Election: God’s Sovereign Purpose Achieved
September 19th, 1982 @ 8:15 AM
ELECTION: THE ACHIEVEMENT OF GOD’S SOVEREIGN PURPOSE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-19-82 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the great multitudes of you who are listening to this hour on radio. 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’s the next to the last message in the long series on soteriology, on salvation. I loved the preparation of the sermon, and I pray it will be meaningful to all of us who listen to the Word of the Lord.
One of the texts that will be used this morning, Acts 13:48, this concludes the story of the proclamation of the gospel at Pisidian Antioch—Antioch in Pisidia, in the heart of Asia Minor. Acts 13:48, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord.” Now you look at that last concluding clause, “and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” [Acts 13:48]. Election: The Achievement of God’s Eternal Purpose. “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” [Acts 13:48]. Those that were not ordained did not believe; those that were elected did. Those that were non-elected did not. The doctrine, the revelation of the mind and choice and purpose of God is inwoven in all of Holy Scripture, all of it.
Last month I went through that amazing palace, San Lorenzo del Escorial, just about an hour’s drive out of Madrid in Spain. And as I walked through those gorgeously appointed rooms in that particular palace, every room was covered in hand-woven tapestries; all the walls, above the windows, above the doors, the great seams on open spaces—every room, absolutely the most gorgeous tapestries I ever saw in this world. I didn’t know tapestries looked like that. And what those weavers did by genius of hand, placing the royal story inwoven in that cloth, is exactly what you’ll find in the Bible: inwoven in every fabric of the Word of God is this revelation of His sovereign choice, His election. I’m going to read a few, just a few. In Isaiah 14, beginning at verse 24:
The Lord of hosts hath sworn, 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?
Again, in Isaiah 44, beginning at verse 24—
Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, that formed thee…that maketh diviners mad—
Isn’t that unusual?—
that confirmeth the word of His servant, and performeth the counsel of His messengers…Thus saith of Cyrus…
Man, Cyrus is not born yet for two hundred solid years—
That saith of Cyrus, He is My shepherd, shall perform all My pleasure: saying to destroy Jerusalem, It shall be built; and to that burned up temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.
That’s God; that’s the Lord, inwoven in all Scripture. Romans 11, beginning at verse 5:
Even so at this present time there is a remnant of Israel that believes according to election…
Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.
Ephesians 1, out of which I tried so to preach last Sunday, Ephesians 1:5:
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children. . .according to the good pleasure of His will;
Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself;
Being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.
Second Thessalonians chapter 2:13,
Because God hath from the beginning—
before there was a creation—
God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation…
Whereunto He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[2 Thessalonians 2:13-14]
God lives, God is sovereign, God chooses, God has a purpose, God elects.
This, I say, is a part of the very fabric of Scripture. God chooses. In 1 Chronicles 28:4, David is speaking of the Lord’s choice of him as king, but denial of his privilege to build the temple: David says:
The Lord God of Israel chose me before all the house of my father to be king for ever: for He hath chosen Judah to be ruler; and of the house of Judah, the house of my father; and among the sons of my father He chose me to make me king over Israel…
And He said—
Solomon thy son, shall build My house, for I have chosen him. I will be his Father, and I will establish his kingdom for ever.
[1 Chronicles 28:4-7]
God did that.
Nehemiah, in the ninth chapter of his book, Nehemiah speaking of Abraham, says:
Thou art the Lord the God, who didst choose Abram, and brought him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gave him the name of Abraham, the father of many nations; and foundest his heart faithful before Thee, and made a covenant with him to give him the land of the Canaanites. . .and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, and to thy seed.
God did that.
Over here in the Book of Acts, chapter 9, when Ananias hesitates to go see Saul the persecutor [Acts 9:13-14], the Lord says to him, “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” [Acts 9:15].
I could stand here all day long and read these passages out of the Bible. God lives. God is sovereign. God chooses. God elects; and election is the achievement of that holy purpose.
Wherever there is an act of God, or a revealed doctrine of God, it is inexplicable to us. Whether we speak of the creation above us, around us, of which we are a part, or whether we speak of the revelation of the mind of God in Holy Scriptures, to us it is inexplicable. If it is God, if it is a work of God, it is always signed by His signature: and the signature of God is unfathomable, inexplicable, un-understandable mystery. That is the signature of Almighty God. Anywhere you find the hand and the work of God, that is His signature, unfathomable mystery.
It is so in the world of creation around us. I go to a scientist—these little tiny infinitesimal creatures who look at God’s infinite world—I go to one of those learned scientists, and I say, “I have a question I want to ask you: what is gravity, gravity?”
