Election: God’s Sovereign Purpose Achieved
September 19th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
ELECTION: GOD’S SOVEREIGN PURPOSE ACHIEVED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-19-82 10:50 a.m.
It is a gladness for us to welcome the great multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Election: The Achievement of God’s Sovereign Purpose. It is next to the last of the doctrinal sermons on soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. As a background text, and as one of the many we shall use, in Acts 13:48 there is a summary of the response to the preaching of the gospel in Pisidian Antioch; Antioch, is a Roman province of Pisidia located in the center of Asia Minor. And after the story of the preaching of the gospel in that city, it concludes with verse 48, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord” [Acts 13:48].
Now you look at that concluding clause, “and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” [Acts 13:48]. That verse is very much in the Bible: “and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Those that were not appointed to eternal life did not believe. Those who were elected believed.
This revelation of the mind and purpose of God, the sovereignty of the Lord in human history, in creation, in destiny and consummation, this doctrine of the elective purpose of God is inwoven in all of Scripture, all of it, every part of it. It’s a part of the fabric of the Holy Scriptures themselves, the elective purpose of God.
This last month I visited the beautiful San Lorenzo del Escorial palace in Spain, about an hour’s drive north of Madrid. And the first time I ever saw anything like this: one beautiful room after another, all of it covered in tapestries; the wall covering was tapestry, above the windows, above the doors, on the walls, inwoven by the genius of those hands that created it, the stories of San Lorenzo and of the royal families of Spain. Most beautiful tapestries I’d ever seen. I didn’t know tapestries looked like that, inwoven in all of those tapestries those wonderful scenes and stories.
Inwoven in the Holy Scriptures, all through the Scripture is this elective, sovereign purpose of God. I have chosen just a few; we could be here the rest of the day looking and reading. In Isaiah chapter 14:24:
The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand:
This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth: and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations.
For the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?
In Isaiah, chapter 44 beginning at verse 23—
Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it . . .
Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, He that formed thee . . . I am the Lord that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by [Myself] . . . that maketh diviners mad. . .
Isn’t that an unusual word?—
That confirmeth the word of His servant, and performeth the counsel of His messengers.
Now, look at verse 28, the last verse—
That saith of Cyrus—
My brother, Cyrus is not to be born for two hundred solid years. This is written about 750 BC, and Cyrus wasn’t born until about 550 BC, two hundred years later:
That saith of Cyrus, He is My shepherd, and shall perform all My pleasure: saying to Jerusalem,
That has been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar [2 Kings 25:1-21]—
Thou shalt be built; and to the temple—that those Chaldeans burned down [2 Kings 25:9]—Thy foundation shall be laid.
[Isaiah 44: 28]
That’s God! The same Lord God that stretches out the heavens above us, that spreads the earth beneath us [Isaiah 42:5], is the same Lord God that ordained all human history.
Look again, the very fabric of the Bible; in Romans 11, beginning at verse 5, speaking of the unbelief of Israel, “there is a remnant according to the election of grace” [Romans 11:5]. Verse 7, “Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it” [Romans 11:7].
Look again at Ephesians chapter 1, beginning at verse 5; Ephesians 1, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children . . . according to the good pleasure of His will” [Ephesians 1:5]. Verse 9, “Having made known unto us the mustērion of His will, according to the good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ” [Ephesians 1:9-10]. Verse 11, having “predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” [Ephesians 1:11].
Just once again, in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, verse 13; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “…God hath from the beginning,” before there was any creation, up there in heaven where the throne of God is, “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation . . . whereunto He called you by our gospel” [2 Thessalonians 2:13-14]. God chooses. God calls. The same Lord God that spoke this creation by fiat into existence [Genesis 1:1-25], that same Lord God elects and chooses in human story. God calls. God chooses [2 Thessalonians 2:13-14].
In [1 Chronicles] chapter 28, David is speaking of the denial of God, the interdiction of the Lord against his building the temple. In verse 4, he says in 1 Chronicles 28:4:
The Lord God of Israel chose me before all the house of my father to be king over Israel . . . for He hath chosen Judah to be ruler; and of the house of Judah, He chose the house of my father; and among the sons of my father, eight of them, He chose me to make me king over Israel:
And of all my sons . . . He hath chosen Solomon my son to sit upon the throne . . .
And said . . . he shall build My house . . . for I have chosen him . . . and I will be his Father, and he will be My son.
[1 Chronicles 28:4-6]
God did that. God chooses. God elects.
