July 22nd, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
Decree, Election, Foreknowledge, Free Will, Predestination, Acts 1976 - 1979 (early svc), 1979, Acts
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 27:20 – 33
07-22-79 8:15 a.m.
It is a gladness for us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas to welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are sharing this hour over the radio. There are two radio stations that carry this service, and many, many people getting ready to go to church or go to Sunday school, while they are dressing in the house or driving to the place of worship, they turn on the radio and they listen to us, and always with a prayer and with appreciation. And we love you for it.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Predestination. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 27. And the subject is very clearly and plainly presented to us in the story of the shipwreck and salvation of Paul and his companions, two hundred seventy-six, on their way to Rome [Acts 27:37].
In the middle of the chapter, chapter 27 of the Book of Acts, "When neither," beginning at verse 20:
When neither sun nor stars appeared in many days, and no small storm lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was taken away. But after long abstinence, fasting and prayer, Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Ye should have hearkened unto me . . .
But now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, only the ship will be destroyed.
For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,
Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar –
That is, he shall be sent to Rome –
and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.
Good. Now come down here to verse 30:
And as the shipmen –
as the sailors –
were about to escape out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under color as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship,
Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.
Ah! Isn’t that something! He has just announced "We are all going to be saved." God says he’s to be brought before Caesar and all of these on the shipboard are to be saved with him [Acts 27:24]. Then, about five verses down, Paul says to the centurion, "Except these abide in the ship, except these sailors stay to guide this ship, ye cannot be saved" [Acts 27:31].
Predestination and free moral agency: we’re going to look at the spiritual government of God. That is, we’re going to look at it just as we can look at God’s natural, created world. We don’t explain it. We don’t explain anything. We are incapable explaining anything. We just look at it, and write it down. We watch it and experience it. But we don’t explain anything.
It’s like that old woman who looked at a giraffe and she said, "There ain’t no such animal, but just look at it!" Just looking at God’s created world around us, packed with infinitude. I stood one time in a great planetarium and just looked at the sweep of the chalice of the infinite sky. Explain it? No, just look at it, or, away from the macrocosm above us, looking at the infinitesimal microcosm below us, just looking at it. I remember studying a leaf under a high-powered microscope. There are the cells, and the protoplasm, and the chlorophyll, and it is capable of photosynthesis. That is, sunlight striking that leaf, the little leaf is capable of taking the power and strength and might of the sun and packing it into sugar that will go into an orange or starch that will go into a potato; a miracle before your eyes. You just look at it! You can’t explain it. It’s God.
Look at botany. I studied the construction and anatomy of a frog and of a cat. A miracle! Even a frog and a cat – you don’t explain it. You just look at it. Or physics, the study of the molecular makeup of the whole world; molecules, atoms, electrons, you just look at it. You don’t explain it. So, we’re going to look at the spiritual government of God.
There are two types of vocabularies. There are two sets of words to describe God and the man that He made in the universe. And those sets of words are different and separate. And as long as you will keep them separate, you’ll never have any trouble. It’s when you begin mixing them up that you fall into infinite and inexplicable difficulty.
First, the words that pertain to God: they are nomenclatures that belong up there where the God of infinity reigns and dwells. And when we talk about Him up there, we use words such as foreknowledge, and election, and predestination, and sovereignty, and certainty, and omnipotence, and omniscience. Those are words; that’s the vocabulary that belongs up there where God is. All history is present to Him. He sees the end from the beginning, and He looks at it, the whole story of humanity, as present before Him. He sees it all, and He is sovereign above it all. God rules and God reigns in the world that He made, that’s the language up there. That’s where God is, and those words pertain to the almightiness of the Heavenly Father.
Then there is another set of words, and that set refers to us who live down here in the dust of death. Those words are: free moral agency, the liberty of choice, contingency, uncertainty, and possibility. These are the words that apply to us down here. Those are the words we live with down here.
I don’t know what any tomorrow may bring. I can’t see the end of history. You’ve heard me say that if a man could know the future for, say, two minutes, I can tell you how to be a billionaire overnight. If you know the future, just a few seconds, buy a stock before it goes up, sell the stock before it goes down, and you’ll be a billionaire in just a little while.
So circumscribed are we, so finite are we that to us things happen a day at a time, moment at a time, little piece at a time, and we can’t see the future. It is hidden from our eyes. Don’t even know the hour of my death or the ultimate destiny of my days. That’s down here.