“Why,” he says, “don’t you know? That’s stupid! Gravity is what holds the world together.”
“Why,” I say, “stupid me! Why didn’t I know that? Gravity is what holds the world together.” I turn around and then I come back and I say, “Well Mr. Scientist, what holds the world together?”
“Well,” he says, “that’s gravity. Gravity is what holds the world together, and what holds the world together is gravity.” Now that is an amazing understanding of what I see all around me.
I read where the power of gravity just between the sun and the earth is as though you had a beam, a steel beam, three thousand miles in diameter and it holds that world in orbit, just like that. A steel beam, three thousand miles in diameter, seizing that planet Earth and holding it in a vise-like grip and swinging its orbit around the sun: ninety-three million miles that way, ninety-three million miles that way. And yet a bird can fly through it; a little bird, a hummingbird. A bee can fly through it, and I can wave my hand through it. How do you explain that? You don’t explain anything; you just look at it, you just observe it. What holds this earth together is gravity, and gravity is what holds the earth together; that’s all you can say.
In the world of astronomy, when a thing spins, like these planets around their orbits, spinning in their orbits, there is a force there called centripetal—centripetal force that pulls things to the center, pulls things to the center— centripetal force. At the same time there is another force in that rotating axis: that centrifugal force, centrifugal force that throws things to the outside. To us they are opposite: centripetal force pulling things to the center, to the axis; centrifugal force throwing things to the outside, to the periphery. To us they are opposites. To God they’re just one force, and they keep those planets in their orbits, contradictory to us, but not to God. We just don’t understand.
In the world of physics, everything that gets colder contracts—even you do, you get real cold you just shiver and pull yourself together. Everything cold contracts, comes down, gets smaller and smaller; it contracts, if it’s cold it contracts. If it’s heated, it expands. Take water and you can run a great locomotive by the expansion of water turning into steam. Everything that is cold contracts, except it comes down and down and down, water comes down and down and down, then when it gets to thirty-two degrees suddenly it expands. When it freezes, suddenly it expands. When it turns to ice, suddenly it expands. When it freezes, it expands. How? Why? God is just seeing that the great currents in His oceans move; for if the ice continued to contract and get heavier and heavier and heavier, the oceans at either poles would be solid ice; and the great ocean currents that move would stand still, and the earth would cease to be viable. That’s God. Why does it do that? All you can do is just say it does it. We don’t understand anything; we just look at it.
It is the same thing about the great revelation of the mind of God in the Bible. We just look at it. We are afflicted with spiritual astigmatism. We can see one thing at a time; we can follow one line at a time. For example, we can follow the line where we say a man has free will, free moral agency; he has choice. He has a will of his own, and he chooses. We can follow that, one line at a time. Or, we can take the other line: we can look at God up there in heaven, and we speak of God’s sovereignty, and His elective purpose, and His divine will. We can look at that. But we can’t see both of them together, we can’t. To us they are contradictory. How does God elect and choose and then I am perfectly free? I can’t enter into that; it’s beyond my understanding. You see, we are eccentric. We are one side of God’s universe, and we see things at an angle—just part—but God up there in heaven sees the whole thing as a completed circle, and we do not enter into it.
The apostle Paul, in one of the most amazing outbursts that you will read in the Bible, the apostle Paul in Romans 9, 10, and 11, is wrestling with the fact of the election of God in Israel’s unbelief. This is the chosen people, and they spurn their own Son; they slay Him, they kill Him, they crucify Him [Matthew 27:32-50]. Then he’s trying to explain the elective purpose of God with Israel. And finally how does he end it? “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!” [Romans 11:33]. You don’t explain it. Paul concludes that marvelous passage in Romans 9, 10, and 11 concerning the election of Israel and the problem of their unbelief with an outburst of, “The mind of God is un-understandable to us.” Whatever God does, its signature is unfathomable, inexplicable, un-understandable mystery, all around us.
Now, there are some things about it that are very apparent, and to me, marvelously wonderful. What is the purpose of election? What is God doing? Number one: God is promising a people to His Son. If I could place it in my own words, in my little finite mind, I’d try to describe it like this: up there in glory, where God has His throne—and before the creation of the world, God said to His Son, “You die for those people that are going to fall. You suffer for their sins. You pay the price and the penalty for their iniquities and their transgressions. You suffer for them, and I promise You a people. You will have those who will love You, and believe in You, and follow You, and give their lives to You. I promise You that.” That is election: God promises to Jesus, if He suffers for us, God will give Him a people.