Turn to Nehemiah, chapter 9, and look at verse 7:
Thou art the Lord the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham, the father of many nations.
And You found his heart faithful before Thee, and made a covenant with him to give him the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, Jebusites, the Girgashites . . . and to his seed.
I don’t care what anybody says in the headlines, in politics, in the courts of the nations, God gave the land of Israel to Abraham and to his seed, Isaac and Jacob. It belongs to them. There’s plenty of room in this earth for everybody else. I don’t need to go over there to live; that land belongs to them. Nor does anybody else need to go over there, it belongs to them. That’s what God says. That’s the elective purpose of God. And you’re going to have a hard time disannulling it. That’s what God said.
The choice of God. Acts chapter 9, verse 15, when Ananias hesitated to go to the place where Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor, was, Acts 9:15, “But the Lord said unto him, Go, go . . . for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.” That’s God. God chooses. God elects. The same Lord God that created the earth and the universe around us, above us, and beneath us [Genesis 1:1-23], is the same Lord God who in sovereign grace executes, achieves, accomplishes, brings to fruition, His divine purpose in human history [Jeremiah 32:27].
If anything is of God it is to us inexplicable, whether it be in the physical creation around us, or whether it be in the revelation of the doctrine, the truth of God on these holy pages; to us it is all alike, un-understandable and inexplicable. If God did it, if God does it, the signature of God is always affixed; namely, unfathomable mystery. That is the signature of God. And there is no exception to that. We see that un-understandable, inexplicable, unfathomable, inexplainable mystery in the creation around us.
A scientist, for example, will say that the force of gravity that holds this earth in orbit around the sun is the strength of a steel bar three thousand miles in diameter, holding this earth, ninety-three million miles away from the sun, holding it in orbit around that central sun. The force that holds that earth in its orbit is the force, the strength of a steel bar, three thousand miles in diameter, in width. And yet, a little tiny bird can fly through it. I can take my hand and wave through it. That force, that force, why doesn’t that fall up? Why doesn’t it fall out? Why does it fall down? The force of gravity. But I can wave my hand through it; can’t even see it with my naked eye. The unfathomable mystery of God, you don’t explain anything, you just observe it, you just watch it.
When we go to the astronomer and ask about these planets in their orbits, spinning, spinning, there is a force called centripetal. And the centripetal force of anything rotating around a central axis pulls in; a centripetal force pulling toward the center, toward the axis, toward the middle. If you ever saw a maelstrom, there’s a tendency for everything in the maelstrom to come to the center. Do you have a round washbasin? Just turn the, take your hand and move the water around in your washbasin. And everything that is there will move toward the inside and go down the drain. That’s centripetal force.
Centrifugal force is also there, the tendency to pull everything out, to fling it out, when a thing spins around a central axis. To us those are opposites; they are contradictory, a centripetal force pulling it into the middle, and a centrifugal thrusting it out to the outside. That’s to us; to God, it’s just one great force by which He controls each of these planets in its separate orbit around a central sun. That’s God. You don’t explain that, you just see it.
When you go to the physicist, he will tell you that all things cold, contract. Even we do; when it’s cold, we have a tendency to pull ourselves together. All things contract, get cold, colder, coldest. If it’s cold, it contracts; everything does. Water does; water that is cold contracts, contracts, contracts. Then there’s an amazing phenomenon when water reaches down to thirty-two degrees, freezing; it expands. Why? You couldn’t explain that forever. It’s a phenomenon of God. That’s the sign of the signature of the Lord God. And the purpose of it is very plain. If ice did not expand, if it contracted and contracted, it would fall to the bottom of the ocean, and these great poles would be solid ice, and there would be no life-giving currents in God’s oceans. That’s why God did that. We just see it. Why? We can’t explain; unfathomable mystery, written by the hand of God.
That same mystery, inexplicable to us, is also seen in the divine revelation, on the sacred pages of this Holy Bible. All of us are afflicted with some kind of spiritual astigmatism. We can see one line at a time. We can see, for example, a man’s free choice. We can see free moral agency. The man is perfectly free to choose. We can see that one line. We can also see a line up there with God. God sees the end from the beginning. His foreknowledge is universal. All history is present before Him. We can see that line. But we can’t see the two together. There is no philosopher who has ever lived, or ever will live, who can put together the free moral agency of a man and the sovereign elective choice of God. He just can’t do it. That’s because we are limited. We live in an eccentric situation. We’re over here to one side. And we see everything there at an oblique angle. But God sits above it all, and He sees truth as a great, completed circle. And I can see just a little part of it.
