Predestination: The Eternal Purpose of God
September 12th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
PREDESTINATION: THE ETERNAL PURPOSE OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-12-82 10:50 a.m.
And a thousand times welcome to you who are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Predestination: The Eternal Purpose Of God. In the doctrinal series on soteriology, this is the message on the predestinating, elective, committed purpose of God for us and for the world of creation into which He has enmeshed and identified our daily lives.
Our background text is in the prophet Isaiah, chapter 46, reading verses 9 through 11. Isaiah 46, beginning at verse 9:
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;
– speaking of Cyrus –
yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
The unchanging, immutable decrees of God: predestination, the eternal counsel and purpose of the Almighty.
There are two sets of nomenclature used in the Bible, constantly used. One set of words refers and are used by the Lord God up there in the heaven of eternity where He has His throne, and those words are "predestination," "election," "foreknowledge," "constancy," "sovereignty," "omnipotence," "omniscience," "omnipresence." Those are the words used in heaven. To the great God of the universe, all history is present before Him. He sees the end from the beginning. I struggle through it a day at a time, but it is always present before Him; seeing it, knowing it, and His will and purpose working through it to a final consummation. Those are the words that are used in heaven: election, foreknowledge, predestination.
Down here in this world where I live, in the dust of death, there is another set of words. We use the words "moral freedom," "advantage," "contingency," "possibility," "the exercise of my volition." These are the words down here: freedom of spirit, freedom of choice, freedom of election, all the possibilities that are daily set before me.
Spurgeon spoke of those two sets of words like this: the system of truth revealed in the Scriptures is not simply one straight line, but two, and no man will ever get the 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, neither can anyone make them cross.
The great scholar, president of the seminary, John A. Broadus said, "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 are on the ground, but if you are up there where God is, 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 we cannot view them simultaneously."
I do not know of a finer illustration of this – the decrees of Almighty God and the freedom and contingency of the human spirit – than the remarkable story of the deliverance of Paul and the two hundred seventy-six men with him in the fierce storm described in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts. Now the decree of Almighty God, the elective purpose of God: Paul stands in the midst and he says:
I exhort you to be of good cheer; for there shall be no loss of any man’s life, only 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 that sail with thee;
– two hundred seventy-six men –
Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.
Now that is the decree of Almighty God: all two hundred seventy-six of those men are going to be saved – the purpose announced of God. Now I continue reading a few verses down, in verse 30:
And the sailors were about to flee out of the ship.
They let down a boat into the sea as though they would cast anchors from the foreship.
Then Paul said to the centurion
who by Roman law was the administrator and leader of the vessel, even though he’s in the army and not the navy:
Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers,
Except these sailors abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.
Why, my brother, I have just read where God said by an immutable decree, all two hundred seventy-six are to be saved. Yet Paul will say, "If these sailors escape, you cannot be saved."
Now the decree has been said: all of the men on board shall be saved – all of them – but look what they do. Verse 32: the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat and let her fall so the sailors could not escape. Verse 36: at the insistence of Paul, they all eat because they need strength for the task that awaits them. Verse 38: they lighten the ship, throw overboard all the wheat, in order that it can be grounded against the shore. Verse 40: they loose the rudder bands, they hoist up the mainsail, and they make toward the shore. Verse 43: and the centurion says, "All of you who can swim, swim," and they cast themselves into the sea; and the rest, some of you on boards and some on broken pieces of the ship. So, finally, they escaped – all safe to land, drenched and exhausted and shivering with cold – all two hundred seventy-six are on the island of Melita, Malta, each one of them amazed, surprised that he’s alive, and each one, an interesting, marvelous story to tell to the islanders.
Why the struggle? Why the labor? Why the toil? Why the swimming? Why the exhaustion? Have I not just read in our presence the decree of God? All of them are to be saved; two hundred seventy-six men without loss of a life. That’s God. He says that. But I am down here, and I must labor and toil in the contingency, even when Paul says: "These, if they are not on board, will not allow us to be saved." The two always go together.
It belongs to the grand, foundational truth of history, of revelation, of all life and living, that God is, and that God is sovereign, and that God has an immutable purpose for the world. Things that to us are adventitious and haphazard and by chance are not so to God; in all things He works. It belongs to the perfection of God that He has a purpose and a plan.
Michelangelo saw Moses in the solid rock before he placed a chisel against the marble. Raphael saw in his mind and purpose the Sistine Madonna before he took a brush and placed it against the canvas. Sir Christopher Wren saw in his mind and heart the marvelous St. Paul’s Cathedral in London before a stone was laid in the foundation. So God, in the passage you just read, before the foundation of the world, saw love through purpose to bring to pass the great redemptive consummation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Not only is it a part of the perfection of God that He have a plan and a purpose; it is no less so a part of the sovereignty of God that He bring that immutable decree to pass.
