GOD’S ELECTION OF HIS PEOPLE’S PERSEVERANCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-26-82 10:50 a.m.
This is the last in the series of fifteen messages on soteriology, on the doctrine of salvation. And appropriately, I think, it is concerning the preservation and the perseverance of God’s people—election, and God’s people’s perseverance. Turning to the first chapter of the Book of Philippians, beginning at verse 3—Philippians 1, verse 3: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy” [Philippians 1:3-4]. Doesn’t that do your heart good? God speaks the language of the South, “for y’all.” “Always in every of prayer of mine for y’all making requests with joy”; doesn’t that sound all right? “For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now” [Philippians 1:5]; then, the text: “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it, will finish it, will bring it to realization, at the day of Jesus Christ” [Philippians 1:6].
The day of the Lord is that long period of time when God brings to consummation and judgment all history. The day of Jesus Christ is the day of His appearing, the day of His coming, and the resurrection of the dead, and the catching up, the rapture of God’s saints to meet our coming Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]. “Being confident, persuaded, of this very thing, that He,” the Lord God, “which hath begun a good work in you will perform it,” finish it, “until the day of Jesus Christ” [Philippians 1:6].
There are appalling dangers to the Christian life on every side, every minute, every day. It is like our physical life. How we live is a miracle of the Lord. Have you ever seen those medical volumes and the diseases that can attack us that are described therein. They are legion in number and variation; all kinds and sorts of microorganisms, bacteria, germs, parasites, viruses, microbes, besides the accidents that can overtake us, the fire and the fever that can consume us. How a child can live is a miracle of the Lord. This is but a picture of the Christian life and the innumerable, appalling dangers that assault us on every hand. We literally live as Christians between the jaws of death, like walking on a precipice and a yawning chasm on either side, struck, assaulted by ten thousand arrows.
It is nothing short of a miracle, the Christian life; like a fire burning in the midst of the deepest sea, like a great rock suspended in midair, like a man of health living in a pest-house, like a white swan swimming on a river of mud. It’s a miracle, the Christian life. One of the signs of the election of God is the perseverance, the continuation of that Christian life in this sordid world. If one falls away, he’s not chosen, he’s not elect. First John 2:19 says: “They went out from us because they were not of us; for had they been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out from us, that it might be manifest that they were not of us.” God’s elect will persevere. They will arrive at the portals of heaven someday. They will not fail. They will not fall short; God’s election and the perseverance of His people [John 2:19].
This text is a good summary, a summation, of that doctrine presented in the Holy Scriptures again and again: “We are confident of this very thing, that He,” the Lord God, “who hath begun this good work in you will perform it” [Philippians 1:6], He will finish it, at the day of the appearing of our living Savior. Paul avows that that work of grace and salvation, the beginning of our pilgrimage, is a work of God. He does it. And when you think of it, in our own experience, and in the Holy Scriptures, it is very apparent that it is a work of God; the beginning of our Christian experience.
The Bible says “We are dead in trespasses and in sins” [Ephesians 2:1], and no dead man can raise himself. Resurrection is a work of God [1 Corinthians 15:21]. God must do it. “Corruption cannot inherit incorruption” [1 Corinthians 15:50]. The natural, mortal man cannot re-create himself. He can’t create himself to begin with, much less re-create himself to end with. The fires of hell do not breed the seeds of heaven, and the flames of Gehenna are not converted into the elements of everlasting joy and peace. It is God who begins this work in us [Philippians 1:6]. If He does not do it, we are never quickened. We are never made alive. We are never born again.
This text also says it is God who finishes the work. He brings it to fruition and realization [Philippians 1:6]. It is the decree of the Father that we’re saved, that we’re preserved, that we persevere [Romans 8:28-30]. It is the work of Christ that we are kept [1 Peter 1:5]. His atoning love paid the penalty for all of our sins [1 John 2:2]. And He was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25], and He lives in heaven to intercede for us: “For if, when we were reconciled by the death of His Son, how much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” [Romans 5:10], His life in heaven. “Wherefore He is able to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us” [Hebrews 7:25].
