ‘Ho paschōn, whosoever feeleth, let him come.’
“Do not write, ‘Ho pisteuōn, whosoever believeth, let him come.’
“Do not write there, ‘Ho philōn, whosoever loveth, let him come.’
“But John, in this last invitation, write, ‘Ho thelon, whosoever will; if a man is just willing, let him come’ [Revelation 22:17]. And I will forgive his sins; I will write his name in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27; Luke 10:20], and I will save him,” saith the Lord God. What an amazing invitation!
It’s like this: when I was a teenager preaching out under open country tabernacles and arbors, on a Saturday night under a tabernacle, I poured out my heart as zealously and prayerfully as I knew how, that they come to the Lord and be saved. And when I gave the invitation, nobody responded. As I pressed the appeal, no one came forward.
Finally, I turned to the singer and I said, “Wait.”
Then I looked at the congregation, a vast throng gathered there from the ends of the earth, and I said, “If there’s anyone here just willing to be saved, if you’ll come down this aisle and ask God to save him, if the Lord doesn’t save him I’ll close this Bible, I’ll quit the ministry, and I’ll never preach again.”
“Now,” I said, “Singer, heist the tune.”
And they sang the invitation hymn and down the aisle in that tabernacle, from outside where he was standing, came a bowlegged cowpoke with his hand extended all the way down the aisle. Came unto me and said, “Preacher, I’ll take you up on that proposition.”
I said, “Fine.”
So I asked everybody to kneel, and I asked that boy, I said, “Now you get down here by my side, and I’m going to pray for you. And you’re willing to be saved, and you’ll open your heart, and you’ll ask God to save you?”
He said, “I sure will, preacher.”
So we knelt down there together, and I prayed for him, “Dear God, this boy’s come down the aisle here, and he says he’s willing to be saved, and wants to be saved, and asks God to forgive his sins, and write his name in the Book of Life, and to be saved. Now Lord, come into his heart and save him now.”
And I extended my hand while we’re kneeling there together, and I said, “William, if God has saved you, take me by the hand.”
Now he looked back at me—and not in too eloquent language, he looked back at me, and he said, “Preacher, I swear there ain’t nothing happen to me yet.”
“Well,” I said, “Now, Bill, I’m going to pray again, and you just open your heart to God.”
He said, “I will. I promise you, preacher.”
So I prayed for him, “O Lord God, save this boy and save him now.”
And I extended my hand, and I said, “Bill, if God saved you, take me by the hand.”
He said, “Preacher, there ain’t nothing happen to me. I’m just like I was.”
“Well,” I said, “Bill, we’re gonna try one more time. And you just earnestly open your heart to God.”
He said, “I will. If God will just save me, I’m ready.”
So I poured out my heart to the Lord as you’ve never heard anybody in your life pour out his heart. “Lord, You know what I said. Somebody come down this aisle and ask God to save him, and if he’s not saved, I close the Book, I quit the ministry, I won’t preach anymore. Now, Lord, save this boy and save him now. Please, for Jesus’ sake, amen.”
And I extended my hand over to him, and I said, “If Jesus saved you, take me by the hand.”
He looked at me and said, “Preacher, ain’t nothing happened; ain’t nothing happen to me; ain’t nothing happened to me. I’m just like I was.”
Well, you couldn’t stay there all night long, so we had the benediction. And when I got in the little car with that family taking me up to the ranch house, they begin to kid me. “Do you know what you said? Do you know what you said? You said if anybody would come down that aisle and ask God to save them, if they weren’t saved, you’d quit the ministry, and you’d never preach again. You’d close your Bible. Do you know what you said?” They thought that was the biggest joke they’d ever heard in their life. And they were just laughing and carrying on. But when they found out I was about to die, they never said another word; just silence. All you could hear was the grass growing along the road as we went up to the ranch house.
When we got up there to the house I asked to be dismissed, and I went into the room that they assigned for me. And I put my Bible down, and I got down myself on my knees by the side of the bed, and I said, “Lord this is it for me. This is it for me. I never dreamed that You would turn down somebody that wanted to be saved. And I never thought but that the Bible was true. “Whosoever shall call up on the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:13]. “And whosoever will, let him come” [Revelation 22:17]. And Lord I don’t know what to do. I said I’d never preach again; I’d close the Bible; I’d quit the ministry. And I don’t know what to do.”
Went to bed, rolled and tossed all that night. Got up the next morning, prepared with the family to go to church. Got in the little car, drove down to the tabernacle grounds. When the little car drove onto the grounds and I opened the door and put one foot out, getting out the car, I heard a voice up the country road hollering at me to the top of his lungs, “Say, preacher! Say, preacher!”
And I turned and there was that bowlegged cowpoke running just as fast as he could toward me. And when he got to me, he put his arms around me and hugged me tight, and he said, “Say, preacher, guess what?”
I said, “No, Bill, what?”
He said, “Preacher, I’ve been saved! I’ve been saved!”
I said, “When were you saved?”
“Well,” he said, “Last night after you prayed, on the way home Jesus came into my heart, and I’ve been saved! I’ve been saved!”
Never in this world was there any experience such as I had in response. Glad beyond any way I could describe it. And when enough of those people came to form a forum, we took him in on confession of faith. I baptized him in the creek by the side of the tabernacle, and let him dry out at the eleven o’clock service in the morning hour. And never, ever, so glad and so happy.
Well, you know when I look back over that, being a teenager, it’s hard for me to realize when I was the age of these kids I was preaching and pastoring these country churches. When I look back over that, I think, “How foolish that was to tempt God. I wouldn’t do that now. I wouldn’t do it today. I’d never make a proposition like that today.” Then I begin thinking, “Why wouldn’t I make a proposition like that today?”
And I’ve concluded: I don’t have the faith that I had when I was a kid. And I don’t have the boldness I had when I was a youngster. The world has calloused me and hardened me, and I don’t have the closeness to God I had when I was a youngster.
You know the proposition I made that night and the gospel I was preaching that day is the truest gospel a man could preach. And the invitation I made is as true to the Word of God as any invitation that any man could ever make.
And then in these years since, having studied, I’ve learned why, I’ve learned why. That’s the sermon this morning: The Whosoever Wills. You see, the “me” that lives on the inside of this house is made up of three parts; the “me.” See somebody lives on the inside of this house. You don’t see me. You just see the house I live in. And I look out at you with these two eyes.
See it’s like this: there was an old man named Peas. And when he died, they wrote an epitaph on his tombstone. And it read like this:
Here lies the body of old man Peas
Beneath the daisies and the trees.
But Peas ain’t here; only the pod.
For Peas shelled out and gone to God.
Now that’s what I mean. On the inside, there’s a “me” that lives. Now that “me” that lives on the inside is made up of three parts: my mind, my emotion, and my will; my understanding, my feeling, and my volition. I am a tripartite creation.
Now of those three, my mind and my emotion and my will, where is the seed of salvation? Where am I saved? Am I saved in my mind? Am I saved in my understanding? Am I saved by being smart or being educated? Would to God that were true. Then all we’d have to do to save the world would be to send them to school and we would educate them all into the kingdom of heaven.
But just the opposite, it seems to me, obtains. My impression of education is: that it is increasingly godless and moves away from the Lord. I don’t know why that is. It has a tendency to do that. The most cultured and the most educated, the most literate of all of the nations that have ever existed was Nazi Germany. In my day as a youth, if a fellow went to a great university, in order to be educated to the highest, he went to one of the great universities in Germany. And yet with all of the culture, and literacy, and education, and academic achievement of the German people, there never was a people more brutal, more calloused, more inhumane than we saw in the culture and government and society and education of Nazi Germany.
Why, I stood in some of those concentration camps, such as Dachau, in Germany, and have relived how those Germans scientists took those people concentrated there, interned there, as guinea pigs in order to have live bait and live specimen that they might experiment, concerning things they’d like to know about the human body, and especially as it pertained to the machine of war.
No, you’re not saved because you’re smart. And you’re not saved because you’re educated. And you’re not saved because you’ve been to school. And you’re not saved because you have degrees after your name. You’re not saved in your mind and in your understanding.
“Well, if I’m not saved in my mind, in my head, in my education, then I know exactly where the seat of salvation is: you’re saved in your feelings. You’re saved in your emotion. You’re saved because you think you’re saved and you feel that you’re saved.