Over here in the Book of Romans, chapters 9, 10, and 11, the apostle is wrestling with the elective purpose of God in Israel, and the problem of Israel’s unbelief [Romans 9-11]. And you know how he finishes it? After he has struggled with that by divine revelation, Romans 9, 10, and 11, the election of Israel and the problem of Israel’s unbelief, after he has wrestled with it through three solid chapters; here is how he ends it. Romans 11:33: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” Paul concludes it all in an exclamation of the unsearchable mystery of the elective purposes of God. That chosen family, that chosen race, that chosen seed of Abraham, in unbelief, still are, the mystery of God.
There are some things about it, as we read the Scriptures, that are very apparent. And we are going to speak of two things that characterize the purpose of God’s election.
The first one is this: God promised to Christ, to our Lord, before the world was made, before the creation was flung out into space; somewhere, sometime in the courts of God’s heaven above, God promised to Christ that if He suffered and died for the sins of the fallen race, God would give Him a people. He will not have died in vain. Somebody will turn; somebody will believe; somebody will accept; somebody will be saved. God will give to Christ a people when Christ offers to suffer and to die for the sins of the fallen race [Hebrews 10:5-14]. And that is election. God gives to Jesus a people because of His suffering for us.
The Lord speaks so frequently about that. For example, in John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me.” Three times in the high priestly prayer, in John 17:2, “As many as God has given Me have eternal life.” Verse 6, “Thou gavest them Me” [John 17:6]. Verse 9, “Them which Thou has given Me; they are Thine” [John 17:9]. I can’t enter into that. Why don’t all come to Christ? It will always be some. And those some are the chosen, appointed, elected of God.
In preaching through a Bible conference in upper New York state, they had a programming there that was new to me. I never had shared in such a thing before. They said, “Now when you get through preaching,” at an open tabernacle, conference ground, Bible conference, “when you get through preaching, why, you make your appeal, then we’ll have the benediction. And in your appeal, you say, ‘Anyone that wishes to know the Lord, to be saved, why, you come and see me after the people have left.’” So, I did, as they programmed. When I got through preaching, I made the appeal, “If anyone wants to be saved, you come and see me. I’ll be standing right here at the front.” Then they had the benediction, and the people all left the tabernacle.
Well, I stood there the first night, strange to me; I never did anything like that in my life. And after the benediction, everybody immediately left; they all poured out those separate entrances. And I watched them all leave. And as I watched them leave, suddenly, suddenly, there was a youth, a boy in his later teens; there was a boy that suddenly began to weep as he started out the door of the tabernacle, just suddenly began to cry. He turned, and came back down that aisle to me, and said, “Would you show me how I can be saved? I want to know the Lord as my Savior.” Well, why just that young man? What of the rest of them? I don’t know.
All I know is, God said, “If You suffer, and if You die for the sins of the people, I will give You a flock. I will give You souls.” And all I know is that if I faithfully preach the gospel of Christ, some will be saved. They just will.
I’ve been preaching here in this pulpit, lacking one Sunday now, thirty-eight years. And I have never preached yet but that God has given a harvest. It has never failed, not in thirty-eight years. That is election. God promised Christ, “You give Your life for the sins of the world, and I promise You a people.” There will be some who will turn, and accept, and believe, and be saved.
A second reason that I can understand about election: for Christ, it is a people; and for us, it is the grace and mercy of God extended to our souls [Ephesians 2:7-8; Titus 3:5]. For the election of God, the appointment of God, the ordination of God, is never to damnation and hell. God’s election is always to heaven and to salvation. The election is never to condemnation, to judgment. When men are damned, they damn themselves. When men go to hell, they choose hell for themselves. God never does that. A man damns himself always. There is no such thing as an appointment, as an election, to hell.
One of the things that burned itself in my memory: a judge spoke to a young man and said, “You will stand up to be sentenced.” And the young fellow stood up. And the judge looked at him, and this was his first sentence, “In the free country of America, every man has the right to damn his own soul in hell.” That’s the way he started off, that was his first sentence. Ah, the lividness of that truth! The burning, searing, scorching fire of that truth has stayed in my heart and head ever since.
Every man has the right and the freedom to damn his own soul into hell. He does it. God never appoints, God never elects, God never chooses for judgment and damnation. The whole Bible opens the heart of God to us; always, it is one of mercy and appeal. In Ezekiel 33:11, “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will you die?” That’s God!