It is the work of Christ now—in heaven—to keep us saved, to see us to the consummation of our salvation. God does it, and the Holy Spirit works with the Father and with the Son in our hearts, in our lives, in our experience, that we continue in this pilgrim way [Romans 8:4; Galatians 5:16]. It is a work begun by God, the apostle says, and it is work that is finished by the same omnipotent Lord [Philippians 1:6]. Do you notice how he describes this work of grace, this perseverance of the saints? He says: “We are confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will finish it, will perform it, until the coming of the Lord” [Philippians 1:6].
“Good, that good work”; even in English, it’s a beautiful word: “good, good.” In Greek, it seems to me to be even more beautiful. In Greek it is agatha, “good,” agatha. If you have a girl, and you would like to give her a beautiful name, call the child Agatha, “good.” When the rich young ruler came and bowed down before the Lord Jesus, he said: didaskalē agatha, “Good Master, Good Teacher.” And the Lord noticed it, and He said to that kneeling young man: “Why callest thou Me agatha? There is One only who is agatha, and that is God” [Luke 18:18-19]. God only is good, agatha. And that is the beautiful word that he uses to describe what God is doing in our lives: an agatha work, a good work [Philippians 1:6].
It is a good work if a man is raised out of sickness into strength and health; a wonderful thing if a poor man can be brought into a wealthy estate; a wonderful thing if an unlearned man can be made brilliant, wise, educated. These things are good. They’re magnificent: to be sick, and now I’m well; to be poor, and now I’m rich; to be unlearned, and now I am taught. That’s great! But it is nothing compared to the “good work,” the agathos work of leading a man from darkness into light, delivering him from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the son, the children of God, bringing the man into the fullness of a full-orbed child of the King. There’s nothing comparable.
So he calls it that “good work” God is doing through us [Philippians 1:6]. As I read the epistles of Paul, and this out of which I have taken our background text, that “good work” implies, includes many things in our lives that apparently may not be what you call “good.” It implies sometimes great deprivations and sorrows and sufferings. God leads us through those deep waters.
Dr. Edward Judson was the son of Adoniram Judson , the great missionary. And at the dedication of the Judson Memorial Baptist Church in New York City, Adoniram Judson’s son, Dr. Edward Judson, was the speaker. And I take this sentence out of his address. “Suffering and success go together. If you are succeeding without suffering, it is because others before you have suffered. If you are suffering without succeeding, it is that others after you may succeed.” In the wisdom of God, as He does that “good thing” for us, He leads us into many experiences that are difficult. They are trying, sometimes heartbreaking.
In the life of the apostle Paul, who writes this text—that “good thing” which God is doing for us—in his [second] Corinthians letter, in the first chapter, he speaks: “We had the sentence of death in ourselves” [2 Corinthians 1:9], in the Roman province of Asia. He was sick unto death. It’s always been an amazing thing to me that men who read the Bible will stand up and say “It is never the will of God that one of His children be sick. It’s your lack of faith” or some such thing as that, “they say, that you’re sick.” There’s nothing like that in the Bible, nothing that approaches it.
Paul says: “In the Roman province of Asia, I had the sentence of death in myself” [2 Corinthians 1:9]. And when I turn to the second Corinthians letter, the last half of the eleventh chapter and the first half of the twelfth chapter, Paul is describing an innumerable number of heartaches and sorrows and trials that he endures: “Perils of robbers, perils by the sea, perils from my own countrymen,” his own people disowned him [2 Corinthians 11:26], “stoned and left for dead” [Acts 14:19]. Then coming to the next chapter: “And God gave me a thorn in the flesh” [2 Corinthians 12:7]. The Greek of that is “a stake in the flesh,” some tragic affliction. And for this, he says, “I besought the Lord that it be taken from me” [2 Corinthians 12:8]. And the Lord said: “No. My grace is sufficient for thee: for My grace is perfected in suffering, trial, weakness.” “Therefore,” says the apostle, “I will rejoice in my infirmities, my sicknesses, my weaknesses, my afflictions, for when I am weak, then am I strong” [2 Corinthians 12:9-10]. That’s God, that “good thing” God is working out in our lives [Philippians 1:6].
