Predestination: The Eternal Purpose of God

Predestination: The Eternal Purpose of God

September 12th, 1982 @ 8:15 AM

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Isaiah 46:9-11

9-12-82    8:15 a.m.


We welcome the great throng who listens every Lord’s Day morning on radio to this early service in the First Baptist Church of Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Predestination: The Eternal Purpose of God; one of the tremendous doctrinal revelations on the sacred pages of this Holy Bible.  Turn in your Bible to Isaiah, the prophet Isaiah, chapter 46; and we shall read verses 9 through 11.  Isaiah chapter 46, verses 9 through 11.

Remember the former things of old:  for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me,

Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not . . . saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do My pleasure:

Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth My counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

[Isaiah 46:9-11]

Predestination: the eternal, elective purpose of God.

When we talk about God and His work, we use two sets of nomenclature.  When we speak of the great God in heaven, on His throne, above the creation, we use language that pertains to God.  We speak about predestination, about election, about foreknowledge, foreordination.  We talk about certainty.  We talk about sovereignty.  We speak of omnipotence and omniscience and omnipresence.  That is the nomenclature of heaven.  That’s the language that pertains to God.  Down here in this earth where we live in the dust of death, we speak an altogether different language.  We talk about free moral agency.  We talk about decision.  We talk about possibility.  We talk about uncertainty.  Up there He sees the end from the beginning.  All history is before Him in the present tense.  I struggle through it a day at a time.  As long as we keep those two sets of descriptive words separate, we’ll never have any trouble.  When you talk about God, you can talk about predestination, and election, and foreknowledge, and certainty, and omnipotence; but when you talk down here where we are, you must speak of decision and possibility.  Spurgeon said it like this:

The system of truth revealed in the Scriptures is not simply one straight line, but two; and no man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once.  These two facts, divine sovereignty and human freedom, are parallel lines.  I cannot make them meet; but no one can make them cross.

The great Southern Baptist scholar, John A. Broadus, said it like this:

You can see only two sides of a building at once.  If you go around it, you see two different sides; but the first two are hidden.  This is true if you’re on the ground, down here where we are.  But if you get up there where God is, if you get up on the roof or in a balloon, you can see that there are four sides, and you can see them all together.  So our finite minds can take in sovereignty and freedom alternately, but not simultaneously.

We will never have any trouble if we will use our nomenclature in those two categories.  Talk about God and the foreknowledge and the predestinating sovereignty of the Almighty, that’s wonderful; that’s God.  Talk about us and you speak about decision, and possibility, and uncertainty.

I want to illustrate that for you poignantly, vividly, in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts.  This is the story of the terrific storm that arose at sea and dashed the vessel in which Paul was going to Rome with two hundred seventy-six men, dashed it against the shores of a little island called Malta.  Now in the midst of the storm, you look at the decree of Almighty God.  That’s the first thing, the absolute, predestinating, elective stated purpose of Almighty God, the decree of heaven.  Now you look at this:  Acts 27:22, Paul says:

I exhort you to be of good cheer:  for there shall be no loss of anyone’s life among you, only of the ship.

For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,

Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar:  and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.

Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer:  for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.

[Acts 27:22-25]

God said to Paul, “All of them are going to be saved” [Acts 27:22, 24].  That’s the decree of heaven.  Wonderful!  All of them are going to be saved.

All right, now you look at verse 30:  “And the sailors were about to flee out of the ship, and they let down a little boat in which they were going to flee, under color as though they would have cast out anchors, but Paul said to the centurion,” who is by Roman law the leader of the vessel, “Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved” [Acts 27:30-31].  God had just said they all are going to be saved, every one of them; there won’t be a loss of life [Acts 27:22, 24].  But Paul says in verse 31, “If you let these sailors escape, ye cannot be saved” [Acts 27:31].  The decree of God and human contingency there in the same story.

Now, look at it just once again.  God said, “You are all going to be saved; there will not be the loss of a life of these two hundred seventy-six men on this boat [Acts 27:22, 24, 37].  Everybody is going to be saved.”  Now you look at what they do:  in verse 32, “The soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall” [Acts 27:32], that keeps the sailors from escaping.  In verse 36 they all eat according to the admonition of the apostle because they’re going to need strength to get to the shore [Acts 27:33-36].  Look at verse 38, “And when they had eaten, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea” [Acts 27:38].  Look at verse 40, “And they committed themselves unto the sea, loosening the rudder bands, and hoisting up the mainsail, and made for the shore” [Acts 27:40], for all that they were worth.  And then in verses 43 and 44, the centurion says, “All of you who can swim, swim”; and they cast themselves into the sea.  “And all of you that cannot swim grab a board and a broken piece of the ship.  And so it came to pass that they all escaped safe to land” [Acts 27:43-44].  That shivering, exhausted, drowned, half-drowned crew and everybody else on the ship, they finally made it.  God said they were going all to be saved [Acts 27:22, 24].  But did you ever see such effort in all of your life?  And they finally arrived, each one surprised he was still alive and each one with a story to tell to the natives of the island of Malta, “Melita” they called it [Acts 28:1].  Now that’s both of them:  the decree of Almighty God, that’s God’s language, and the struggle and effort of His people down here in the world, that’s our language.

The great foundational truth of all revelation is this: that God is [Hebrews 11:6], and that He is sovereign [Psalm 115:3; Matthew 19:26].  It belongs to the perfection of God to have a plan, a purpose.  Michelangelo saw that marvelous statue of Moses when as yet he was just looking at the solid rock.  Raphael saw the Sistine Madonna before he lifted up a brush against the canvas.  Sir Christopher Wren saw that magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral in London before a foundation stone was laid.  And the Bible avows to us that before the foundations of the creation were laid, Christ Jesus was slain for our redemption [Revelation 13:8].

It belongs not only to the perfection of God that He have a purpose and a plan for the universe and for us in it, but also it belongs to the sovereignty of God that He carries out that plan and that purpose.  The brothers of Joseph may sell him to the Ishmaelites [Genesis 37:26-28], and the Ishmaelites may sell him to Potiphar [Genesis 37:36], and Potiphar may cast him into prison [Genesis 39:20], but God said that he will be ruler over Egypt [Acts 7:9-10, Genesis 41:41] and that these brothers will bow down before him [Genesis 37:5-11, 42:6, 9].  And God said He is doing it for good, to save the family of Israel [Genesis 50:18-20].

Tiglath-pileser may destroy all of Israel [2 Kings 15:29], and Sennacherib may hold Judah in the hands of his army like a vise [2 Kings 18:13-19:37], and Nebuchadnezzar may come and plow up the city and destroy the temple [2 Chronicles 36:15-20], but two hundred years before Nebuchadnezzar and three hundred years before Cyrus, God by His holy prophet Isaiah called Cyrus by name and said, “The city shall be rebuilt and the foundation of the temple shall be re-laid” [Isaiah 44:28].

Judas may sell our Lord to the priests for thirty pieces of silver [Matthew 26:14-16], and the priests may deliver our Lord into the hands of Pontius Pilate, and Pontius Pilate may deliver Him into the hands of the Roman soldiers to crucify Him [Matthew 27:24-27], and the soldiers may crucify Him between two thieves [Matthew 27:32-50], and the despairing hands of the Lord’s disciples may lay Him with many tears and in despair in a tomb [Matthew 27:57-61], and the Roman government may put its seal on the stone, and they may set a guard there [Matthew 27:62-66], but one thousand years before Jesus was born, God said, “I will not suffer My Holy One to see corruption” [Psalm 16:10]; and He said, “The third day I shall rise again” [Matthew 17:23, Mark 9:31].

You had as well seek to stay the tides of the sea with hands and bands as to subvert the predestined purpose of God.  You had as well try to change the stars in their orbits and in their courses as to contradict and interdict the decrees of Almighty God.  Predestination—the eternal purpose of God; that purpose will never fail.

Habakkuk the prophet, the minor prophet Habakkuk, was sent to Israel to announce the destruction of the nation, of the city, and of the temple by the bitter and hasty Chaldeans, Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army [Habakkuk 1:6].  And Habakkuk spoke to the Lord God—there could be nothing imaginable to those Jewish people, those Hebrew people, those Israelitist people, there could be nothing imaginable as tragic as the destruction of the nation, as the scattering of the people, as the plowing up of Jerusalem, and as the burning of the temple, and Habakkuk went before God and asked Him about it [Habakkuk 1:12-17].  And God replied one of the great sentences and verses in the Bible:  “The just shall live by faith” [Habakkuk 2:4].  Beyond the destruction of the city, and the dispersing of the people, and the burning of the temple, and the plowing up [Micah 3:12], God reigns, and “The just shall live by his faith” [Habakkuk 2:4].

It’s a remarkable thing to me that those apostles, in the oppressive interdictions of the Roman Empire, lived in the light of the promises of God.  Paul would say, “In all things God works for good to them who love the Lord” [Romans 8:28].  How in the world could a man say that who is beat, in prison, and facing execution?  I don’t know.  That’s faith.  And the sainted apostle John, a hundred years old, exiled to Patmos to die of exhaustion and starvation [Revelation 1:9], says in the Apocalypse 11:15, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever” [Revelation 11:15].

The decrees of Almighty God, the purpose, cannot be subverted by time.  When the angel from heaven said to Abraham, a hundred years old, and Sarah, ninety years old [Genesis 17:17], “You shall have a son,” Sarah laughed! [Genesis 18:9-12].  That’s the reason they called the name of their boy when he was born laughter, they called him laughter; they called him Isaac [Genesis 21:3], because Sarah laughed!  But God had said to Abraham years and years before, “This Eliezer will not be your heir; but one born out of your loins” [Genesis 15:2-4]; and Abraham fell on his face and laughed” [Genesis 17:17], I suppose for joy.  Time makes no difference with God.

Human interdiction makes no difference with God.  Pharaoh said, “We will destroy this tribe.”  Simple to do:  drown all the male babies and it ceases to exist [Exodus 1:22].  But God had said to Abraham six hundred years before—Pharaoh didn’t know about that—six hundred years before God had said to Abraham, “Your people will serve four hundred years, and I will deliver them” [Genesis 15:13].  That’s God.

And death makes no difference to the decrees of God.  According to the second chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the fiercest instrument of Satan to thwart God’s redemptive purpose is death, death—he has the power of death [Hebrews 2:14].  And through all of the centuries and the millennia he sought to slay the righteous Seed, the promised Seed.  “The Seed of the woman shall destroy Satan’s head” [Genesis 3:15].  And he slew Abel [Genesis 4:8].  Then through Pharaoh he sought to slay all the male children of the people of God [Exodus 1:16, 22].  Then Athaliah the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, now queen of Judah, slew all of the royal seed [2 Kings 11:1], but Jehoiada of the high priests hid away a little baby called Joash [2 Kings 11:2-4].  Bethlehem was stained with blood with the sword of bloody Herod, to destroy the Seed [Matthew 2:16].  And last of all, Satan encompassed His death:  He died on the cross; openly, publicly He died [Matthew 27:32-50].  But God said, “This is My Son” [Matthew 3:17].  And the third day He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-6; 1 Corinthians 15:4].  The eternal purpose of God cannot be thwarted, subverted, interdicted; it moves against death, and destruction, and the evil devices of men.

Now the reason I had you read this passage in Ephesians:  it is the great consummating purpose of God to sum up all things in Christ, whether they be in heaven, or whether they be on earth, or whether they be in the abyss.  Verse 5, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children… according to the good pleasure of His will” [Ephesians 1:5]. “Having made known unto us,” verse 9, “the mystery of His will, according to His 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, which are in heaven, and which are in earth… In whom also we have obtained an inheritance . . . predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” [Ephesians 1:9-11].  We have a part in that.  God’s purpose is to sum up all things in Christ, up there in heaven among the angels, down here in earth among men, and even in the abyss, in the netherworld; all of it in Christ [Colossians 1:17].  And the march of human history that carries us along with it reaches toward the great and final destination.

So it is that the purpose of God will not fail with Israel.  Paul says, in the concluding verses of the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, “My brethren, I would not have you without knowledge concerning this mustērion, this secret in the heart of God; for blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, until the plērōma of the Gentiles be come in” [Romans 11:25].  There is to be an age after this age.  In this age God is calling out among the Gentiles a people for His own [Romans 11:25]; He calls it His body, His church [Ephesians 1:22-23].  And when the plērōma of the Gentiles has come in, when the full number, plērōma, of the Gentiles has come in, when that last Gentile has walked down that aisle and accepted Jesus as his Savior [Romans 11:25], then all Israel shall be saved—the hardest verse in the Bible, Romans 11:26—then shall be introduced the ultimate and final age.

According to Zechariah chapters 12 to 14 [Zechariah 12-14], Israel, unbelieving Israel, is going to look upon the Lord whom they have pierced; and they will mourn, repent, weep, before Him as a man might weep over his only son [Zechariah 12:10].  And there will be a fountain of cleansing in Israel [Zechariah 13:1]; and they will wash themselves in the grace and mercy of God, and all Israel shall be saved [Romans 11:26].  I don’t know what that means.  I just know God is not done with Israel; and His purpose is working toward some great consummating end, at which time Israel shall look upon their Messiah and accept Him as their Lord and King [Romans 11:26].

