The Whosoever Wills
February 4th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
THE WHOSOEVER WILLS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-4-79 8:15 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Whosoever Wills. Somebody said the elect are the “whosoever wills” and the non-elect are the “whosoever won’ts.” The address today is to you who will say to the Lord God, “I will.” And then God does a miraculous and marvelous thing thereafter. The text is the last invitation in the Bible; 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, ho thelōn, and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
The Spirit of God pleads with a man to come. Come to Jesus. The bride of Christ, the church, pleads with a man to come. Come to Jesus. No one in all earth is happier to see a man turn and accept Christ as his Savior as the church. “The bride of Christ, the church, says, Come.” Come to Jesus. “And let him that heareth say, Come.” Let the sojourner and the stranger just passing by repeat the glad refrain, “Come. Come to Jesus.”
“And let him that is athirst come.” Our Lord said, “Whosoever drinks of the water of this life shall thirst again” [John 4:13]. Bobby Burns said it like this:
Pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flow’r the bloom is shed;
Or as 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
Evanishing amid the storm—
[from “Tam o’ Shanter”; Robert Burns]
“Let him that is athirst come,” come to Jesus. And whosoever will, ho thelōn, anybody, anyone, anywhere, anytime who will turn, “whosoever will, let him come and take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. This is God’s last and open-wide invitation to the children, incorrigible, obstreperous, evil, and iniquitous, of old man Adam.
You see, God had tried everything that even God could do to save the prodigy of the human race. He said to our first parents in the garden of Eden, “Out of every tree in the garden you may freely eat: but this I have reserved for Myself” [Genesis 2:16-17]. And our first parents said, “No, we will not observe that interdiction. We will take it all for ourselves” [Genesis 3:6].
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.” And God wrote out His laws with His own finger on tables of stone and handed them to the children of old man Adam and said, “Thus do and thou shalt live” [Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 4:1]. And the children of old man Adam said, “No we won’t keep those laws!” And they break all of God’s commandments; 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. I will send them My prophets.”
And the prophets of the Lord God from heaven came and preached saying, “Turn ye, turn ye; for why would you die?” [Ezekiel 33:11]. And the children of Old Man Adam said, “No we won’t turn!” And some of God’s prophets they fed to the lions, and some of them they sawed asunder [Hebrews 11:37], and some of them they threw into the fiery furnace [Daniel 3:21-23]. 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. I will send them My forerunner to announce the presence of the kingdom of heaven.” And the great Baptist preacher came saying, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” [Matthew 3:3]. And the children of old man Adam said, “No. We won’t prepare the way for the Lord. And they took God’s forerunner and cut off his head, and he died in his own blood” [Mark 6:27-28].
And the Lord God looked down from heaven on the children of old man Adam and said, “But they will reverence My Son.” And the incarnate, virgin-born Son of glory [Matthew 1:20-25], came saying, “Believe on Him that sent Me, and thou shall have eternal life” [John 5:24], and they said, “No, we won’t believe on Him that sent You.” And they took God’s only begotten Son outside their city gate, outside their city wall, and there on a hill, exposed before men and angels, they nailed Him to the tree, and He suffered and died on a Roman cross [Hebrews 13:12; John 19:17-20].
And the Lord God looked down from heaven on the children of old man Adam, evil and corrupt, and said, “Thus will I do that they might be saved: I will raise up apostles.” And they came, preached, saying, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in thine heart that He liveth, thou shalt be saved” [Romans 10:9-10]. And the children of old man Adam said, “No, we won’t confess with our mouths, nor will we believe in our hearts.” And they took God’s apostles, and some of them, they cut off their heads with a sword, and some of them they stoned to death [Hebrews 11:37], and others they sent to rocky, lonely isles, there to die of exposure and starvation [Revelation 1:9].
And the Lord God looked down from heaven on the children of old man Adam and said, “If they will not observe My commandments, listen to My prophets, obey My apostles, thus will I do that they might be saved. If a man is just willing, just willing, if a man is just willing that I write his name in the Book of Life, that I forgive his sins, that I regenerate his heart and his soul, if a man is just willing, ho thelōn, then I will save him” [Revelation 22:17].