Here, in this very chapter out of which I am preaching, he says:
I would have you to understand, brethren, that the things which have happened unto me have fallen out unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds—
my chains, my imprisonment—
are manifest in all the Praetorian Guard, and in all other places
“Brethren, see the grace of God in me!” [2 Corinthians 12:9]. Why, that man has been beat, and he’s in chains, but he says: “God is using it for the furtherance of the gospel” [Philippians 1:12].
No man could write these letters of Paul; thirteen of them in the New Testament, except they were composed, written, out of a life that was beat, and bludgeoned, and imprisoned, know trial and sorrow and suffering and finally death. That’s God. That “good work” [Philippians 1:6] which He is doing in us, sometimes it takes the form of chastisement. In the twelfth chapter in the Book of Hebrews, the author writes: “Whom the Lord loveth He chastens. And if you be without chastisement, then are ye not sons, you are illegitimates” [Hebrews 12:6,8].
Sometimes it takes the form of refining fires. I could not help but notice that, in the first chapter of the Book of James [James 1:2], the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, and in the first chapter of 1 Peter 1:6-7, both of those men start off alike, that it is the will of God that we fall into trial, into fiery furnaces. Somehow gold can only be refined by the fire, by the flame.
A diamond is made brilliant by grinding. I watched them in Bangkok grind those diamonds. It is amazing how much of it is ground and ground to make it shine, make it brilliant. A vine is pruned to bear fruit. A piece of porcelain is clay that is ground and baked. Our muscles are made strong by stress. And there is character and strength of soul in the trials of our lives. And in this pilgrimage in which God is leading us along, Paul says that “good thing” God is purposing in us [Philippians 1:6]; Lord, Lord, that we can receive it as such with the despair and the hurting and the heartache, the trouble and the trials and the frustrations, disappointments—these things God is doing to perfect us, to fit us for heaven. He purposes good for us in every trial that we experience [Romans 8:28].
I read of a little boy who was born with a deformed foot, and the loving father took the lad to the surgeons, and they operated again and again, but always without avail. The little boy’s foot remained deformed, and he couldn’t walk. When the boy was eight years of age, the father studied—day and night he studied—and he learned how a foot is made, every bone in it, how it works, every muscle and tendon and nerve and how they respond. The father studied and studied. Then he made a strange-looking box that had bolts in it, and screws in it, and felt tips on the ends of the screws and the bolts. And he took his little boy, and he put the little boy’s foot inside of that strange-looking box. And he tightened those bolts and those screws, and the little boy cried piteously. And day after day after day, that father tightened those bolts and those screws, and the little boy cried pitifully. The father would come home from work, and the little lad would cry just seeing him. And the father would take the boy and, as the lad cried, tighten those screws and bolts. And the father mingled his tears with the sobs and cries of his little boy, as he tightened those bolts and those screws.
And after the passing of time, one day the father came home and opened the box, undid those screws and bolts, and said to his boy, “Son, stand up. Stand up.” And the boy stood up. His foot was whole and well, and he could walk.
In the years that passed, an old man stood over the grave of his father, who long since had been translated to heaven. And his tears fell on the sod above his beloved father, as he thanked the Lord for the father who loved him enough to make him suffer—tightened those bolts, tightened those screws.
God purposes some “good thing” for us in every teardrop that falls, in every heartbreak we experience, in every trial and suffering through which we live. He purposes some “good thing” for us, “being confident of this very thing, that He that hath begun this good work in us will perform it” [Philippians 1:6]. He will finish it, He will bring it to completion and realization until the day that we see our Savior face to face [Revelation 22:3-5].