Again, that purpose of God shall not fail with the Gentiles.  According to the second chapter of the Book of Philippians, every knee shall bow, every knee, in submission before Him who is the rightful Ruler of all creation [Philippians 2:10].  Every Gentile shall bow.  His purpose shall not fail with the Gentiles.

And I turned over in my mind a long time whether I dared say this, but I so wanted, as I prepared this message, to speak not only of the hand of God in human history, but I wanted to speak of it in our lives.  So, if I may be forgiven, the great purpose of God shall not fail in me.  Not only in history, not only with Israel, not only with the Gentile nations of the earth; His purpose will not fail in me.  He said in John 1:12, “But to as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the sons of God.”  And I received Him as a boy.  And He said in John 3:14, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, any one dying could look and live” [Numbers 21:8-9]; and I looked and lived.  He said in John 6:37, “He that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out”; and I came unto Him.  He said in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”; and I believed.  And the decree of God is [John 10:28], “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never ever perish.”  The purpose of God shall not fail in me.  I am not here of my own begetting.  God breathed into me the breath of life when my mother brought me into the world [Genesis 2:7].

Before my being born, I had a little sister who died, maybe two or three days after birth.  Why didn’t I die?  The same Lord God that breathed into me the breath of life is the same Lord God who called me in my heart to faith in Him.  I grew up with a boy; and as he became, as I was, in the passing of years toward young manhood, he violated a state law and went to state penitentiary.  The second time, he robbed a post office; and that was a federal offense, and they sent him to the federal penitentiary.  He was an obstreperous, incorrigible son.  And playing baseball with his fellow convicts, he exhibited the same spirit there; and one of them took the baseball bat and beat his brains out.  That’s the boy I grew up with.  How is it God turned me in another way?  I don’t know.

So as the days passed and I gave my heart to the Lord in answer to what I felt from childhood was a divine calling in the ministry, I studied, I read those books in school, I pored over them.  And when I was seventeen years of age, studying, I became the undershepherd and pastor of my little country churches.  I have one full brother named Curry.  He had no interest in college at all, and refused to go; no interest in books at all, and refused to study.  I pored over those books; I still do.  I study more than any student in this church, in any school.  I study every morning, I study every night, poring over these books.  And I love shepherding God’s sheep.  I’d rather do what I do for nothing than what anybody else does for pay.

And that same marvelous predestinated purpose of God that I have felt in my life I see among our dear people.  It hasn’t been but two or three years ago when I so lamented and wept in this pulpit that both newspapers put it on the front page, my lamentation:  we owed ten and a half million dollars in money, in debt, and prime rate had reached twenty-two percent, and we were obligated to pay one point above prime.  And I lived in despair.  And out of the mercies of God and the purposes of God for us, through a wonderful friend and fellow member of the church, and through the loving response of all of our congregation, we paid off the entire debt.  Our schools are out of debt.  Our academy has no debt, as Dick Clemens could tell you and Charles Freed could tell you.  Our Bible college has no debt, as Dr. Patterson could tell you.  And our church is free to rise and to soar with Dr. Melzoni.

The purpose of God in our human lives—and that doesn’t mean, that doesn’t mean we don’t have sorrows that crush our souls and break our hearts.  But in it all, God works for good to those who are called according to His purpose [Romans 8:28].

Sometimes o’er the mount where the sun shines so bright,

God leads His dear children along;

Sometimes in the valley, in the deepest of night,

God leads His dear children along.

Some through the fire, some through the flood,

Some through the waters, but all through the blood;

Some through great sorrows, but God gives a song,

In the night season and all the day long.

[“God Leads Us Along,” George A. Young]

His purposes will not fail in us.  I’ll see you in heaven someday, as I see you face to face even here.

There is no more beautiful or precious providence in life than for a man to conform his days to the calling of God.  He always chooses what is best when we leave the choice to Him.  And that is our invitation to your heart.  A family:  “We are joining our lives to this wonderful church.”  A couple, just the two of you, you and a friend, or you and your wife:  “We are together, walking with our Lord in the fellowship of this family of God.”  Or just a one somebody you:  “I feel the call of God in my soul, and I am answering with my life” [Ephesians 2:8].  In this moment when we sing our appeal, down that stairway if you’re in the balcony, down this aisle if you’re in the throng on this lower floor, “Pastor, we have decided for God today, and His will is our will, my will.  I’m walking with Him.”  Make the decision now in your heart; and in this moment when we stand to sing, stand taking that first step.  It’ll be the greatest step you ever made in your life.  Come, and welcome.  Welcome, while we stand and while we sing.