You see, your pastor believes in the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God [2 Timothy 3:15; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. Every syllable, every jot and tittle, every sentence and paragraph, every page and leaf, and this message is in that construction and in that context. Ho thelōn, “Whosoever will, let him come, let him take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17].
When the sainted apostle John wrote this concluding invitation to all of these Holy Scriptures, the Spirit of the Lord inspired the apostle John, saying, “Do not write there ho ginōskōn, ‘whosoever understandeth,’ let him come. Do not write there ho lambanōn, ‘whosoever receiveth,’ let him come. Do not write there ho paschōn, ‘whosoever feeleth,’ let him come. Do not write there ho pisteuōn, ‘whosoever believeth,’ let him come. Do not write there ho philōn, ‘whosoever loveth,’ let him come. But John, in this last epistle, write there ho thelōn, ‘whosoever will,’ let him come [Revelation 22:17]. I will receive him, blot out his sins, write his name in the Book of Life, regenerate his life now, and save him to heaven in the world that is to come. Ho thelōn, ‘Whosoever will,’ let him come” [Revelation 22:17].
It’s like this: I began preaching, as you know, when I was a teenager; pastoring my little country churches. Each one had a tabernacle—didn’t have a tabernacle, built an arbor—and in the summertime had camp revival meetings, and the people came from the ends of the earth for those annual, protracted meetings.
Preaching through the services of a camp revival on a Saturday night, after I’d poured out my heart and made the best appeal I could, nobody came forward. Nobody responded. And I pressed the appeal in the invitation and prayed. Nobody responded. Nobody came forward. I turned to the singer and said, “Wait.” Then I made this proposition: “If there’s anybody here tonight, anyone who will come forward and just be willing for God to save him, ask God to save him, if God doesn’t save him, I’ll put down my Bible, close it; I’ll quit the ministry; I’ll never preach again if God doesn’t save you.” Then I turned to the singer and I said, “Heist the tune. Let’s sing again.”
And when he did, an old cowpoke came walking down from the outside down to me with his hand extended like that, and when he got to me, he said, “Preacher, I’ll take you up on that proposition.” I said, “Fine.” So I had all the people seated, and I said to this fellow, “Now you kneel down here by my side,” and we knelt down, and I said, “You want God to save you, and you want to be a Christian, and you want to ask Him into your heart?”
He said “Yes.”
So I bowed my head and I told the Lord all about it. God is present, and God made that promise, and here this boy is. He’s come down, saying, “I want to be saved, and I want to be saved now.” And I said, “Lord, come into his heart and save him now.” Then I put my hand across to him as we knelt there together, and I said, “William, if God has saved you, take me by the hand.” Now he replied, in a rather uncultured way, he said, “Preacher, I swear there ain’t nothing happened to me yet. I’m just as I was.”
Well, I said, “Now let’s pray again. Now, Bill, you know that you’re willing and you’re asking God to come into your heart.” He said, “That’s right, preacher.” So I said, “Let’s pray again.” I bowed my head and I prayed for that boy. “Lord, Lord, save him and save him now.” And when I got through I reached my hand over, and I said, “Son, if God has saved you, will you take me by the hand?” He looked at me and he said, “Preacher, there ain’t nothing happened to me. I’m just like I was.”
Well, I said, “We’re going to try one more time. Now, Bill, you know that you’re willing and you’re asking God to come into your heart and you want to be saved. You want to be a Christian. You want God to forgive your sins, and you want to be saved to heaven.”
“I do, preacher. I want to be a Christian.”
I said, “Now let’s bow one more time,” and I prayed. But this time I—”O Lord God,” I said, “You know what I said. Anybody come forward and God didn’t save them, and they say ‘I want to be saved’ and God doesn’t save them, I’ll never preach again. Lord, save this boy and save him now; for Jesus’ sake, Lord, do it.” And I said, “Amen,” and I put my hand over and I said, “William, if God saved you will you take me by the hand?” He said, “Preacher, there ain’t nothing happened to me. I’m just like I was.”
Well, you couldn’t stay there all night long, so I had the benediction. After the benediction was over, I got in the little car going up to the ranch house with a family with whom I was staying. And when I got in the car they thought that was the biggest joke they ever saw or heard of in their life, and they began to kid me.
“Did you know what you said? You said, if anybody came down that aisle and accepted that proposition, if they weren’t saved, that you’d close your Bible, you’d put it down. You’d close the Book. You’d never preach again. You’d quit the ministry. Do you know what you said? And that boy came down the aisle, and he said, ‘I want to be saved,’ and he wasn’t saved.”
They thought that was the biggest story, that was the biggest joke, that was the funniest thing that ever had happened. But, ooh! I was about to die. And when they saw that I was just about to die on the inside, why, they never said a word; just as silent—all you could hear was the grass growing on the pastureland as we drove up to the house. Oh!
And when we got up to the ranch house, I dismissed myself and went into the little room they’d appointed for me. And I put my Bible down, and I put myself down on my face by the bed, and I said, “Lord God, this is it for me. This is the end of the way for me, and I don’t understand. You said in your Book, ‘Whosoever will, let him come.’ You said in the Book, ‘Whosoever will, let him look and live.’ You said in the Book whosoever would believe, would accept, he would be saved [Revelation 22:17]. Lord God, I don’t understand. And now this is the end of the way for me, for I’ve said if somebody came and weren’t saved, I’d never preach again, and I don’t know what to do.”
And I rolled and tossed all that night; got up the next morning, prepared with the family to go down to the tabernacle grounds, and there for the service of the day, on Sunday, and I had no idea what to do. I’d said the night before that I would quit the ministry, close the Book, never preach again if somebody came and they weren’t saved. I had no idea what to do or where to turn. I was in an agony of heart. Well, when the little car got down there to the tabernacle grounds, I opened the door and put one foot to get out to the car. And when I put one foot on the ground there was a voice up the country road hollering at the top of his lungs, “Say, preacher! Say, preacher!”
I turned around to see the voice hollering at me and there was that cowpoke, running down the road just as fast as his bowed legs would carry him. When he got to me he put his arms around me and hugged me real tight and said, “Say, preacher! Guess what!”
I said, “No, William, what?”
He said, “I’ve been saved! I’ve been saved!”
I said, “Bill, when were you saved?”
He said, “Last night, on the way home! Riding on my horse home,” he said, “Jesus came into my heart, and I was filled with the glory and gladness of God, and I’d been saved, I’d been saved!”
Never in my life have I felt an overflowing response as I did when that boy told me that. As soon as a quorum of the church gathered together, we took that boy in on his confession of faith and as a candidate for baptism. And I baptized him in a creek right by the side of the tabernacle, and I let him dry out at the 11 o’clock service that morning. I was never more happy in my life; never more glad to God in my life.
Well, I’ve had now fifty years to look back over that day. I don’t do that anymore. And I’ve had fifty years to think about why I don’t do it anymore. I’ve come to the conclusion I don’t trust God anymore as much as I did when I was a teenager, and I’m not as close to Him as I was when I was a boy. The world has kind of calloused me and hardened me, and I don’t have the hold on God, it seems, that I had when I was a youth. But I tell you this: in those years that have passed, I have studied, gone through the seminary. You know what I have found? In the years that I’ve studied, I have found that whether today I have that faith to make a proposition like that or not, that the gospel I preached then is the truest theological gospel that a man could preach. And I’ll tell you why, and that’s the sermon this morning.
You see, the “me” that lives on the inside of this house is made up of three parts. I am a tripartite creation, and the “me” lives on the inside of this house. You don’t see me; you just see this house of dirt and ground and corruption in which I live, and I look out at you through these two windows that we call eyes. But the “me” lives on the inside. Could I illustrate it like this? There was an old man named Peas, and the old man Peas died, and this is the epitaph they wrote on his tombstone:
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.