Now this isn’t something that I have just conjured up out of my own philosophical analysis of this. This is what Jesus Himself says: for example, in John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me.” And three times here in the high priestly prayer does Jesus say that. Verse 2, John 17:2: “He shall give eternal life to as many as God has given Him”; verse 6, “Thou gavest them Me; and they have kept Thy word” [John 17:6]; verse 9, “For them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine” [John 17:9]. God says to Jesus, “You suffer, and I will give You a people.” That is election! Un-understandable, I just look at it; just as I look at the sun that shines in the heavens, just as I look at the marvels of nature all around me—these beautiful flowers out of muck and mire, how do you explain that? You don’t explain it, you just look at it. So I look at that promise of God to His Son, “You die, and I will give You a people.”
Preaching at a Bible conference in the state of New York, they had a way of doing that was new to me, and I was very happy to acquiesce in what they did. When I’d get through preaching, I was to announce that we’ll have the benediction, and thus and so will lead the benediction. Then as the people leave, if anybody wanted to accept the Lord as Savior, they were to come to me, and I was to stand down there at the front of the tabernacle, the conference tabernacle. And if anyone wanted to come and talk to me about Jesus, about the Lord, why, I would be there. So every night when I would preach, why, I’d close the service, “I’ll be standing here at the front, and after the benediction, when the people leave, if anyone wishes to talk to me about the Lord, why, I’ll be here waiting.”
Now, I preached the best that I could, and this man led the benediction, and all the people leave, and I stand there and I watch them leave. And then suddenly, just like—just as you would snap your fingers, as I watched those people leave there was a young man, a youth in his later teens, there was a youth who suddenly breaks down in tears, just like that. And he turns around and comes back to me, and under deep conviction, says, “I want you to show me how to be saved.” How do you explain that? All those people going out the tabernacle, and that young fellow going out also, then suddenly he breaks down in many tears, turns around, and comes to me and says, “I want to know the Lord. I want to be saved.” Why he? Why not they? I don’t know. That’s God!
The election of God is always for us. It is His mercy [Titus 3:5] and His grace and His goodness [Ephesians 2:7-8]. God never elects, God never appoints to damnation and to hell and to perdition. God always appoints to life everlasting, to salvation. God never damns a man, God never sentences a man to eternal damnation; election is never to hell.
Let me say it like this: a man damns himself; God doesn’t damn him. A judge looked into the face of a young man and said, “You stand up to be sentenced.” And the first word of that judge has stayed in my mind forever: he started off saying to the young man, “In the free country of America, it is the right and the privilege of every man to damn his own soul to hell.” That’s the way he started off. And the reason that stayed in my mind is that’s true in the whole world. Whether you live in a totalitarian state or in free America, it is one of the prerogatives of the man that he can damn his own soul to hell. He can do it. God never does that; God always elects, God always appoints to salvation, to eternal life. As the Lord said in Ezekiel 33:11:
As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked;
but that the wicked would turn from his evil way and [live]:
turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?
As Paul writes in Romans 2:4, “It is the goodness of God that leadeth thee to repentance.”
As Simon Peter writes in the third chapter of his second letter, he says:
Count not the longsuffering of God as though He had forgotten His promise; for the Lord waits, He is patient, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
[2 Peter 3:9]
Why isn’t the great judgment day of God upon us now? Because God is waiting, pleading, praying; hoping that the people will turn and be saved; the election of God is always to salvation, always. God elects, chooses, in His mercy [Titus 3:5].
Now, the human family has in it no hope in themselves of a blissful, heavenly tomorrow. It’s like this:
in Genesis 6:
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.
Now that is the condition of fallen humanity.
We are a sinful, fallen race; all of us. And God intervenes, God chooses, God steps in, and He brings with Him grace and help and salvation. In the [eighth] verse of that sixth chapter, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” [Genesis 6:8]. That’s the purpose of God, always. In His elective goodness He chooses for us something better [Hebrews 11:40]. The whole plan of redemption is that. In this fallen race, all of us sinful [Romans 3:23], all of us fallen. God promises, “The Seed of the woman shall save the race, crush Satan’s head” [Genesis 3:15]. And the story of the whole revelation of God is that purpose of election worked out in human history. God always chooses for us what is best; His grace and mercy, His intervention is always for good.
A last observation: we are made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27], and we are like God and we also have that choice; we also elect. I am free to do so; God made me that way. I’m like Him, made in His image. For example, Paul will write, “Adam was not deceived” [1 Timothy 2:14]; he chose to sin [Genesis 3:2-6], and the penalty of death followed it [Romans 3:23]. We have the choice—God gives it to us. We are like Him. Joshua, in the last chapter of his book, “Choose you this day whom you will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” [Joshua 24:15]. That’s choice. We are like God.