Well, when I was a youngster I was taught the James-Lange theory of the emotions. And I believe it to this day. If you can’t prove it, you can’t disprove it. The James-Lange’s theory of the emotion is this: that emotion–feeling–is nothing other than a concomitant—a summary—of all of the anatomical changes in your body. Everything that’s going on in your body, when you put it all together, that is the emotion; that is the feeling; consequently, feelings go up and down because the anatomical changes in your body go up and down. And you can graph it. They tell me that you can scientifically graph the upness and the downness in your body because it follows a pattern every month. Now they also say that if you’re down all the time, you’re afflicted with melancholia. If you’re up all the time you’re an idiot. But if you’re normal, you’re up and down, up and down, and that all feeling and all emotion is like that. It goes up and it goes up and it goes down and it goes down. And it goes up and it goes down.
Love, for example, the experience of love, is an emotion; it’s a feeling. And it goes up and down. I one time heard a fellow say that one day he loved his wife—oh—he loved her so much he could eat her up. And the next day, he wished he’d have done it! That’s the way things are; they go up and down, up and down.
I one time heard about a testimony meeting at the church. And a dear saintly old grandmother stood up, and she said, “You know, sometimes my cup is so full it runs over and then sometimes it’s so dry I just can’t hear nobody pray. Remember me.”
And when she sat down another stood right up behind her, and he said to the preacher, “You know, my experience isn’t like that at all.” He said, “I was saved over thirty years ago. And over thirty years ago my cup was about two-thirds full. And it’s stayed two-thirds full through all these thirty-odd years and it’s still just about two-thirds full.”
And when he sat down another little saint got up, a little tongue-tied, and pointed his finger at that fellow who just testified, said, “Yes sir! And I bet you every cent I’ve got, your cup’s got big wiggle-tails in it.”
That is the experience of human life. We’re sometimes up, sometimes down. But like the old Negro spiritual:
I’m sometimes up
And I’m sometimes down,
But still my soul,
Am heavenly bound.
[“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”]
A Christian is like the mercury in the thermometer: it goes up and it goes down; but always inside the thermometer. And if you ever attach your salvation to your feelings, it will drag you to death. One day you think, “Man, I’m saved! I can hear the angels sing. I can touch their wings.” And then the next day, “Lost my religion. I don’t believe I’m saved at all. Don’t believe I’m really regenerated” [John 3:3, 7]. If you attach your religion to your feelings, it will drag you to death. One time you’re up and the next time you’re down.
Well, then if I’m not saved in my head and if I’m not saved in my feelings, my emotions, then where is the seed of salvation? Where am I saved? You are saved exactly where God by inspiration has written this holy word in the sacred Bible: you are saved in your will; you are saved in your volition; you are saved in a great decision and commitment that you make in your life. Ho thelōn: “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. It is in a decision; it’s in a commitment. It is in an avowal. It is in the acceptance of the invitation of God [Revelation 22:17], His love [John 3:16], and grace [Ephesians 2:8], His atonement for you on the cross [Romans 5:11]. It is in your decision for Christ that you find eternal life [John 10:27-30].
Now you say, “You know, I just don’t see that? That seems so, somehow, strange that God should have placed all of the eternal destiny of the soul in the decision that a man makes.”
Well, if God will help me, I want to show you how that is how life is. All of it is like that. The whole turn of life is like that. It lies in a decision that you make, and that decision is the difference between heaven and hell. Now I want to show you that if I can.
No one can tell a story to illustrate a deep spiritual truth such as the Lord Jesus. And this is a story from His blessed and holy lips [Luke 15:11-24]. He said that there was a boss man, a ranchman out here in West Texas. And the father had two sons. And upon a day the younger son came to the father and said, “Dad, I’m tired of this place. Every time I go out and get a little drunk, there you are, giving me a lecture. And every time I stay out beyond a certain hour, when I come back, there mom is trying to convert me. And then you take me to church on Sunday, and I’m tired of the whole thing. Now, Dad I want you to give whatever inheritance is to come to me, and I’m dragging out. I’m heading west.”
The father pled with his boy but to no avail. You can’t keep your boy if you don’t have his heart. So the father divided to that younger son what was coming to him. And that boy headed west. You should have seen him. Man, he bought him a ten gallon Stetson hat. He bought him boots with golden spurs. He bought him a palomino pony with a silver bridle. He bought him the most expensive saddle that money could buy. And when he hit town, say, did everybody know that he’d come. And he lived it up in a riotous living.