[Author and Work Unknown]
Now, that’s what I think. There is a “me” that lives on the inside of this house.
I don’t think this is very nice for me to tell, but I’ll illustrate that again. There was a young preacher—he was just out of the seminary—and in his little church there was a man who died, and he’s trying to comfort the poor widow. And as he stood there with her looking at that corpse, he said, “You see, it’s like this. He ain’t here. That’s just the shell, that’s just the husk; you see, the nut’s gone to glory.” That’s uncultured and uncouth. That’s the way some preachers do.
There’s a “me” that lives on the inside of this house, and that “me” is composed of three parts. Three things make up the “me” that lives inside of this house: my mind, my emotion, and my will; my understanding, my feelings, and my volition. Those are the three things that make up me. Now, where is the seat of salvation? Where am I saved in those three categories? Am I saved in my mind? Am I saved in my head? Am I saved in my understanding? Am I saved by being smart? Am I saved by being educated? Well, it has a part; Romans 10:17 avows, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of God.” My understanding, my knowledge, my apprehension has something to do with it.
But I’m not saved in my head. I’m not saved in my understanding. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that could be true? Then all we’d have to do to save the whole world would be just to educate them, just to train them, just to teach them into the kingdom of God. But it seems to me that just the opposite has the tendency to be true. Instead of education moving toward God and moving the people toward God, it seems to me it has a tendency to interdict them, to be an obstacle to them, to move them away from God.
You don’t have a finer example than that in Nazi Germany. There never has been yet a nation that was as literate and as educated and as academically full of achievement as Germany before the Second World War. When I grew up as a young fellow, if a man wanted to go to a great, marvelous university, he went to Germany. The center of the scholastic and intelligent and academic world was in the universities in Germany, and the whole nation was like that; educated, literate. But there never was a nation more brutal or inhumane than Germany! The story of their assault upon human dignity, common decency, all in the name of government and power is unspeakable and indescribable.
I went through some of those concentration camps in Germany right after the war, such as Dachau. And there I saw places where German scientists used human beings as guinea pigs in order to experiment with things of the human body that would have to do with the power structure and the victorious army of the Nazi legions. It’s just the opposite. A man’s not saved because he’s smart, or because he’s full of understanding, or because he has academic degrees, or because he’s intelligent and educated. You’re just not saved in your head; never.
“Well, then, preacher, if I’m not saved in my head, in my knowledge, then I know exactly where the seat of salvation is. It’s in my emotions, it’s in my feelings. I’m saved because I feel that I’m saved. My emotions avow that I’m saved. That’s the seat of my salvation!”
Well, let’s look at that honestly for a moment. When I went to school 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. James Lange’s theory of the emotions is this: that emotion, feeling, is nothing other than a concomitant, a summary of all of the anatomical changes in your body. You put it all together and that’s a feeling, that’s an emotion. And those feelings go up and down. The psychologists say that they can graph the life of every one of us. There are certain days we’re going to be up, there are certain days we’re going to be down, and if you are normal, they say your feelings, your emotions, rise and fall, rise and fall. They say that if you’re down all the time, you’re a melancholia. If you’re up all the time, you’re an idiot. If you’re normal, you’re up and down, up and down, up and down, and they say all feeling and all emotion is like that.
For example, love is an emotion; love is a feeling. And one of these fellows surely demonstrated it. He said, “One day I love my wife so much I could eat her up, and the next day I wished I’d a-done it.” Now, that’s the way it is. Feeling rises and falls; emotion goes up and down.
It’s the same way with religious feeling and with religious emotion; it rises and falls, it goes up and down if you’re normal. They were having a testimony at a midweek service, and a dear sainted grandmother stood up and said, “Sometimes my cup is so full it runs over, and sometimes my cup is dry. Pray for me.” And when she sat down, right back of her stood up a saint, and he said, “That’s not my experience at all.” He said, “I’ve been a Christian over thirty years, and thirty some odd years ago, my cup was filled about two-thirds.” And he said, “For thirty—oh, thirty-five years, it still remained just two-thirds full. And today my cup’s still two-thirds full.” And he sat down. And when he did, there was a saint right back of him who kinda lisped, and he said, “Yes sir, and I bet thee every cent I got, your cup’s got wiggletails in it!”
Feeling rises and falls, and religious feeling is no different from any other feeling. Religious emotion is no different from any other emotion. It rises and falls. It comes and goes. And I tell you truly, whenever you tie your religion to your feelings, it will drag you to death. One day you’ll feel, “Oh, I’m saved. Hallelujah! I can hear the angels singing.” Then the next day, can’t even hear nobody praying; so blue and discouraged, sitting under every juniper tree you can find. You see our feelings rise and fall. They have nothing to do with the genuineness of our salvation. It’s like that old spiritual hymn:
I’m sometimes up
And I’m sometimes down,
But still my soul
[feels] heavenly bound.
[“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” Walllis Willis]
We’re just like the mercury on the inside of a thermometer; it’ll go up and down, up and down, but always inside the thermometer. I’m not saved in my feelings. I’m not saved in my emotions. “Well then, preacher, if I’m not saved in my head, in my smartness, in my education, and if I’m not saved in my feelings, in my emotions, then where am I saved? Where is the seat of salvation?”
My brother, it is exactly where God says it is. God says the seat of salvation is in our will; it is in our volition; it is in a decision and a commitment that we make. “Ho thelōn, whosoever will, let him come” [Revelation 22:17]. Let him come. It is in a decision that I make for God; that’s where I am saved.
I don’t know of a more poignant or beautiful way to illustrate that than in the words of the Lord Jesus. He could tell a story as no one in the earth could tell a story, illustrating a sublime and spiritual truth, and He told the story that is just this; “Ho thelōn, whosoever will, let him come, let him take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. And this is the way Jesus said it.
The Lord Jesus said out there in West Texas there was a boss-man, a big ranchman. He had two boys, and upon a day, the younger of his boys came to him and said, “Dad, I’m tired of this place and I’m dragging out. Every time I drink a little, there you are preaching me a sermon. Every time I’m out a little late on Saturday night, there mother is waiting to give me a lecture when I come in. And on Sunday you take me to church that I hate. I don’t like anything around here, and I’m dragging out. I’m heading west! And if you have anything of the inheritance that belongs to me, give it to me now because I’m leaving home.” Well, the father pled with the boy, but you can’t keep a boy when you’ve lost his heart. So the father divided to him the inheritance that belonged to him, and that boy headed west.
Say, you should have seen him! You should have seen him; you should have been in town when he hit the place. He bought him a ten gallon Stetson hat, he bought him boots with a golden spur, he bought him a palomino pony with a silver bridle, he bought him the best saddle that money could buy, and when he came to town, did everybody know he was there! Man, he lived it up, having the biggest time in the world heading west.
Back home it wasn’t that way. Supper time, mother didn’t eat, and the dad said to her, “Mother, what’s the matter?”
She said, “Dad, nothing is the matter.”
He said, “Mother, there’s something the matter. You’re not eating.”
She said, “Well, Dad, if you just have to know—I was thinking about our boy.”
That evening on the veranda, in the twilight and shades of the night, the big man doubled up his fist and wiped a tear from his eye. She saw it, and she said, “Dad, what’s the matter?”
“Oh, nothing’s the matter,” he said.
“Dad, something’s the matter. I saw you double up your fist and wipe a tear out of your eye.” He replied, “Mother, if you just have to know—I was thinking about our boy.”
Way out there in the West, seated on the top of a corral fence, sat a boy, watching the hogs eat, hungry [Luke 15:16]; gone his palomino pony, gone his boots and his golden spurs, gone his silver bridle and the saddle to match; seated there, hungry, wretched, alone. And as he sat there he began to think about home and father and mother. And as he thought about home, the tears, unbidden, rolled down his face and fell on the ground below. While he was seated there crying, an old cowpoke came sauntering by and saw him. He walked over there and looked at him, and he said, “Son, what are you crying for?”