Paul wrote it in Romans 2:4, “It is the goodness of God that leadeth us to repentance.” Simon Peter, in his second epistle, chapter 3, says:
Count not the longsuffering of God as though He hath forgotten His promise to come again. For, it is the longsuffering of God, patiently waiting.
God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
[2 Peter 3:9]
That is the elective purpose of God, that we might be saved; never that we might be damned. The intervention of God in the lostness and the wickedness of the human race is our only hope of salvation. There is no hope in humanity in its depraved condition, ever, for a beautiful heavenly life to come. It’s only in the intervention of God that we have any hope to be saved. Look at this. In the sixth chapter of Genesis, verse 5:
God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
And it repented God that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.
God said, “I will destroy him” [Genesis 6:7]. That is a condition, universally, of the human race and the human family. We are a lost, and sinful, and undone people, all of us. There is no one of us that has not sinned and done wrong [Romans 3:23], chosen evil when we could have chosen good. Now the intervention of God is our hope of salvation. Look at this verse, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” [Genesis 6:8]. God intervenes that we might be saved, and without that intervention, all of us would be eternally lost. And this Bible, this whole story of the revealed will and purpose of God, is that we might be saved. He said to the woman, “Your Seed shall crush Satan’s head” [Genesis 3:15]. And through all of the pages thereafter is the elective purpose of God, working out our redemption in Christ Jesus [1 Peter 1:18-19], in the preaching of the gospel [Romans 10:13-15], and finally, in our appearance clothed in white [Revelation 7:14], washed in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 1:5], saved forever in heaven [John 10:27-30]. That’s God’s elective purpose for us, the intervention of God in the depravity of the human race.
May I conclude? God made us in His image [Genesis 1:27], in His likeness, and we have the power of choice, of will, of election just as God does. God made us that way. I have the power of choice. Election! I can choose. In 1 Timothy, the apostle Paul writes about Adam. “Adam was not deceived” [1 Timothy 2:14], says the apostle. Adam chose to do wrong [Genesis 3:2-6], and he incurred the penalty of death [Genesis 2:17]. We have that choice.
Joshua, in the last chapter, the twenty-fourth chapter of his book, 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], the power of choice.
All of the gospel is addressed to that elective, volitional choice in our hearts. We can choose. In Matthew 11:28, the Lord will say: “Come unto Me. Come unto Me.” The apostle Paul will say in the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself . . . and hath committed unto us the gospel, this ministry of reconciliation; namely, to wit. . .that we in Christ’s stead beseech you, be ye reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:19-20]. “Come.”
And when God closed the Bible, He did it with one last marvelous invitation, Revelation 22:17, “The Spirit and the bride say: Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” When a man listens to the gospel and says, “I will,” he’s elected. When a man listens to the gospel and says, “I will not,” he is not elected. The elect are the “whosoever wills” [Revelation 22:17], and the non-elect are the “whosoever wont’s” [Romans 1:18].
And that is the meaning of this text with which we began this message. “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” [Acts 13:48]. Tetagmenoi, a participle from the verb tassō which is a military term referring to the arrangement of troops, the appointments of stations. I think it would be a better translation to say, “And as many as were appointed,” tassō, “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” [Acts 13:48]. That is, in the preaching of the gospel, these who were elected, who were appointed, it was manifest, it was revealed who they were, by the fact that they stood up and said, “I turn. I accept Jesus as my Savior.” They were revealed, who they were, in response to the gospel of Christ. And I live in that kind of a world: the elect, the “whosoever wills,” and the non-elect, the “whosoever wont’s” [Revelation2 2:17].
Sometimes I have a conference that just crushes me. This is one: a little family, a young couple, a young man, his pretty wife, beautiful girl, and a baby just born, breaking up their home, going to divorce. So the couple came to see me at, I presume, her earnest petition. So as I talked to them and pressed him, she’s a sweet, precious, beautiful girl, member of this church—just one of those dear girls that loves Jesus—and as I pressed him to keep their home together in the Lord, he finally said to me, he said, “I hate the church. I hate the songs they sing. I hate the Bible they read out of. I hate the preaching of the Word. I hate the sermons. I hate the people. I hate everything about it.”
“Well,” I said, “what do you like?” He says, “I like the bar. I like the drinking. I like the bawdy house. I like the orgies. I like the things out there in the world. And I hate the things in the church.”
Well, that poor girl over there, his wife, crying, these things just kill me, just weeping and crying. And to listen to her husband say those things crushed her soul. And I just look at it: the elect, the “whosoever wills,” and the non-elect, the “whosoever wont’s” [Revelation 22:17]. “I don’t want God. I don’t want the church. I don’t want Christ. I don’t want the fellowship of God’s people.” I don’t understand. I cannot enter into it. I just live in that kind of a world.