That’s why the appeals of the New Testament: our Lord, in 11, verse 28, in the Gospel of Matthew, “Come unto Me, come unto Me” [Matthew 11:28]. Paul will make that appeal in the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself [2 Corinthians 5:19]. We plead with you therefore, in Christ’s stead, as though He were speaking, Be ye reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:20], a choice that I have. And before the Lord closed the Bible, He made one last invitation. Listen to it, the last chapter of the Revelation 22, the seventeenth verse: “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” [Revelation 22:17].
The “whosoever wills” are the elect; the “whosoever wont’s” are the non-elect. I have the choice; it is given to me to be like God; as He chooses, I choose.
Now I conclude with our text: this verse is very, very much in the Bible. “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed” [Acts 13:48]. That word translated “ordained,” tetagmenoi, is a past perfect participle from tassō; and the verb tassō is a military term, and it refers to the deployment of troops, the regular arrangement of troops, the appointment of stations. If you had an army you would appoint them in their places. So instead of using the word “ordained,” let’s translate it just exactly as it says, “And as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” [Acts 13:48]. What that says is this: that in the preaching of the gospel at Pisidian Antioch, it was manifest those who were appointed to eternal life by the fact that they stood up and stood out for Christ. That was the confirmation; that was the open avowal of their election, of their appointment. You could see it. These that were appointed were set apart by their open avowal of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And that two responses [are] seen in every day of our lives. These are elect who respond, those are the non-elect who do not respond. I cannot understand it.
A couple came to me, they had just had a baby in the family, in the home. Oh, that was one of the most sorrowful of all of the conferences that you could ever imagine! She was a devout, precious young woman here in our church, a devout young mother, just that baby born to her, and he was in another world. And as I pressed him—they were going to break up their home, that’s why they came to me; they were going to be divorced—and he said to me, “I hate the church. I hate the services. I hate the songs. I hate the sermon. I hate the reading of the Scriptures. I hate the people there. I hate everything about it,” said it vigorously and viciously.
Well, I said, “What do you love?” He says, “I love the bar. I love the bawdy house. I love the drunken parties. I love the sexual parties. I love the things of the world, and I hate the church and everything that’s in it.”
And that poor girl over there, his wife—sit there and sob and sob and sob and sob. Can you explain that to me? She is elected, and you can see it. There she is, a devout, precious follower of Jesus; and he is non-elected, he chooses the way of the world.
Dear me! It’s just everywhere. One of the men in Bangkok said, “Would you like to see an opium den?” I said, “Yes.” So he took me to an opium den. I’d never seen such a thing before. Those men there, smoking opium, emaciated, sallow-faced—they choose to do that. They like that; they seek that, and I look at it in amazement!
You can walk down Ervay Street—see that street out there? You can walk down Ervay Street, and you say, “This is God’s house, see? This is God’s house. Come, and welcome. Come, come, come…The Spirit and the bride say, Come. Let him that heareth say, Come. Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will—that’s you—come, come” [Revelation 22:17]. There’ll be some who will answer, “You’re not going to find me there. You’re not going to find me walk through that door. I don’t like it. I’m going fishing,” or, “I’m going golfing,” or, “I’m going to a drunken orgy. You’re not going to find me there.” You walk down that same street and say, “Come, this is God’s house,” and somebody will say, “I’ll be there. I’ll be there”; the election. The non-elect: those that won’t. The elect: those who will.
And as I stand here and preach this blessed, blessed Book, and point to the wonderful Savior, and make the appeal, is there someone here who will accept Jesus as his Savior? There’ll be somebody here who says, “I will.” Somebody here says, “I will.” They are the elect.
As I stand here and open this blessed Book and preach the gospel of the grace of the Son of God, I make the appeal, “Is there somebody here who loves the Lord Jesus?” And a man will answer on this side, “I do.” And one will answer on this side, “I do.” And one will answer up there, “I do.” You are the elect. “As many as were appointed to eternal life” [Acts 13:48], this was their sign: they were openly revealed, these are the elect of God. Why should such grace come to me? I don’t know. Why should such mercy have been extended to you? I don’t know. Nothing in us, just in the love and grace of God. Bless His name.
That’s why we sing about Him and praise Him and worship Him. This Jesus has done for us. And that is our appeal this precious, holy, heavenly hour. Has God spoken to you? Answer with your life [Romans 10:9-13]. Down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, God has spoken to me, and I’m on the way.” That is the election. Openly, manifestly seen, coming to the Lord and to us. Make that decision in your heart; do it now. When we stand and sing this hymn of appeal, “Pastor, I give you my hand; I give my heart to God.” And a thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing.