God’s Election of His People’s Perseverance
September 26th, 1982 @ 8:15 AM
GOD’S ELECTION OF HIS PEOPLE’S PERSEVERANCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-26-82 8:15 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Perseverance of the Saints: The Election of God in His People’s Perseverance. This is the last and the closing message in the series on soteriology, on our salvation, that we are going to make it to heaven someday.
The next two Sundays will be devoted to another assignment. This coming Lord’s Day will begin the thirty-ninth year of the pastor’s undershepherdship here in the church, and the message will concern some of the things that have troubled me all of these years. I have never done that in my life; always preached convictions and affirmations. I have never preached things that trouble me, but I am going to do it this coming Sunday. Do not know why it is laid on my heart, it just is. And that will be the thirty-eighth anniversary, this coming Lord’s Day. Then the next Sunday will be our annual stewardship message. We are getting ready—as you were just introduced to—for the most gigantic assignment any church ever had. I do not know a church in the world that has one-half or maybe one-third of the giving program that our church attempts for Christ, but God will lead us. He has never failed us in these many years, and this is His assignment now. And in the prayerful response of each one of us, when God adds us up it is always a miracle to me what the Lord has done.
Then in this long series on the “Great Doctrines of the Bible,” the next one is berithology. The Hebrew word for “covenant” is berith, berith. And “berithology” is a word that I coined; it is not in anybody’s dictionary, not in anybody’s language. That is “Criswellian” language, berithology. And I used it to refer to Israel. And there are going to be five messages from the Bible on Israel, God’s covenant people—berith, “covenant”—God’s covenant people.
Now this morning, one: what I think is one of the tremendous, comforting, and encouraging revelations of the mind and purpose and promise of our Lord. In the first chapter of Philippians, Philippians chapter 1, beginning at verse 3, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all” [Philippians 1:3-4]. Isn’t that a good old southern word? I think God speaks southern, “you all.”
Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now—
now this is the text—
Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
God’s election and His people’s perseverance: “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” [Philippians 1:6]. God is not going to fail, Paul says. What He has elected, what He has purposed, He will surely perform, and we can have that confidence in Him.
The appalling dangers that attend the Christian life are apparent in every experience. A good illustration of that is found in our physical life. Did you ever look at a medical book? All of those uncounted names of diseases that confront us and afflict us, they are almost legion. These microorganisms that float on every piece of dust, the bacteria, the germs, the viruses, the parasites, beside the accidents and the fire and the fever, how does a child live in such an appallingly dangerous world? That is even more so and more true of our spiritual life. Dangers assail us on every side. There is Satan who is a roaring lion, walks about seeking whom he may devour [1 Peter 5:8]. He is sometimes presented as an angel of light [2 Corinthians 11:14] with all manner of alluring temptations. We literally walk between the jaws of death, or on a narrow ledge with a chasm on either side. Ten thousand arrows are aimed toward us every day.
The fact that a Christian life is possible is a miracle in itself. It’s like a fire burning in the middle of the deepest sea. The Christian life is like a big, heavy rock suspended in midair: it’s miraculous. It’s like a man of health in a pest house. It’s like a white swan swimming on a river of mud. But the perseverance of God’s chosen people, the elect, the called, is one of the promises in the Holy Scriptures. If a man falls and fails, it’s because he did not belong to the Lord; 1 John 2:19 says:
They went out from us, because they were not of us; for had they been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out from us, that it might be manifest that they were not all of us.
God’s people will persevere; they will get to heaven.
The apostle Paul writes of that in tremendously encouraging language: “Being confident of this very thing, that He that hath begun a good work in you, the Lord God, will finish it, perform it, until the day of Jesus Christ” [Philippians 1:6]. He says that our Christian life is a work of God; it is something God does in us. He says it is begun of God. This marvelous, wonderful pilgrimage on which our feet are set is a work of the Lord: He began it in us. And according to the Scriptures, that would be very apparent. How could a dead man raise himself from the dead? And the Bible says, “We are dead in trespasses and in sins” [Ephesians 2:1]. God has to raise us from the dead [Ephesians 2:5]. “Corruption cannot inherit incorruption” [1 Corinthians 15:50], and the mortal, natural man cannot re-create himself. He can’t make himself to begin with, and he certainly cannot re-create himself to end with. It is a work of God. Hell does not cultivate the seeds of heaven, and the fires of Gehenna are not converted into the glory of everlasting life. Our conversion, our introduction to this Christian faith and the beginning of our pilgrimage, is something God does for us. Were it not for the beginning of God in us, we would never begin. God does it. That’s what Paul says, “the work God has begun in us” [Philippians 1:6].
Then he avows that God will finish it; He will perform it [Philippians 1:6]. The purpose the Lord has in us will surely find realization and consummation. God will do it. It’s according to the decree of the Father. It is according to the atoning death of Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for all of our sins [1 John 2:2]. It is according to His resurrected life in glory, delivered for our offenses, and raised for our justification [Romans 4:25], to declare us righteous, to be sure that without fail we will stand in the presence of the great Glory; “For if, when we were sinners, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled . . . shall we be saved by His life” [Romans 5:10], that life up there in heaven. As the author of the Hebrews says in 7:25, “He is able to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” [Hebrews 7:25]. That is the intercessory work of our Savior today: to see to it that we who have found refuge in Him will surely and certainly not fall and not fail. We shall persevere in His gracious goodness and intercession until finally we’re delivered spotless, perfect, without blemish, in heaven [Ephesians 5:27].
Now the apostle describes that marvelous pilgrimage of the perseverance of the saints with a beautiful word: “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it, He will finish it, until the day of Jesus Christ” [Philippians 1:6]. That word “good,” it’s a beautiful word in our language. This “good work” he describes, what God is doing in us, it’s a beautiful word in our language. I think it is prettier and more beautiful in the Greek language. The word in Greek is agathos, agathos. If you have a girl that you’d like to be beautifully named, you could name her Agatha, Agatha, “beautiful.” So beautiful is that word that when the rich young ruler came to Jesus and bowed down before Him, he addressed Him, Didaskalē agathē, “Good Teacher,” Good Master, agathē, “good.” And the Lord noticed it. He said, “Why callest thou Me agathē? There is none agathe but One, that is God”; agathē, God [Luke 18:18-19]. That’s the word he uses here: that godly work that the Lord has commenced, begun in us, He will faithfully perform [Philippians 1:6].
And I can easily see, as you can, why the apostle would describe that ministry of the Spirit in our lives as agathos, “good” [Philippians 1:6]. It would be a wonderful thing, a good thing, to bring a man from sickness to health, to endow him with a worldly estate, a rich estate, to give him a brilliantly trained mind, that would be a good thing. According to the standards of the world, one of the finest things that you could think for—to make a sick man well, to make a poor man rich, to make an unlearned man brilliant, cultivated, learned—that would be good. But there’s no comparison in the worth of the goodness as to bring a man from darkness to light, from the corruption of sin into the fullness of the glory of God, to create in him a marvelous Christian follower of Jesus. That’s why he calls it “that good work” that the Holy Spirit is doing in us [Philippians 1:6].
When I look at that pilgrimage of the Christian and the work of the Spirit of God in us—that good thing which God has begun and which He will faithfully perform [Philippians 1:6]—when I look at it, there are several things that attend that pilgrimage in our experience. One is this: there is no Christian who shall pilgrimage through the world in which God hath cast our life and lot but who shall know sorrow and disappointment and trial. Dr. Edward Judson, the son of Adoniram Judson, in speaking of the life of his father at the dedication of the Judson Memorial Baptist Church in New York City, said, quote, “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 performing this good thing that God has done for us, suffering is a part of it [1 Peter 5:10]. And for us to quail before it or to find fault with God because of it is a tremendous weakness in our flesh.
Part of the discipline of God in this good thing that the Lord is doing for us [Philippians 1:6] is the hurt, and the sorrow, and the heartache, and the tears, and the trial that attend our pilgrim way. I think of the apostle Paul who writes this letter. Could you ever think for a man whose life was more beat, or more buffeted, or more hurt than his life? In the [second] Corinthian letter, in the first chapter he starts off with, in Asia, the province of Asia, “We had the sentence of death in our bodies” [2 Corinthians 1:8-9]. He was sick unto death. Why should a Christian be sick? All the time I hear on the radio, “Sickness is not anything that God intends for the Christian.” That’s the strangest kind of preaching, when I read here of the apostle Paul, “sick,” he says, “unto death.” Did you ever read such a list of hurts and sorrows as in the last half of the eleventh chapter of  Corinthians, of 2 Corinthians [2 Corinthians 11:23-33], and the first half of the twelfth chapter of 2 Corinthians? [2 Corinthians 11:1-10]. He has a whole page there of the sufferings that he had endured: “perils of the sea, perils of robbers, perils of mine countrymen” [2 Corinthians 11:26], his own countrymen disowned him, stoned, left for dead [2 Corinthians 11:25]. Then he says, “Not only that, but I have in my flesh,” what the King James Version translates, “a thorn” [2 Corinthians 12:7]. The Greek of it is a “stake”—a stake driven in his flesh. I think it is the providence of God we don’t know what it is, but it was some kind of bodily affliction. And he besought the Lord for it, that it be removed from him [2 Corinthians 12:8]. And the Lord said, “No, My grace is sufficient for thee [2 Corinthians 12:9] . . . Therefore,” writes the apostle, “I glory, I thank God for infirmities, for trials, disappointments; for when I am weak, then am I strong” [2 Corinthians 12:9-10]. That’s the good thing God is purposing for us and leading us in the days of our pilgrimage.
Another part of that is chastisement. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews: “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, as a father his son. And if you are without chastening, you are not sons; you are not legitimate” [Hebrews 12:6-8]. If you are a child of God, you will experience the chastening of the Lord.
And you will know the refining fires of His sanctification, purification [Malachi 3:3; 1 Peter 4:12]. You know, it impresses me that the first chapter of James and the first chapter of 1 Peter, both of those begin with the trials of the Christian and the refining fires of the Christian [James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:7]. He’s not talking about the world; he’s talking about us, that good thing God has purposed for us [Hebrews 11:40]. Gold has to be refined or it would never be gold. A diamond has to be ground or you’d never see it shine. I watched them grind diamonds, polish diamonds, in Bangkok, in Thailand. What a process that is! A vine has to be pruned to bear fruit. Muscles have to be strained to be strong. And our souls have to be tried to find in them character. There is a purpose in all of the trials we experience in our lives. God is purposing a good thing for us [Ephesians 1:9-10].
I read where a father who loved his little boy looked on the lad, and the little fellow was born with a deformed foot. And they had operation after operation on that little boy’s foot; and each time it ensued in failure, disappointment. The little boy was permanently crippled, a deformed foot. And when the boy got to be eight years of age, that father began studying. He studied every book he could find about how that foot was made, and how the bones in it worked, and the muscles and the tendons were put together. The father studied and studied and studied. Then one day he made a funny-looking, strange kind of a box. And in that box he had bolts and screws and felt tips. And he took his little eight-year old boy’s foot, and he put that foot in that strange looking box, and began to tighten those screws. The little boy cried—it hurt him. And every day the father tightened those screws in that box. The little boy cried. When the father would come home from work, the little boy would plead with the dad that his foot be taken out of that box, but instead the father tightened the screws! And as the boy cried, the father cried, and tightened the screws. But the day came when the lad said, “Daddy, could it be now?” And the father said, “Son, now.” And he undid the screws, and he took the boy’s foot out of that strange looking box, and he said to the son, “Son, stand up.” For the first time in his life, the little boy stood up! His foot was well and formed. The years have passed, and an old gray-headed man stood over the grave of his father, who long since had been translated to glory, and his tears fell on the sod in gratitude for the father who loved him enough to put his foot in that box and tighten the screws.