My brother, it is no rickety gospel on which we lean, one that cannot sustain us and lift us up. It is no Christ who fails, in whom we have found refuge and encouragement. It is no shifting sand on which we’re building our hopes when the floods come. No. Underneath are the everlasting arms and the promises of Him who will never fail. Mystery, un-understanding may engulf us. And enemies may assail us and assault us, and friends may forsake us, and Satan may buffet us, and illnesses and sicknesses may weaken us, and pain may rack us, and dark clouds may envelope us and swallow us, but He will not fail: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” [Hebrews 13:5]. That “good work” that God has begun in us, He will faithfully finish, perform until the day of our Lord Jesus Christ [Philippians 1:6].
A man may fail in his work. He may not be able to finish it. There are problems unforeseen to him. There are difficulties he never counted for. There are troubles that arise that he couldn’t foresee. He doesn’t have the ability to bring it to fruition. But, that’s not God. What He has begun in us, He will faithfully perform [Philippians 1:6]. He will see us through. We’ll make it heaven one of these days. God will see to it.
Now, there are some who say, “If I were to embrace a doctrine like that, it would weaken me. If you believe a doctrine like that,” the perseverance of the saints, that God’s elect are going to make it to heaven, “why, you’d quit working. You’d quit trying. You would just sit out in ease and let God do it. He is going to do it anyway. So we just let Him assume the responsibility, and we don’t have any commitment to make or any response to make. We don’t have anything to do at all. We just sit down and take it easy and let God do it, if it’s going to be done by God anyway.” And that’s what you think.
It works just the opposite; just the opposite! Man, you put in the souls of God’s saints, the perseverance of the election of God that we’re going do it, and we’re going to make it, and it’ll turn a saint into a lion, into a tiger—unbeatable! Why, just look at it among you. We’re in the football season. We’re in the athletic season, and wherever you go, people are watching that idiot box. And they’re just glued to those games, all kinds of them. Now, let’s say, here is a team—a team of boys in high school—and the coach says to those boys, “Fellows, you are unbeatable. You’re going to win!” And the fathers and mothers say to those boys, “You’re going out there, and you’re going to win. You’re going to win.” And the media picks it up, and they say, “That team’s going to win!” And those boys march out on the field and begin to play. And dad and mother are watching them, and they say, “You’re going to win!” And the coach is on the sidelines, watching them, and he says, “You’re going to win!” And the media, the television camera crew, and the sports reporters, all of them are there, saying, “You’re going to win.” Now, I want you to tell me. What effect will that have on those boys? Man alive, they go out like tigers! “Man, we’re going to win!” That’s the effect it has on you!
Now I’ve used just a earthly illustration. My brother, it’s the same thing in the spiritual world. We’re going to win. God is with us. He is going to give us the kingdom. He won’t fail!
You look at this. As some of you know, I read Spurgeon all the time. I copied this out of Spurgeon to show you that the certainty of a thing does not hinder a man from striving for it, but rather, quickens him:
I will give you an illustration of myself. It happened to me when I was but a child of some ten years of age or less. Mr. Richard Knill, of happy and glorious memory, an earnest worker for Christ, felt moved, I know not why, to take me on his knee at my grandfather’s house.
Spurgeon was reared by his grandfather and grandmother who was—he was a faithful preacher.
And to utter words like these, which were treasured by the family and by myself especially, “This child,” said he, “will preach the gospel. And he will preach it to the largest congregations of our times.” I believed his prophecy, and my standing here today is partly occasioned by such belief.
No matter where Spurgeon went, there was no building big enough to contain the throngs that crowded in to hear him preach Jesus. He went to the Crystal Palace, for a long period of time, while they were building Metropolitan Tabernacle. That thing holds more than twenty thousand people, and you still couldn’t get in.
I believed his prophecy, and my standing here today is partly occasioned by such belief. It did not hinder me in my diligence in seeking to educate myself, because I believed I was destined to preach to great congregations. The prophecy helped forward its own fulfillment. And I prayed and sought and strove always, having the star of Bethlehem before me, that the day should come when I should preach the gospel.
[Sermon by C. H. Spurgeon, May 23, 1869; Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington]
That’s the effect it has upon you. The Lord is with us, and He has decreed our final triumph, and our perseverance in it is one of the signs of the elective purpose of God in us; God’s election and the perseverance of His people [Philippians 1:6]. It puts iron in your blood. It makes you strive and work. We are the children of God, elect of the Lord, and He has set before us these high and holy achievements.
