The Enabling Mercy of God
April 14th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
THE ENABLING MERCY OF GOD
Dr. W.A. Criswell
4-14-85 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled The Enabling Mercy of God. In our preaching through the Book of Ezekiel, our text is chapter 18, Ezekiel chapter 18, beginning in the middle of verse 30. Ezekiel 18, verse 30:
Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.
Cast away from you all of your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
For I have no pleasure in him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn ye, and live.
It is an amazing thing that the Lord pleads in behalf of His people. “Cast away from you all your transgressions; make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die? You make you a new heart and you make you a new spirit” [Ezekiel 18:31]. But only God can create the heart, and only God the Holy Spirit can regenerate the spirit. How could God mean it when He says, “You, you make you a new heart, and you make you a new spirit”?
This brings to us the two vast nomenclatures in the Bible and in the heavenly world of God. There is a language up there where God is, and when you use that language, up there where the Lord God is, you use words like “almightiness” and “sovereignty.” You use words like “purpose.” You use words like “foreknowledge” and “foreordination.” You use words like “election” and “predestination.” That is the language of heaven up there where God is.
When you speak of us down here in this earth, you use an altogether different kind of a language. You talk about “free moral agency,” and you talk about “choice,” and you talk about “volition,” and you talk about “will,” and you speak of “repentance” and “faith” and “confession” and “change” and “turning.” It’s an altogether different language. And as long as you will keep them separate—almightiness, that’s God; predestination and election, foreknowledge and foreordination, that’s God—and as long as you will keep that language up there, and then down here, our language—freedom of spirit, freedom of choice, volition and will—if you’ll keep them separate, you’ll never have any problem in studying the Word of the Bible.
A tremendous Calvinist was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the incomparable preacher in London, England. He was a strict Calvinist, such as I pray we are. From his sermon on Matthew 8:11, the text of which, “Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God,” he closed a sermon, delivered out in a field to over twelve thousand people. And many, many years later, Spurgeon described that service in his autobiography. It ended in the shouts and praises of those thousands of people.
And this is the way his sermon ended:
Oh! I love God’s “shalls” and “wills.” There is nothing comparable to them. Let a man say “shall,” what is it good for? “I will,” says a man, and he never performs it. “I shall,” says he, and he breaks his promise. But it is not so with God’s “shalls.” If God says, “Shall,” it shall be. When God says, “will,” it will be. Now He has said here, “Many shall come.” The devil says, “They shall not come”; but God says, “They shall come.” You say, “We won’t come.” God says, “You shall come.” Yes! There are some here who are laughing at salvation, who scoff at Christ and mock at the gospel; but I tell you, some of you shall come yet. “What?” you say, “Can God make me become a Christian?” I tell you yes, for herein rests the power of the gospel. It does not ask your consent, it gets it. You say, “I do not want to be saved”; Christ says, “You shall be saved.” He makes your will turn round, and then you cry, “Lord, save me, or I perish.” God changes your will and makes you willing in the day of His power:
“They shall come. They shall come.” You may laugh, you may despise us, but Jesus Christ shall not die for nothing. If some of you reject Him, there are some that will receive Him. If there are some that are not saved, others shall be.
Christ shall see His seed. He shall prolong His days. And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hands [Isaiah 53:10]. They shall come! They shall come. And naught in heaven, nor in earth, nor in hell can stop them from coming.
[From “Heaven and Hell,” C. H. Spurgeon, September 4, 1855]
That is Calvinism, and that is the Word of God. The Lord Jesus Christ, because of His death, has a people. And God gives Him a people, and these will come. They will respond. They will trust. They will receive. They will believe. They will change. They will be converted. They will be saved. They shall come. That’s Calvinism.
Look again, how he will plead in that. Speaking on, “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure” [2 Peter 1:10], Spurgeon closed his sermon:
There are some of you who cannot make your calling and election sure, for you have not been called, and you have no right to believe that you are elected…But do not ask whether you are elected first, but ask whether you are called. Go to God’s house, bend your knee in prayer; and may God, in His infinite mercy, call you! If any of you can say, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling”; if any of you, abjuring your self-righteousness, can now come to Christ and take Him to be your all-in-all: you are called, you are elected!