Then the day comes, as it ever comes; his money gone and his friends gone, and because he was hungry he sat on the top of a corral fence watching the hogs eat. So hungry, he wanted to eat what they were eating: the husks of the swine. And as he sat on the top of that corral fence he began to think about home, about mom and about dad and about the things of his Christian home. And as he sat on the top of that corral fence—his Palomino pony gone, his boots and his golden spurs gone, his silver bridle and his saddle gone—as he sat there on the top of that corral fence thinking about home—tears unbidden began to fall off of his face on the dirt below—and as he sat there thinking about home, and the tears falling off of his face, wretched and miserable, there came walking by an old cowpoke. And he looked at the boy, and he saw the tears falling off of his face.
He walked over and he said to the boy, he said, “Son, what you crying for?”
The boy said, “I ain’t crying.”
Cowpoke said, “What’s the matter with you, son?”
And the boy said, “There ain’t nothing wrong with me.”
And the cowpoke said, “Son, there’s something wrong. You see those streaks in the dirt on your face where the tears have fallen down. What’s the matter, son?”
And the boy replied, “Well, if you just gotta know, if you just gotta know, I was thinking about home.”
And the old cowpoke says, “Son, do you have a home somewhere?”
And the boy said, “Yes, sir.”
The old cowpoke said, “Son, I one time had a Christian home, and I broke the heart of my father and mother. They’re in heaven now. I wish I could go back. Son, if you have a Christian father and mother somewhere, you go back. You go back.”
And the old cowpoke sauntered away. And as the boy sat on the top of the corral fence he said—remember what he said? Do you remember it? The boy said, “I will. I will go back to my father and home.” And that was all. “I will” [Luke 15:18].
Back home at the dinner table the mother sat there looking at the plate, and the dad said to her, “Mama, why aren’t you eating?”
She said, “Oh, just not hungry.”
And the father said, “Mother, what’s the matter?”
“Oh, nothing,” she said. “Nothing.”
“Mother, something’s the matter. You’re not eating. Why?”
And she said, “Well, Dad, if you just have to know, I was just thinking about our boy.”
And that evening on the veranda he doubled up a big fist to wipe a tear out of his eye. He didn’t think she saw, but the mother turned to her husband and said, “Dad, what you crying for?”
“I’m not crying,” he says. “I’m not crying.”
“Dad, I saw you wipe a tear out of your eye. What you crying for?”
And he replied, “Well, Mother, if you just have to know, I was thinking about our boy.”
Out of the misery, and unhappiness, and tears, and sorrow of the home of the father, of a mother, and of the boy—now you look—and when the father saw him coming he ran and embraced him, and kissed him [Luke 15:20], and said, “Bring the finest robe you have. Take off those rags and clothe him in scarlet. And take the ring, the insignia of heirship and kinship and sonship, and put it on his finger! And kill the fatted calf, and let’s feast and rejoice; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” [Luke 15:22-24].
Where did all of that turn? It came from a simple, “I will” [Luke 15:18]. Isn’t that exactly what is there in the Book? “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. And when a man says, “I will” to God, God does the rest. When a child, when a youth, when a girl, when a woman, when a boy says that simple, “I will,” God does the rest. He is the One that saves us [Romans 10:13]. He is the One that regenerates us [John 3:3, 7]. He is the One that writes our names in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27; Luke 10:20]. It is just for us to receive Him: all for the asking; all for the having. “I will,” and I’m in. “I will,” and I’m saved. “I will,” and Jesus does the rest [Revelation 22:17].
And that’s our invitation; on the basis of the Word of God to your heart today, to answer the appeal and the call and the invitation of our Savior, “I will, Lord. You invite me to confess You publically; I will. You invite me to open my heart to You; I will. You invite me to put my life in the fellowship of the church; I will. You ask me to be baptized; I will. You ask me to love Your blessed name; I will. You ask me to walk in the pilgrim way; I will.” And when you do, you’re saved. That’s God’s open door for us. That’s God’s worldwide invitation for us. There’s room at the cross for us. Come, come, come.
In a moment we’ll stand and sing that hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you to come, a couple you to come, or just one somebody you to come, “Preacher, I have made the decision and I’m coming—whosoever will [Revelation 22:17]—and I have decided. I’ve made the choice; I’m coming.” On the first note of the first syllable, make it now. Down a stairway, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, preacher, I’m on the way.” And God bless you, angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.