You can walk down Ervay Street right there, walk down Ervay Street. You can say, “Look. Look at this wonderful church. Right there it is. Look at this church. Look at this church. Jesus is preached there. The Bible is expounded and read there. The people sing the praises of God there. Come, come.” And there will be those who will say, “I’m not interested, neither in the gospel, nor God, nor Christ, nor the Bible, nor salvation. I’m going fishing, or I’m going hunting, or I’m going to the lake, or I’m going to the bar, or I’ve got a thousand other things that interest me, and that certainly doesn’t.”
You walk down that same street, and you invite people to the Lord: “This is God’s house, and we’d love to have you. Jesus would love to have you.” And some of them will say, “I’ll be there.” And I’ll stand here in the pulpit and preach the gospel of Jesus, who “died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3-4], and was raised the third day for our justification” [Romans 4:25], to save us. I can stand here and preach the gospel. And then I’ll say, “Is there somebody here that would like to be saved, that would like to turn?” And there will be a man over here who will say, “I do. I do.” “Is there somebody here who would like to be saved, who would like to turn?” And he’ll stand up and say, “I do.” He is elected. The others are not. I do not know. It belongs to the unfathomable mystery of God. Why should God have chosen me? I don’t know. I grew up with boys; some of them have been murdered. Why the goodness, and grace, and mercy of God that reached down to me? I don’t know. It’s just, I love to come to this place and praise His name. I love to be with you. There’s no drunken orgy ever appealed to me, never. When the door of the house is open, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go up to the house of the Lord” [Psalm 122:1]. My heart responds. My spirit is made glad. My soul is uplifted. I love the things of Christ. And if you are elected, and I give that appeal, “Will you take Jesus as your Savior?” There will be something deep, inexplicable, inside of you that answers, “Pastor, I will. I will.” That’s God saving a people for His name. May we stand together?
Wonderful, wonderful Jesus whose love [John 3:16], and mercy [Titus 3:5], reached down even to me; O Lord, how could we ever sing the song, quote the poem, preach the gospel, say in syllable and sentence, the depths of our gratitude to Thee, just loving Thee Lord, just praising Thy name.
And in this great throng in the presence of God this morning, a family you, “Pastor, God has spoken to us and we are answering with our lives” [Romans 10:9-13]. A couple you or just one somebody you, “God has made invitation to my heart, and I feel it deep down inside my soul, and I am saying yes. And here I come.” In the balcony round, down a stairway, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor. I am on the way.”
And God be praised for the people He has given to our Savior. Lord, Lord, thank Thee that our names are in that group. We love the Lord. God be good to us. Give us a song in our souls and praises on our lips as we pilgrimage with our Lord from this world to the world to come, singing Thy gospel praises every step of the way, O Lord Jesus, how good You are to us. Thank Thee, Lord, for the harvest You give us now. May angels attend them as they come, in Thy wonderful, precious, and glorious, and saving name, amen. Come and welcome, while we sing, while we sing.
ELECTION: THE ACHIEVEMENT OF GOD’S SOVEREIGN PURPOSE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-19-82I. The fact of God’s election
A. Interwoven in the fabric of the Scriptures(Isaiah 14:24, 26-27, 44:24-28, 46:9-11, Acts 13:48, Romans 11:5-7, Ephesians 1:5, 9-11, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14)
1. Tapestries at Escorial Palace, Spain
2. Same God who spoke creation into existence elects and chooses in human story(1 Chronicles 28:4-6, Nehemiah 9:7-8, Acts 9:15-16)
B. Every act, doctrine, revelation of God has its inexplicable side
1. True of the physical creation of God
2. True of the spiritual creation of God
a. Spiritual astigmatism(Romans 9-11, 11:33-36)II. The purpose of God’s Election
1. Preaching at a New York Bible conference
B. For us, mercy, grace and salvation
1. Men are never appointed, elected to damnation, but to salvation
a. Men damn themselves(Ezekiel 33:11, Romans 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9)
2. God intervenes in the fall of the race(Genesis 6:5-8)
3. He worked out plan of redemption through the ages(Genesis 3:15)III. Choice, decision and will also a part of man
A. We are made in His image – the power to choose(1 Timothy 2:14, Joshua 24:15, Matthew 11:28, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, Revelation 22:17)
B. As many as were appointed(Acts 13:48)
1. The non-elect refuse
2. The elect respond(1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Psalm 122:1)