My brother, God intends the best thing for us. We may cry and lament, and our hearts hurt—it’s that good thing God hath done in the beginning and will faithfully finish. Isn’t that a comforting thought? “He that hath begun this good work will perform it, He will finish it” [Philippians 1:6]. He is not going to fail.
Man, the gospel we preach is not a rickety gospel; it’s not something that if we lean upon it, it falls apart, it breaks down. It’s not a shifting sand in which our house is destroyed in the day of the flood. Underneath are the everlasting arms, and the decrees of God shall never fail. Mystery may baffle us and engulf us, and our enemies may assail us, and our friends desert us, and Satan storm us, and sickness weaken us, and pain wrack us, and clouds engulf us; but He will never fail. “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” [Hebrews 13:5]. A man’s work may never be finished. He may not have had the foresight to see it through. He may be unable to finish it. He may face unforeseen difficulties. But not our Lord: He sees the end from the beginning, and what He has started, He will faithfully finish [Philippians 1:6].
Now somebody can easily say, and I can understand, “You know, a doctrine like that, a gospel like that, a message like that will leave a man weak. If that is true, what you’re preaching from the Bible, the perseverance of the saints [Matthew 10:22], that we’re going to be saved, God’s going to see us through, why, if you accept, embrace a doctrine like that, why, it just weakens the man. He just sits back, and he just sits down, and he just says, ‘Well, God’s going to do it, and I have no responsibility at all.’” That’s what you would think. My brother, it is the opposite! If you want to turn a saint into a lion, do that to him: tell him about the confidence of God! The performance of the work of the Lord—make a tiger out of him; make a lion out of him.
Now that’s not peculiar or unusual. Take any team, any team; say a team in high school, here’s a team in high school. And the coach says to that team, “You’re going to win, you’re going to win, you’re the best. You’re going to win.” And the fathers and mothers of those boys playing on that team, those fathers and mothers say to those boys, “You’re going to win. You’re going to win. You’re going to win!” And the editor in the newspaper, on the sports page, he writes it up, “They’re going to win. They’re going to win. You’re going to win.” I want you to tell me yourself, when that team marches out there on the field, and fathers and mothers are looking at them, who have said, “You’re going to win,” and that coach is on the sideline looking at them, and he says, “You’re going to win,” and all the media are there, saying, “They’re going to win,” I want you to tell me, what does that do to the team? Why, those boys get out there, and they just give their lives to win.
That’s exactly the way it is with us. God has said, “You are going to win. You are not going to fail.” God has said, “You are going to win!” Man, it does something to you. As you know, I read Spurgeon a great deal. And reading Spurgeon, I came across this, listen to it:
To show you that the certainty of a thing does not hinder a man from striving after 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, who was a Baptist, who was an independent preacher:
at my grandfather’s house, and to utter words like these, which were treasured by the family and by myself especially: “This child,” he said, “will preach the gospel. And he will preach it to the largest congregation of our times.” I believed his prophecy. And my standing here today—
You couldn’t get a building in London large enough to house the people that wanted to hear Spurgeon preach. Before they built that Metropolitan Tabernacle, he went down to the Crystal Palace that would hold twenty thousand people, and they couldn’t get in, just Sunday after Sunday. Not a crusade, just preaching—
I believed his prophecy. And my standing here today before the vast throng 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 large congregations. Not at all did it hinder me; but 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 to large congregations.
That’s what Spurgeon said. It works that way in our lives. God has promised that we’ll not falter or fail or fall. And the encouragement of it helps us along in our pilgrim way.
This may be grossest presumption on my part: thirty-eight years ago, soon, within a week, I came to preach for the first time in this very place, in this sacred pulpit. I had been called in September to be pastor of the church; and the first sermon that I preached here as pastor of the church was the first Sunday in October, 1944. As some of you know, who were members of the church then, Dr. Truett belonged to the world, God’s greatest emissary plenipotentiary, ambassador from heaven; none like him, none. And he was gone more than half of the time; and he had cancer of the bone and was sick and in bed a full year. Well in those days, the pastor being gone so much—no church can grow with the pastor being gone—and his long illness, tragic illness, the church had gone down, gone down. And when I came, I faced that turn in the life of the congregation. When I’d come to church to preach here on Sunday night, I just looked at wood. These wooden pews, there wasn’t anybody in them; a little handful of people on Sunday night. I asked the chairman of the deacons, who was chairman thirty-five years, “Why don’t you come to church on Sunday night?” He hadn’t been to church on Sunday night in over fifteen years.
I got down on my knees, I got down on my face, and I said, “Dear Lord, if I faithfully preach the gospel, faithfully preach the Word, Lord, if I faithfully preach God’s Book, Lord, will You give me people? We’re downtown, these people live miles and miles and increasingly miles away. Lord, if I faithfully preach the gospel, will You give me people?” And I had as clear an answer from heaven in my heart as though you had spoken to me; in an audible language the Lord said to me in my heart, “You faithfully preach My gospel, be true to My Word, and I will send you people. I will do it.”
Now what did that do for me? In the most discouraging days and in the heaviest trials, I always knew God would keep His promise. “You preach My gospel, and I will send you people.” It encouraged me. It never fails. That’s God, that’s the Lord! The most comforting encouragement I know is that decree of heaven, “He that hath begun a good work in you will finish it until the day of Jesus Christ” [Philippians 1:6].
I have to close. You know what I promised: that I would quit at 9:00 o’clock this morning? Thank God for that planet He has promised me, on which I’m going to put my little soapbox and we’re not going to have any clocks. We’re going to preach forever. O Lord, what wonderful things in Your blessed Book.
In this minute we’re going to stand and sing our song of appeal. And to give your heart to Jesus, to come into the fellowship of this wonderful church, on the first note of the first stanza, a thousand times welcome. Welcome. Welcome, while we stand and while we sing. Welcome.
GOD’S ELECTION AND HIS PEOPLE’S PERSEVERANCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The appalling danger which attends the Christian life
1. Like our physical life – medical volumes on diseases that attack, besides the accidents that can overtake us
2. The spiritual life
a. As Christians we live between the jaws of death
b. Life of a Christian a miracle
B. One of the signs of the election of God is the perseverance, the continuation of Christian life in this sordid world(1 John 2:19)II. It is a work of God
A. Began by the Lord – without His intervention we would never be saved
1. Dead man cannot raise himself; resurrection a work of God(Ephesians 2:1, 1 Corinthians 15:21, 50)
B. God finishes the work
1. Decree of the Father that we are saved, that we are preserved
2. The atoning death of His Son(Romans 4:25, 5:10, Hebrews 7:25)
3. The operation of the Holy Spirit in our livesIII. Described as a good work
A. Only God is agatha, “good” (Luke 18:18-19)
1. Nothing comparable to the agathos work of leading a man from darkness into light, delivering him from bondage of corruption
B. That “good work” includes many things in our lives that may not be what we call “good” – implies sometimes deprivations, sorrows, sufferings
1. Dr. Edward Judson
C. What happens is always for our good(2 Corinthians 1:9, 11:25-26, 12:7-10, Philippians 1:12-13)
1. Sometimes it takes the form of chastisement(Hebrews 12:6, 8)
2. Sometimes it takes the form of refining fires (James 1:2, 1 Peter 1:6-7)
3. Always for our ultimate good(Romans 8:28)
a. Little boy with the deformed footIV. Our confidence God will perform it
A. It is no rickety gospel we preach(Hebrews 13:5)
B. Some say the doctrine makes men weak – if elect, then quit working
1. The opposite is true – perseverance of the election of God turns a man into a lion
a. Coach tells his team they will win
c. When I came to Dallas God said, “If you will be faithful to preach the Word, I will give you souls”
C. When God promises to keep us, it is like an announcement of victory before the battle is fought(Matthew 28:20, Jude 24)