[From “Particular Election”; C.H. Spurgeon, March 22, 1857]
That is Calvinism. And I am a thoroughgoing Calvinist from beginning to ending. It’s by the grace of God that we are saved [Ephesians 2:8-9]. That’s God. That’s up there. That’s the election. That’s the predestination [Ephesians 1:5, 11]. That’s the sovereignty [Romans 9:21]. That’s the foreknowledge and foreordination of Almighty God [Romans 8:29].
But did you notice when he makes the appeal—and every one of his great sermons is closed in a like appeal—when he makes an appeal, he makes it on the basis of your free choice. “Come, bow down before the Lord, call upon His name, ask Him to save you” [Acts 2:21]. Both of them always are present and together in the Bible and in human experience in Christian life.
Let me say it like this. There is not a preacher in the world, there’s not a missionary in the earth, and there’s not a Christian in our pilgrimage but who looking back over his life is an out and out and thorough Calvinist. All of it was by the grace of God. I came to know Jesus in the love and mercy of the Lord. I was called in His divine and elective purpose. It was God who did it. When you look back over your life; you’re a Calvinist. When you look at your life present, you’re an Armenian. I am free to choose. I make my day and I plot my path in my own free will. It is both. And you will find that always together in the Bible
We all have a part in our salvation and in our service and destiny. God has a part, but I also have a part. In my text, HHHe says, the Lord says, “You make a new heart and you make a new spirit” [Ezekiel 18:31]. Yet the Bible plainly teaches us it is only God’s Holy Spirit that can give us a new heart and a new soul [John 3:6]. But both of them are together, always, in the Bible.
For example, in the thirteenth chapter in the Book of Acts, he concludes the great marvelous turning to the Lord at the city of Antioch with these words: “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” [Acts 13:48]. Tassō, appointed, chosen, elected: all of those that were ordained, chosen, elected to eternal life, they believed in the Lord. But the verse up here above says, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken unto ye first: but seeing you apōtheō, thrust it aside”—it is a vigorous word, “repel it, refuse it, cast it away”—“why, you judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, and we are going to the Gentiles” [Acts 13:46]. They had the choice, they chose, and these thrust it away [Acts 13:46]. But these believed unto life eternal [Acts 13:48]; and the Scripture says: “These were elected, they were chosen, and these refused,” and as such, were not elected. It is both.
Could I—not to belabor the point—could I just point out one other typical instance. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul will say, “God said to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. Therefore having mercy upon whom He will have mercy, and whom He will, He hardeneth” [Romans 9:15-18]. It’s up there with God.
Now I turn the page, and then it’s all with us: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, that He lives, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart a man believes unto a God kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:9-10, 13].
It is both. God has a part, and I have a part. There’s a philosophical reason, I think, why I must have a part in this being saved by the grace of God. Number one: if I don’t have a choice, I am a robot, I am a pawn, and I am not accountable. If it is all of God and I have no choice in it, then I cannot be held accountable for what I do. It is because I have a choice that I am judged, I am held accountable at the great day of the Lord.
Number two, why it is that I must have a choice in this salvation: because of my experience. In my heart I am free. One of the most amazing things in the world about free moral agency is this: puny worm of the dust that I am, I can curse God. I can clench my fist before God. Like Mrs. Job said to her husband in the disastrous day, “Curse God, and die” [Job 2:9]. We can do that. We can spurn all of the overtures of mercy of the Lord [Hebrews 10:29].
A third reason why it is that we have this part in our salvation: the Scriptures always address themselves to our turning, to our repenting, to our accepting, to our believing, to our receiving. From the beginning, we were made free. God gave us freedom of choice, and He pleads with us on the basis of that created freedom. As Moses would say in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy, “O that there were such a heart in them, that they would obey My voice, and keep My commandments, that it might be well with them, and their children forever!” [Deuteronomy 5:29].
We have the destiny of our lives, of our nation, and of our children in our hands. We possess it. Thus it is in my salvation: my response answers the willingness of God to forgive me, and to save me, and to keep me [1 Jon 4:19]. It is my response to the invitation of God that the Lord honors. That is the enabling mercy of the Lord [John 6:44; Titus 3:5]. God is ready, eager, willing: He just waits upon my response [2 Peter 3:9]. And He takes my response, and in a marvelous, miraculous, regenerated power, He saves me [Romans 1:16], writes my name in the Book of Life [Revelation 3:5], makes me a new creation [2 Corinthians 5:17]. God does it on the basis of my response.