So in this text, you have both of those. The Lord God appears to Paul and He says, "Do not be afraid, I have decreed, and declared, and elected, and foreordained, that thou shalt be brought before Caesar. And I have given you all two hundred seventy-five others that are on this ship" [Acts 27:24]. That’s God. That’s the Lord God.
Now, down here in this earth, where we live in the midst of death and uncertainty, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved" [Acts 27:31]. The contingency, the possibility; the two go together.
Now we’re going to take, first of all, God’s language: how God speaks, how God does; the decrees of the Almighty, the unchangeable elective purpose of the great sovereign who lives in heaven. We’re going to speak of Him first. This is God’s language: the Lord God said to Paul, in the twenty-third chapter of Acts, in the eleventh verse, "And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou has testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome" [Acts 23:11]. God decreed that.
That is an elective predestinarian pronouncement of the Lord God of heaven. "Paul, you shall testify of Me in Rome." This is in the midst of the conspiracy to murder him. He’s not going to be murdered. God said he is going to [testify]: "You are going to testify of Me in Rome" [Acts 23:11]. That was repeated in the passage that I’ve just read. The angel of the Lord stood by him in the midst of that terrible storm, saying, "Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar" [Acts 27:23-24]. That’s the edict of God. That’s what God says, and we’re talking about God’s language now; predestination and foreordination. That’s God.
Then, the Lord spelled it out, as though it were not enough that the Lord says to the apostle Paul, "You are to stand before Caesar, you are going to Rome." He says several other things. He says, "All two hundred seventy-five others of you, all two hundred seventy-six of you are going to be spared, you are going to be saved," [Acts 27:24, 37].
He repeats that three times. In verse 22 it says, "There shall be no loss of any man’s life among you" [Acts 27:22]. Not a one of you will perish. Now He repeats that in verse 24. "And lo, God hath given thee all of them that sail with thee" [Acts 27:24]. Then He repeats it in verse 34, "There shall not a hair fall from the head of any one of you" [Acts 27:34]. That’s what God says. Talking about God up there who sees the end from the beginning. "There will be no loss of any man’s life among you. Paul, God has given you every one of these that sail with you." And, finally, "there shall not an hair fall from the head of any one of you" [Acts 27:34]. That’s what God said.
Then he spelled it out further: "But there is going to be the loss of the ship" [Acts 27:22]. The ship is going to be destroyed. Then he spelled it out even further in verse 26: "Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island" [Acts 27:26]. All of that God says. That is the predestined, foreordained, elective decree of the sovereign God of all the earth. Every one of those things God says.
Now, when God says that, that’s coming to pass just as God said. And whatever the providence or the circumstance, the decree of God shall certainly be carried out, for God is sovereign. And we’re talking now the language of heaven.
What about these things that apparently deign to interfere and interdict what God says? First of all, the storm; that storm raged for fourteen days, day and night for fourteen days [Acts 27:27, 33]. And that little old ship was blown up and down, it says, in the Sea of Adria, in the Adriatic [Acts 27:27], and it zig-zagged, and it was modified, and its course was changed, and all hope that they would be saved was gone [Acts 27:20]. But God said, "Whatever the storm," God said, "they are all going to be saved and Paul’s going to Rome" [Acts 27:24]. God said that.
All of the apparent interdictions are as nothing when God’s purpose and decree is announced. You look again. It seems in this story death was impatient for its prey. Death was on every hand. "And they despaired of their lives. All hope that we should be saved was taken away" [Acts 27:20]. Look at this. The sailors were trying to escape [Acts 27:30]. That meant the ship was without anybody to guide it or to help it in any way. They were trying to escape. They were panic-stricken.
And not only that, but the soldiers’ – in verse 42 – the soldiers’ counsel to the centurion was to kill the prisoners, lest they escape [Acts 27:42]. Death was on every hand. But God said they were all going to be saved [Acts 27:23-24], and in the decree of the Lord God, Paul was quiet and calm and at rest.
Look at him. He says, "Sirs, be of good cheer, for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me [Acts 27:25]. Wherefore, I pray you, eat" [Acts 27:34]. Verse 34: "For this is for your health . . . And when he had spoken, he took bread, gave thanks, and ate before them all" [Acts 27:34-35]. Isn’t that great? Isn’t that marvelous? Quiet and peaceful in the decree and the elective purpose of God. Now, that is God up there in heaven.
Now we’re going to talk about us down here in the earth. God’s predestination, and God’s election, and God’s decreed purpose, and God’s sovereign will up there in heaven, that’s God’s language. So much – I presume all – of this earth is just like that. God decrees, and Jesus is born [Matthew 1:20-25]. God decrees, and He dies for our sins [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3]. God decrees, and He’s raised from the dead. God decrees, and His church is launched into the earth. God decrees, and Jesus is coming again [Matthew 24:36-37]. God decrees, and heaven is filled with the brethren of the Lord who praise His name forever [Romans 8:29, Ephesians 3:21]. That’s God!