Unbelief can look, can behold, the interdictions of the enemy, but faith remembers the promises of God. Unbelief will review the shifting sands of human providence and human history, but faith looks at the unchanging promise of God. Psalm 119:89: "Forever, O God, Thy word is fixed in heaven." And my favorite verse, Isaiah 40, verse 8: "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever."
It is a part of the sovereignty of God that He bring to pass His immutable decrees. Joseph’s brethren may sell him to the Ishmaelites, and the Ishmaelites may sell him to Potiphar, and Potiphar may cast him into prison, but God said, "This is for the good and the saving of My people." Tiglath-pileser may waste Israel, and Sennacherib may hold Jerusalem as a vise, and Nebuchadnezzar may come and plow up the city and burn down the temple and carry the people away into captivity, but two hundred years before Nebuchadnezzar – and three hundred years before Cyrus was born – the Lord God, by His holy prophet Isaiah, called Cyrus by name and said, "In him the temple shall be rebuilt and the foundations laid and the city reconstructed" [Isaiah 44:28]; the immutable degrees of God.
Judas may sell our Lord for thirty pieces of silver to the priest, and the priest may deliver Him to Pontius Pilate, and Pontius Pilate may turn Jesus over to the soldiers for crucifixion, and the soldiers may crucify our Lord between two malefactors, and the despairing, brokenhearted disciples may lay Him in a tomb, and the Roman government place a seal on the stone and set a Roman guard before the sepulcher, but one thousand years before that day, God had said, "I will not suffer My Holy One to see corruption" [Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27], and Jesus had said, "The third day I shall rise again" [Luke 18:33]. The purposes of God will not fail.
Habakkuk, one of the Minor Prophets, Habakkuk was sent to announce the destruction of the city and the temple, and the carrying away of the people into captivity by the bitter and hasty Chaldeans. Nebuchadnezzar came and, according to the prophecy of Habakkuk, wasted the people, destroyed the city, burned the temple. And Habakkuk stood before the Lord God and asked, "O God – and for us, we cannot enter into the unimaginable and indescribable despair of the Jewish nation in the loss of their country, in the loss of their holy city, and in the destruction of their sacred temple – and as Habakkuk stood before God and asked for an answer from heaven, the Lord replied, "The just shall live by faith" [Habakkuk 2:4]. We shall trust God for His eternal and immutable purpose, though for us it may be dark as the grave and as hopeless as death.
In the days of the apostles, we can hardly realize the awesome oppression of the Roman government against the Christian faith. Yet Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, "In all these things God works together for good to them who are called according to His purpose." And the sainted apostle John, exiled from his pastorate in Ephesus, on the isle of Patmos, to die of exposure and starvation, the sainted apostle John wrote, in the Apocalypse, in the eleventh chapter, "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever!" [Revelation 11:15]. Think of that!
The great purposes of God are never subverted; not by time. Time is a creation; in God’s eternity, there is no time. Time cannot frustrate or subvert the purposes of God. The angel from heaven came to Abraham, one hundred years old, Sarah, ninety years old, and said, "You shall have a child, born of your loins." And Sarah, hidden behind the curtain of the tent, listening to that angel, when the angel said, "You shall have a child" and she, ninety years old, and Abraham, one hundred years old, Sarah laughed [Genesis 18:12]. That’s why they called the little boy when he was born, "Laughter." They called him Isaac – Laughter – Sarah laughed. But years and years and years before, in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, God said to Abraham, this Eliezer, the steward of your house, shall not be your inheritor. Out of your loins shall one be born a child of promise [Genesis 15:4]. And Abraham fell on his face and laughed, I suppose for joy. Time means nothing to the decrees of God.
When Joseph died, he called his brethren and said, "God will surely visit you. And when that day of deliverance comes, take my bones and carry them back to the Promised Land" [Genesis 50:24-25]. Joseph died, and the Book of Genesis closes. They put him in a coffin in Egypt, waiting. A hundred years passed and his bones were still in Egypt. Two hundred years passed, three hundred years passed, three hundred ninety-nine years passed, and his bones were still in Egypt. But God had said to Abraham, six hundred years before Pharaoh, "I will surely visit you" [Genesis 15:13-16]. And the day of deliverance came, and they carried Joseph’s bones to Shechem and there buried him in the lot that belongs to Joseph and Ephraim [Joshua 24:32]. And one glorious resurrection day, they will stand in their lot as God promised Daniel he will stand in his lot [Daniel 12:13].