The boy said, “Nothing, nothing at all. I ain’t crying; nothing wrong.”
The cowpoke pointed to his face and said, “Look at the furrows on your cheeks made by the tears through the dirt falling down on the ground. What’s the matter, son? What’s the matter?”
And the boy replied, “Well, sir, if you just have to know—I was thinking about home. I was thinking about mother. I was thinking about dad. I was thinking about my Christian home.” And the old cowpoke said, “Do you mean, son, to tell me you have a home somewhere?”
“And a Christian father and mother somewhere?”
And the old cowpoke said, “Son I one time had a Christian father and mother and a Christian home, and I left, and I broke their hearts. They’re in heaven now and I can’t go to them. Son, let me tell you, if you have a home somewhere and a Christian mother and father, get up and go back home. Do it, son, do it.” And the old cowpoke sauntered away, and as the boy sat there on the top of the corral fence watching the hogs eat, he said—what did he say? He said, “I will.” Isn’t that right? “I will arise and go back to my father and home; I will!” [Luke 15:18].
It was the difference between heaven and hell; it is the difference between tears and gladness; it’s the difference between defeat and victory, for the Book says that the father saw him afar off and ran to meet him, and embraced him [Luke 15:20], and said, “Bring hither the finest robe [Luke 15:22]. Take off those rags. Clothe him in scarlet. Bring hither a ring, a sign of his sonship, his heirship. Put it on his finger [Luke 15:22]. Kill the fatted calf, and let us rejoice and be glad [Luke 15:23], for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found!” [Luke 15:24].
What is the difference? The difference was, “And I will” [Luke 15:18], a decision made in the heart, in the soul. “I will.” And that’s it; just exactly where God says it is. I’m not saved because I’m educated or brilliant. I’m not saved because I’m full of feeling or emotion. I’m saved because there was a time when God said, “Come,” and I answered with my life.
“Whosoever will, let him come [Revelation 22:17]. I will write his name on the pages in glory. I will regenerate his heart. I will make him strong in the faith. I will walk by his side through the pilgrimage of this world. I will stand by him in the hour of death, and I will take his soul to glory with an angel band when the end comes. I will be his Mediator [1 Timothy 2:5], his lawyer, his defense attorney, his pleader at the judgment bar of Almighty God, and I will build him a mansion in the sky” [John 14:1-3].
Dear God, “what the Lord hath in store for us who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9], all in an “I will” [Revelation 22:17]. It is that simple. Had the Lord God said, “Buy it,” some of us are too poor. Had the Lord said, “Be good enough for it,” some of us are too wicked. Had the Lord God said, “Be smart enough,” some of us might be too unlearned.
But the Lord God said it simply, “Look and live.”
My brother, live. Look to Jesus Christ and live.
‘Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
It is only that you look and live.
[“Look and Live”; William A. Ogden, 1887]
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9]. Look and live.
There is life for a look at the Crucified One.
Then look, sinner, look and live…
[“There is Life for a Look at the Crucified One”; Miss A.M. Hull]
Whosoever will, let him come; and the answer, “I will” [Revelation 22:17]. And God is in it. That’s the appeal the Lord in His Holy Spirit makes to you today. A family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you: “I have decided for God, and I’m on the way. I open my heart heavenward and Christ-ward, upward. I’m coming.” Some of you accepting Jesus as Savior [Ephesians 2:8-9], come. God says, “Come” [Revelation 22:17]. Some of you to follow the Lord in beautiful baptism as He Himself was baptized [Matthew 3:13-17], come. God bids you, “Come.” Some of you to put your life in the fellowship of this dear church, come. The Lord says, “Come.” As the Spirit may press the appeal to your heart in anywise that God did, answer with your life. “I have decided, I’m on the way.” Down that stairway, down this aisle: “Here I am, preacher. I’ve made the decision. I’m coming now.” May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.