Now we’re going to look down here in this earth; the contingency and the possibilities of the free moral choices of us down here in the Earth. Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, "If these sailors are allowed to escape, we cannot be saved" [Acts 27:31]. Can’t be saved. Can’t be saved. What an amazing thing: they can’t be saved. God had just decreed they all are going to be saved [Acts 27:24]. But if these sailors escape, can’t be saved [Acts 27:31]. That’s talking down here in this earth. And look at all of the – look at all of the effort that they pour into that rescue. When the ship was broken up, those that could swim, swam, and those that couldn’t swim found a board or a broken piece of the ship, and they all finally came to the shore [Acts 27:43-44].
After extreme effort, maximum toil, exhausted effort, they were saved. You look at how much entered into that effort on the part of the people on that ship. God said "They are going to be saved" [Acts 27:24]. That’s God. But down here where we are, look at the effort, the human effort that went into it. Verse 28: "They sounded, and found the sea to be one hundred and twenty feet. Then they sounded again and found the sea to be ninety feet deep, and they knew they were coming up to some kind of a land" [Acts 27:28].
Then the next verse, "Then fearing lest they should have fallen upon rocks, they cast out four anchors from the stern" [Acts 27:29]. Not from the foreship, as everybody puts out an anchor; "from the stern." The thing was being driven in the wind. And look at this: "Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved" [Acts 27:31]. And look at this: "Take a hearty meal because you are going to need it" [Acts 27:33-34]. Going to be an ordeal ahead of you.
Then look at this in verse 40: "They loosed the rudder bands." The rudder had been tied to the ship; they loosed it, then they "hoisted the mainsail, and they made for the shore" [Acts 27:40]. Look at that. And then, finally, everybody, the best that he could, scrambled to the land. Some could swim and they swam, and some could ride it out on a board, or a piece of the ship, but they all struggled, they all struggled [Acts 27:43-44]. Now, that’s down here.
Why struggle if God says it’s coming to pass? Why put any effort in it if God says they’re going to be saved? Why toil and try and labor if God says it’s coming to pass? You see, that’s God up there, but down here we have to struggle, and we have to strive, and there is contingency and possibility in us.
So they pour their very lives, sometimes out of sheer terror, in order to find themselves safe on the shore. Isn’t that something? Isn’t’ that something? These old Baptists in 1643 published a first Baptist Confession of Faith on the certainty of the divine purposes as in no any way interfering with the contingency of second causes – that is, our own efforts. Now you listen to those old Baptists as they write: "God hath decreed in Himself from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever come to pass." Man, that says it. Whatever it is, God has decreed it from eternity. "Yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath any fellowship therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established,"
Now, to sum it up: always, as this Baptist Confession of Faith avows, always, as the experience of life, always, those two are together and always present. There is God who is sovereign above all of history, above all of creation. There is God who is ruling and reigning over this earth and the whole vast infinitude above us and around us. There’s God. And God is elective. And God is predestinating. And God is choosing. And God is sovereignly working out His holy will. That’s God up there in heaven.
And at the same time, down here in the earth, there we are, volitionally deciding, and struggling, and seeking, and working, and toiling, and trying. The two are together; God’s decree and our deciding, God’s electing His holy purposes and we pouring our hearts and lives into seeking to magnify the will of God in our lives and in our world.
The preacher must preach; Paul plants, and Apollos waters; but God gives the increase [1 Corinthians 3:6]. And it is both the preacher delivering the message, and God sanctifying the appeal; both of them always present and together.
So it is these two hundred seventy-six finally [Acts 27:37] came to shore on the isle of Malta [Acts 27:44-28:1] shivering, drenched, exhausted, and I can imagine the story that they told to the natives. How they had finally found life when they thought they were facing death. How finally they came to land when they thought they were drowned out at the sea. I can just see all two hundred seventy-six of those people on board that ship describing to the natives the ordeal of that terrible two weeks’ storm. I can just hear them as they describe it. And yet above and beyond every description, and every toil, every swimmer that could swim, and every refugee on a board, on a piece of the broken up ship, I can just hear them describe how they were finally saved. I can just hear them talk about it.
And that’s exactly the way it’s going to be with us in heaven. When we get up there to heaven, and all of us are describing what God has done for us and what we have done, the Lord is going to listen to us and He is going to smile. And He is going to say, "I knew that all along, all along. I knew it all." That’s God’s infinite purpose for us.
May I conclude with two little things from the Book? First is election. Ephesians 1:4-5.
According as God 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,
What an amazing statement! Before the world, God chose us in the Lord Jesus and predestinated us to be the adopted children, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? That’s God.
All right, now you listen to it down here. God has predestinated us and God has chosen us. Before the foundation of the world He knew all about us. He knew your name, knew everything about you. Before the foundation of the world, that’s God’s language [Ephesians 1:4-5]. Now, down here where we are – now you listen to it. Luke 13:3: "Except ye repent, ye shall in no wise be saved" Acts 16:31: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" up in heaven, God decrees; down here in earth, I must repent, and I must accept the Lord as my Savior. And the two always go together.
Look just once again at the assurance of eternal life. In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John beginning at verse 27, Jesus says:
I know My sheep, I call them by name. I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone pluck them out of My hand. They belong to My Father who is greater than all; I and My Father are one. And no one shall be able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.
John 10:3, 27-29
Now, that is eternal security and eternal salvation decreed by the Lord God. That’s what God is and says, and that’s the language He uses up there in heaven.
Now you look at it down here in earth. When you’re talking about us down here in the earth, when you’re talking about us, such as Hebrews 10:38: "The just shall live by faith: but he that draweth back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him." Or in the tenth chapter of Matthew, "He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved" [Matthew 10:22]. Up there, God decrees; down here, I must respond. I must choose. I must decide. I must struggle. I must work. I must toil. I must obey. I must swim. I must do my best to reach the shore [Acts 27:43]. And the two are always together.
While I’m in it, while I am in it, struggling, things seem to happen that I don’t understand. And they come one at a time, moment at a time, day at a time, while I’m in it. Do you know, when I get to the end of the way and look back – I’m old enough to do that in a thousand instances already – when I come to the end of the way and look back, I can see God’s hand was in that all the way through? God’s hand was in it.
In the mercies of God, I was saved when I was a little boy, ten years old. Looking back, I can see that now. I can see that. Looking back over the years of my life, I can see the hand of the Lord touching me when I was a little boy, calling me to be a pastor. I can see that looking back. Looking back through the years, how could I ever forget the call that came from Bob Coleman? "The church has met in conference and unanimously called you to be pastor of this dear congregation." Looking back now thirty-five years, I can see that. And in a thousand other ways I can see the hand of God, but at the time, but at the time, it was a choice, and it was a commitment, and it was a surrender, and it was an obedience with me down here.
When we get to the end of the way, there’ll be ten thousand times ten thousand things that we thought were so inexplicable. But when we get to the end of the way, we’ll understand it all. It was God working in all things to bless us, and to help us, and to enrich us, and to prepare us, and to encourage us.
Things don’t just happen. God is in them. And when we’re like Paul, we trust in the Lord, there is a quiet, and a peace, and an assurance that fills our life that is beyond explanation and beyond understanding. It’s just God in human life and in our life.
Ah! Dear people, it’s a wonderful thing to walk in the love, and the promise, and the assurance, and the sovereignty, and the predestination of God. Lord, Lord, in darkness He is light. In sorrow He is comfort, and in perplexity He has all the answers.
And that’s our invitation to you. Now, in the presence of the Lord, the great, great, mighty God of heaven, whom we know in the love and grace of Jesus Christ, could all of us stand with our heads bowed together? All of us stand with our heads bowed together.
Our wonderful Lord, nobody takes out of Thy hands the reigns of the world. You rule. You are sovereign. And to us who struggle in the sea of life, the tempest sometimes is so fierce we think all is lost, but God has decreed, and in His love and grace we find rest and assurance. And, our Father, we pray that we may commit our destiny into Thy strong and mighty arms.
God is able, and He will save us. We trust in Thee. We come to Thee. We commit our lives to Thee. And we rest in that divine promise: "He that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out" [John 6:37]. And in faith, in love, we come dear God.
As we stand before the Lord in humble submission, in quiet confidence, somebody you to trust Jesus as his Savior, a family you to put your life in the fellowship of the church, or just one somebody you, coming to the Lord and to us, as God speaks and as the Holy Spirit invites, answer now with your life. While our people pray, while we wait before God, and as our choir sings a hymn of appeal, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles: "Here pastor, here I am." I’ll be waiting here at the front. Take that first step. "Here I am, Lord. You have called me and I’m answering." God bless you. Angels attend you as you come, while we pray and while we sing.