The purposes of God are immutable and unchanging; nor does death subvert them. God said in the garden of Eden, "The Seed of the woman" – not of the man – "the Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head" [Genesis 3:15]. And Satan has the fiercest instrument, the power of death, to subvert and to challenge God’s decrees. Satan therefore slew Abel, the righteous seed [Genesis 4:8]. Under Pharaoh, Satan moved the king to destroy the whole family of the Lord, drown all the male children; the Israelites are destroyed [Exodus 1:22]. Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, now the queen of Judea, destroys all of the royal seed, but Jehoiada the faithful priest hides away the little babe, Joash [2 Kings 11:1-4]. Bloody Herod raises his sword above Bethlehem and bathes the town in blood, slaying all the children [Matthew 2:16].
Finally, Satan encompasses the death of our Lord, and He bows His head and dies on a Roman cross [John 19:30]. How he [Satan] must have exalted. Israel has slain her own Son, and the Prince of glory is dead! But when they laid Him in a tomb, the Holy Spirit of God, according to the prophecies of thousands of years before [Psalm 16:10], raised Him in triumph and victory over death and the grave.
We had as well seek to stay the tides of the sea by human bars and hands, as to stay the immutable decrees of God. We had as well try to change the stars in their orbits and in their courses, as to try to stay the immutable purpose of Almighty God.
And that purpose is marvelously and clearly stated in the passage we read together this morning. In the first chapter of the Book of Ephesians: "God," beginning at verse 5, "has predestinated us unto the adoption of children according to the good pleasure of His will. And He made known unto us,"
verse 9, "the musterion:
the secret He kept in His heart, until He revealed it to us
according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Himself;
That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ:
In whom we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His will.
It is the purpose of God to sum up, to gather up all things in Christ. It is He, our Lord, who is leading human history to its final consummation.
And there is to be an age after this age. In this age, God is calling out, separating a people unto His name, called the body of Christ, called the bride, the church of our Lord. And when this age finds its consummation, then it shall be followed by the last and other age, when Christ shall visibly be Lord and King over all of God’s creation, "whether things in heaven, or things in earth, or things in the netherworld, in the under-earth" [Phil 2:10].
So Paul says in Romans, chapter 11, beginning at verse 25:
I would not, brethren, that ye be without knowledge concerning this musterion, that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in,
and then, and so, all Israel shall be saved.
God’s purpose will not fail in Israel. This age belongs to the age and day of grace, when God is choosing out a people for His name among the Gentiles. Then, when the pleroma of the Gentiles be come in – pleroma, "the full number": there is an election, there is a predestination, there is a foreknowledge of God; every one of us in that purview – and when that last Gentile comes down that aisle and accepts Christ as His Savior, when the pleroma is full, when the last number is added, then "all Israel shall be saved."
What that means, I do not know. That is hardest verse in the Bible. Romans 11:26: "And so all Israel shall be saved." What does that mean? I can just see and read this.
In Zechariah, the prophet Zechariah, chapters 12, 13, and 14 – Zechariah says that Israel shall look upon their Son "whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as a man mourns for his only son" [Zechariah 12:13]. And there shall be a fountain of cleansing, of repentance in Israel, and they shall accept their Lord Messiah.
God’s purpose shall not fail in Israel, though I can’t understand it. I don’t know. They are His people. He chose them in Abraham to be the blessing to the world, and to bring to us our Savior [Psalm 105:6]. God is not done with Israel. I read of them in the headline of every paper. I cannot enter into the decrees of Almighty God. I just know God will not fail in Israel.
God will not fail in the Gentiles. In the second chapter of the Book of Philippians, the apostle by inspiration says, "Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He, Jesus, is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" [Ephesians 2:10-11]. How shall such a thing be? Maybe some of us, by grace, bow in His presence now; maybe some in judgment. The decree of God is He will not fail with the Gentiles. Every man and woman who ever lives shall someday bow down before Jesus our Lord.
And now I prayed a long time before asking God’s permission to say that third and last thing. God will not fail with Israel. His purpose shall stand: "all Israel shall be saved." God’s purpose will not fail with the Gentiles: "every knee shall someday bow." And dare I have the temerity and the boldness – and God’s purpose shall not fail in me. And the reason I prayed so earnestly about it: I can speak of the purposes of God in human history, speak of the purposes of God in Israel, speak of the decrees of God with the Gentiles, but it also reaches down to me, to us, to you: the elective, predestinating decree of God with you. His purpose shall not fail in me; and I can talk about me because I know more about me than I do anyone else. His purpose shall not fail in me.