For example, in the first chapter of the Book of John, John will say, “Our Lord Jesus came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But to as many as received Him, to them gave He the exousia, the authority, the privilege, the power, the ableness to become the children of God, even to them that trust in His name” [John 1:11-12]. When I turn, God turns! When I change, God changes! When I repent, God repents! Isn’t that what the Book of Jonah says? “When God saw that Nineveh repented, God repented of the evil that He thought to do to [them]” [Jonah 3:10]. God does it. When I turn, when I change, when I look toward heaven, all of the almightiness of the God’s created beings up there are marshaled in array to come to my salvation and my defense and my keeping. That’s the Lord God–the enabling mercy of the Lord.
Isn’t it a wonderful thing, a miraculous and marvelous thing, this willingness of God to provide for our keeping, for the forgiveness of our sins, for our salvation, for our changing? [Romans 10:13]. What a wonderful and glorious thing God hath done for us. And the obverse of that is unspeakably and tragically true. Isn’t it unthinkable that anybody would spurn or refuse the tender mercies of God! [Titus 3:5].
Haven’t you all, many, many of you, crossed the ocean on an airliner? Every possible arrangement is made for the safety of that passenger. That pilot up there is in constant touch with other airplanes, with ships on the sea, with bases on both sides of the ocean. And there will be a stewardess up there, first thing, when you fly up into the sky, there will be a stewardess up there who will show you how to put on a life jacket, and then tell you that underneath the seat is a life raft, and then point out the exits so if the plane had to descend, about thirty minutes before it would sink into the water, you could put on the life jacket, you could inflate the raft, you can go out on the wing, and you can wait for someone to come and pick you up. Every kind of a program of safety and salvation is given to you. Can you think—can you imagine the kind of a mindset that would refuse those overtures of grace and provision and salvation? It’s unthinkable! God has always done that for His people: always close at hand is a way of escape, a way to be saved. And it just depends upon our acquiescence, our acceptance, and we are saved. God does that. That’s the enabling mercy of the Lord.
In the garden of Eden, when our parents were thrust out, cherubim were placed that they might teach our fallen family the way back to God, the sacrificial system that propitiates between us and God [Genesis 3:22-24]. God did that. God did that. In the day when the death angel passed over the land of Egypt, God gave them a way of escape: “On the lintel, on the door posts, in a form of a cross, place the blood; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you” [Exodus 12:7, 13, 23]. God did that.
In the wilderness, when the people were dying, being bitten by serpents, God said to Moses: “Raise up a brazen serpent in the midst of the camp, and it will be if a man has been bitten and is dying, if he will look, he will live” [Numbers 21:8-9].
There is life for a look at the Crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved,
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.
[“There is Life for a Look at the Crucified One”; Amelia M. Hull]
Always there is that plain, simple, easy obedience that God takes and saves us. Why would a man spurn those overtures of love and grace? “Why,” as the Book of Ezekiel says: “Why will ye die? Why?” [Ezekiel 33:11]. When the crimson cross is so nearby, why will you die, the provision God has made that we might be saved? [John 3:16; Romans 5:8].
You remember the story of Naaman, captain of the host of the great nation, the great nation Syria [2 Kings 5:1]. In Israel was a prophet who could cleanse him of his leprosy. And Naaman comes with his retinue, his hosts, his great train of gifts, and he appears at the door of Elisha [2 Kings 5:5-9]. The prophet does not even come out. He sends Gehazi his servant and says to Naaman, “You go down to the Jordan River and dip yourself”—good Baptist word there, the inception of it is “and baptize yourself”—“You go down and baptize yourself seven times in the Jordan River, and your flesh will come again like unto the flesh of a little child, and you’ll be clean [2 Kings 5:9-10].
And Naaman was wroth! He was wroth! “Oh,” said that great, big mighty man of Syria, “I thought he would come out here, and dramatically call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place of the leper leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean?” And he turned and went away in a wrath! [2 Kings 5:11-12].
And while he was driving his steeds back home a leper, a servant who was riding by him in the chariot, touched him, and said: “My father, my father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, such as conquer Parthia and you will be clean, or build a great monument to your god in Damascus, and you will be clean; if he had bid you do some great and mighty thing, would you not have done it? How much rather than when he says, Wash and be clean?” [2 Kings 5:13]. And Naaman pulled up his steeds, turned and went down to the Jordan River, and the seventh time he came up, he was like a little child, clean [2 Kings 5:14]. That’s God. All God asks of us is the reply, is the answer. And He does it: the enabling mercy of God.
Senator, there was a man who lived over there on the other side of the river. It seemed to me it was in Pennsylvania. And because of a dastardly crime, he was sentenced to death by the electric chair. But before they electrocuted him, the governor of the state pardoned him. And it raised a legal question because the man refused the pardon and said, “I want to die. I want to die.” By the law, he was condemned to death. By that same law, the governor pardoned him. Yet the man wanted to die. They carried that case to the Supreme Court of the United States of America. And the Supreme Court handed down its verdict, and it said: “A pardon is not a pardon until it is received. The man must die”; and they electrocuted him.
God’s proffered grace is no grace at all, God’s salvation is no salvation at all, the Lord’s forgiveness and pardon is no pardon at all until I accept it, until I receive it. But if my heart will open toward it and I respond, all the powers of heaven are called into review, marshaled for my salvation—the enabling mercy of God [Titus 3:5; 2 Peter 3:9].
Could I point out in this last word? Could I point out, whenever God gives us any command, it carries with it the ableness to do it, the power to obey it. There’s no exception to that. Anything that God asks us to do, we can do. God gives us the power to do it, any one of us, any one of us. When the Lord God said to Noah, “The earth with its iniquity shall be purged and judged by flood [Genesis 6:9-13], now, Noah, you build an ark to the saving of your righteous household” [Genesis 6:14-18], and what did God do? God gave Noah one hundred twenty years in which to build that ark, a hundred and twenty years [Genesis 6:3]. I believe I could have done it in a hundred and twenty years. A hundred and twenty years; that’s God. Any time God gives you a command, He will also give you the ableness to obey it, to carry it out.
One of the most amazing things that you will read in the Bible is when the Lord God said to Moses, “Why do you cry unto Me? you speak unto the children of Israel to go forward” [Exodus 14:15]. Do you know what that meant? Back of them was the crowding and coming and furious Egyptian army. To the right of them was the mountains; to the left of them was the desert; and before them was the sea! And God says to Moses, “You tell your people to march straight forward into the sea, into the sea!” It was Moses’ command and part to move, to march. It was God’s part to open the sea, to make a way of escape, and God never fails to do it [Exodus 14:16, 21-22]. When they took the ark of the covenant and the feet of the priest touched the water, the water piled up on either side like a great wall, and they went through dry shod [Exodus 14:22]. That’s the Lord, that’s the Lord God. Our part is to obey; God’s part in His enabling grace is to do the regenerating miracle, to do the unthinkable!
When the Lord God said to Joshua, “You march around one day, you march around the city of Jericho. Six days you do that, on the seventh day, you march around seven times and leave those walls to Me.” And when they got through marching around that seventh time on that seventh day, the walls of Jericho fell down [Joshua 6:1-20]. That’s God’s part! Their part was to obey the Lord and to march around the walls of the city. Always it is that, it is that.
The angel came to Simon Peter there in the prison, waiting after the Passover to be beheaded. And the angel came and smote him on the side and awakened him and said, “Arise, arise! And go out in the city and there make known this gospel of grace” [Acts 12:7-12]. Why, my brother, he had a great iron door, the Bible says, between him and the streets of the city: but he obeyed the voice of the Lord. And Simon Peter arose and walked; and when he got to the great iron gate, it opened of itself. That’s God [Acts 12:10]. My part is to obey; His part is to do the miraculous.
When the Lord God said, when the Lord Jesus Christ said to this paralytic—all of his life he had been paralyzed, he’d never walked in his life—when the Lord God said to that paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and walk” [John 5:8], I could imagine people standing by say to the Lord, “Lord, he has never walked in his life! He is paralyzed! He is a paralytic. Lord, how is he going to take up his bed and walk?” And I can imagine somebody else said, “He has no strength. Lord, how is he going to walk when he has no strength?” When the Lord God says to a paralytic, “Take up your bed and walk, get up, walk! for the same Lord God that made you is the same Lord God that is remaking you, and it’s His enabling grace. Rise and shine, walk to the glory of God!”