Dear me, God is with us. Next Sunday, I begin my thirty-ninth year as undershepherd of this dear church. I was called in September, 1944. And the first Sunday in October of that year, I preached my first sermon as pastor of this dear church. Thirty-eight full years this Sunday finishes, and I begin my thirty-ninth year this coming Lord’s Day. My far-famed predecessor, the greatest preacher our people have ever produced, so mighty an ambassador and plenipotentiary was George W. Truett that the world sought him. And he was gone from the church half of the time. No man can build a church and be gone from its pulpit. Then the last year of Dr. Truett, he was in bed, dying—a full year. And in those days and years, the congregation began to ebb.
When I looked at the congregation on Sunday night, it looked like wood to me. All I could see was just these wooden benches, these wooden pews, these wooden seats—very few people. The chairman of the deacons, who was chairman for thirty-five years, I asked him, “Why don’t you come on Sunday night?” He hadn’t been to church on Sunday night for fifteen years. I got down on my knees, and got down on my face, and I said, “Dear Lord, if I am faithful to Your Word, and if I preach Your gospel, will You give me people? Will You send us people? If I am faithful, Lord, will You give us souls?”
I am no nearer God’s face than you, and I have no greater access to the throne of glory than do you. I’m just describing an experience in prayer. As plainly as though you had spoken to me in an audible voice, did the Lord speak to me in my soul: “You be faithful in the preaching of the Word—you declare My gospel, zealously, prayerfully, faithfully, and I will send you people. I will send you souls.” Thirty-eight years ago did that happen. And you can’t know what that experience has done for me. In discouragement, and trial, and frustration, and sometimes despair, I never get away from that promise, immutable and unchanging, of God: “You preach My Word and you be faithful to My gospel, and I will send you people.”
At the eight-fifteen o’clock this morning, at the eight-fifteen service, there was a family that joined here—they have four beautiful children—joined here from a long way off. And the dear mother volunteered—I did not ask why they came here—she said, “I’d just like to tell you, the reason we are here is because of your faithfulness in declaring the Word of the Lord.” That’s God. When He promises that He will keep us, give us strength to persevere, it’s like an announcement of victory before the battle is fought. It’s like the trumpets blowing in heaven that we’ve come, and we’re not even there. It’s like strength and power for the work when it is increasingly difficult, hard. That’s God. That’s the Lord. And those that look up to Him and listen to His voice, there are ten thousand words of encouragement in that blessed, immutable Book: “I am with you. I am for you” [Matthew 28:20]. We’re going to win, and someday we’ll be in the presence of the great glory, faultless, with unspeakable joy [Jude 24]—what God has done for us! [Philippians 1:6].
Man, hold my hand while I shout! God be praised! We’re not going to lose; we’re going to win. We’re not going to fail; we’re going to succeed. We’re not going to fall short; we’re going to be there. And it’ll be Jesus Himself who receives us [John 14:3]. The nail-pierced hands that open for us the gates of grace will be the same loving hands that open for us the gates of glory. Bless His name and bless you! May we stand together?
Our Lord, we are so humbled, bowed down in Thy presence. The great God of heaven and earth watches over us, sends His angels as ministering spirits [Hebrews 1:14], works by our side, lifts us up when we fall down, encourages us when we’re discouraged, opens doors for us through solid walls. We live in a world of miracles every day God is with us. And our Lord, may the strength of our souls and the work of our hands, and the words of our mouths, and the thoughts of our hearts, praise Thee, love Thee, glorify Thee. O Lord Jesus, how good and wonderful Thou art: agatha didaskalē, our Good Master [John 1:38].
And in this moment, when we sing our song of appeal, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, down one of these aisles, down one of these stairways, “Pastor, we have made our decision for God, and here we stand. Here we come. We are on the way.” Do it now. Make that first step. It will be the most meaningful you have ever made in your life, and may angels attend you while you come. And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You will give us this precious hour, in Thy saving and keeping name, amen. Welcome, while we sing.