He said in John 1:12, "As many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the sons of God," and when I was a boy I received Him. He said in John 3:14, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, whosoever looked could live," and as a boy I looked and lived. He said in John 6:37, "Whosoever cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out," and I came as a boy to the Lord. And He said in Acts 16:31, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved," and as a boy, I believed and was saved. And the decree of God reached to me in John 10: "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish" [John 10:28]. I am not of my own beginning. It was God who breathed the breath of life in me.
Before I was born, a little sister was born to my father and mother, lived just a day or two and died. How is it that I lived? God breathed into me the breath of life and I lived.
And in the days of my youth, I grew up with a young man; such a sweet family to which he belonged. But he was vile, and vicious, and obstreperous, and incorrigible, and as a youth, breaking a state law of Texas, was sentenced to the penitentiary; came back, but this time he robbed the post office and came in contact with the federal government, and they sent him to the federal penitentiary. And with his fellow convicts in a baseball game, this rude, crude, vile spirited boy – a fellow convict took a baseball bat and beat his brains out. How is it, in that same tiny town, in that same little church, I grew up, turned in heart and spirit as I am? And in the days of those youthful years, even as a child, I studied and studied and studied. And when I went to college at seventeen years of age, I became pastor of my little country churches, and I studied, and read, and studied, and shepherded my little country flock.
I have a full brother; the two of us were reared in the same home. He had no interest in books at all – had no interest in college at all, refused to attend. How is it that my heart is so enmeshed in that study? I study every morning, I study every night, and I love my pastoral assignment. I’d rather do what I do for nothing than what anybody else does for pay. Where did that come from? The elective purpose of God, and I see God’s hand in the congregation all the time.
This is a poignant, traumatic one: do you remember when about three years ago, I stood here in this sacred place and wept and cried and lamented, so much so that both newspapers spoke of it in headlines on the front page? We were ten and one-half million dollars in debt, and the prime had reached twenty-two points, and our debt was one point above prime. I lived in despair. And out of heaven itself, as though God had sent His angel and broke asunder the stocks and the chains and opened the iron door of the prison, suddenly, in the kindness and genius of a dear friend – fellow member of the church – and in the response of our people, all ten and one-half million dollars were immediately paid.
Our schools are out of debt. Our academy is out of debt. Our Bible college is out of debt. And I stand in the presence of God and just wonder and marvel at the decrees of the Almighty in heaven, His great, strong, right hand bared to help, and the feeling of expectancy and assurance I see everywhere among of our people in the coming of Dr. [Tom] Melzoni to lead us in a tremendous outreach for souls.
And last, I cannot understand some of the heartbreaking sorrows that come to our hearts and lives. I don’t understand, but I trust in His immutable decree. I do not know, but He knows. I don’t understand, but He understands, and "In all things, He works together for good for them who love God, who are called according to His purpose" [Romans 8:28], to His divine plan.
Sometimes on 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 us song,
In the night season,
And all the day long.
[from "God Leads Us Along"; George A. Young, 1903]
God will not fail. And I am to trust in the purposes of our Lord in good, for me, for us, for you. Not that I stand here and explain. I cannot. I can just stand here and trust, and believe, and rest in the goodness of God.
[Video ends, audio file continues]
May we stand together?
Our Lord glorious, how blessed when we enmesh our lives with Thine; humbly, surrenderingly, yieldedly bow in Thy presence. There is a purpose in every providence that overwhelms us, and through our tears and brokenheartedness, we are to trust in Thee, God having prepared some better thing for us. And in that divine will into which we cannot understand or enter, we find our peace and our rest. God lives and God chooses what is best for us who leave the choice to Thee, and how precious and beautiful and wonderful when our lives can belong to God. O Lord, speak to each family, each soul in divine presence, that today might be the day of heavenly commitment to Thy divine call.
And while our people pray and wait, a family you to give your heart in a new love for God and to us, come, and welcome. A couple you, receiving Christ as your Savior or putting your life with us in the church, come, and welcome. Or a one somebody you: "Today, pastor, I have decided for God and I am answering with my life." In the balcony round, down a stairway; in the press of people on this lower floor, down an aisle: "This is God’s day for me, pastor, and here I stand."
And our Lord, in the example of these who come, bless others to take that first step, the most meaningful they will ever make in their lives, and for the sweet harvest we shall praise Thee and love Thee forever. In our living, loving, reigning Lord, amen. While we sing our song, God bless you as you come.