And if anybody says we don’t have any hope, my brother, it’s all hope in Jesus. We’re weak; it’s all strength in Jesus. It’s desperate; it’s all bright and glorious in the Lord Jesus. All I need to do is to obey those simple things that God has commanded us to do, and God’s enabling grace performs the marvelous miracle beyond.
We’re saved like that. We’re saved like that. It’s that response that God looks for, and takes, and uses as the basis of His regeneration. By one act of sin did we fall [Romans 5:12]: by an act of repentance are we restored [Mark 1:15; Acts 16:31]. By one tremendous failure, did we fall into death [1 Corinthians 15:21]: by one tremendous commitment are we raised from the grave [John 11:25-26; 1 John 5:12]. The Lord takes our obedience, our reception, our response [Romans 6:17-18], God takes it and He makes it the occasion for the great regenerating power of His saving hand [Titus 3:5].
God never, ever judges us on the basis of our past transgressions. God always judges us and receives us on the basis of our present obedience. “Lord, here I am. Here I come. I trust You. I believe in You. I give my life to You” [Romans 10:9-10, 13]. And when you do, God’s whole vast armory of regeneration, now, in the hour of your death, and forever, is yours by your side, working, slaving, ministering, providing just for you, as though there were no other soul in the earth. God’s entire arsenal is dedicated to you. The change is in you; you change, and God changes.
Let me close with what I think is the most beautiful story in human language. In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, there is the story of our Lord Jesus of the prodigal son [Luke 15:11-32]: beautiful, beautiful, heart-moving, compassionate story, this boy. And how many boys are like that: tired of home, tired of these restrictions, tired of all the old-fogginess and old-fashioned morality and old fuddy-duddy ideas of God and religion, “I’m going out to the bright places. I’m going out to the bright and broad way.” And he did, and came down—as inevitably sometime all of us come down who follow that way—came down to poverty and want. And seated there on the side of the bench, watching the hogs eat, so hungry that he wanted to eat the slop that the hogs were devouring [Luke 15:16]. And as he sat there, he began to think about his father, began thinking of his home. And then something happened on the inside of him. He said, “I will arise and go back to my father and home” [Luke 15:18]. And that did it.
The whole world changed when he changed. God changed when he changed. The whole universe changed when he changed. “I will arise and go back to my father and home.” The rest is the enabling mercy of the Lord [Luke 15:19-24]. When I respond, when I give my heart to Christ, when I receive the Lord Jesus into my heart, when I change, all of the ableness, and mightiness, and calling, and election, and predestination, and all of the regenerating power of God is set in motion to regenerate me, to give me a new heart, give me a new spirit, give me a new life, take care of me in the hour of my death and open the gates of glory for me in the world that is to come.
But I must respond [Acts 4:12]. God can’t do it if I don’t respond. If I don’t open my heart, if I don’t ask for His love and His grace, God can’t save me [Romans 10:9-10]. But He made it simple, and He made it plain so that no one of us would ever err in finding the way [Romans 1:19]. My brother, I was saved when I was ten years old. Was I a theologian? No. Was I taught all of those tomes of systematic theology? No. God made it simple and God made it plain. Always it is that: “Do this and thou shalt live” [John 3:14-18]. Accept the Lord, believe in the Lord [Acts 16:30-31], receive the Lord, open your heart to the Lord, confess the Lord [Romans 10:9-13]; do it, and God does the rest.
The enabling mercy of God sees us through, regenerates our souls, writes our names in the Book of Life, saves us forever. God does it upon the occasion of my opening my heart to Him. And that’s our appeal to you this day.
ENABLING MERCY OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Two vast nomenclatures
1. Language of heaven
2. Language of man
B. Discussion of Calvinism
1. God’s election and our freedom of choiceII. “You make you a new heart and spirit.”
A. Why man must have a part in salvation
1. Philosophical reason
2. Experiential reason
3. Scriptural reason
B. Salvation not a question of God’s willingness, but of our responseIII. The instruments of salvation are in our hands
A. Always close at hand is a way of escape, a way to be saved
B. There remains just our responseIV. A command from God carries with it the power to obey
A. Our part is to obey, God performs the miracles