Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-30-89 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Eternal Salvation, saved forever. In our preaching through the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, we are in the nineteenth chapter. And it is a portrayal, a presentation, of our Lord Jesus on the cross.
On the cross in John 19:30 John records that Jesus cried, “Tetelestai,” tetelestai. That’s a perfect passive indicative of teleō, “It is finished,” it is complete. That same verbal form is used in verse 28, just above, “Jesus knowing that all things were now tetelestai, accomplished, done, finished, complete” [John 19:28].
“Then He bowed His head and cried, It is finished; and gave up His spirit” [John 19:30].
What is finished? What is tetelestai? The purpose for which He came into the world, to make atonement for our sins [Romans 5:11], to die [Hebrews 10:4-14; Luke 19:10], to pay the penalty of death in our stead [2 Corinthians 5:21], to keep us in His love and grace [2 Peter 1:1-4], and someday, to assure us a home in heaven [John 14:3]. Nor could it be that we could emphasize too much, overly, the vital importance of that heavenly assurance. Life is so brief, just for a moment, and eternity is forever and forever and forever. I cannot make a mistake. This is the one area in my soul life that I must find complete assurance and quietness of persuasion—that I will go to heaven when I die.
What if there is such a doctrine that I could give my heart to the Lord, receive Him as my Savior, and the day before I die, I fall away and fall into damnation and hell? O God, what a terror, that I could accept Thee and believe in Thee and trust in Thee, begin my pilgrim journey with Thee, then somewhere along that pilgrim way, fall aside, fall into God’s disregard, and discord, and rejection, and fall into the fires of everlasting Hades! O God, such a thing is a horror to my heart to think about! What is my assurance? Lord, how can I know that I know that I am saved, that I will one day be with Thee in heaven? How can I know that? And that is the answer of God’s holy and heavenly Scriptures.
First: I have the assurance of salvation forever, now to the end of my life and into the eternity that is to come. I have my assurance of salvation because of my Lord’s finished work of redemption, of atonement [John 19:30]. It is an assurance outside of myself. It is one with which I have nothing to do. It is something that Christ has done for me. It is finished—the whole atoning grace of God is complete in the death of my Lord [John 19:30]. “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son cleanseth from all sin” [1 John 1:7]. I cannot add to it. I’m not able to take away from it. It is something my Lord has done for me.
What would you think? Tell me, what would you think if I call for a hammer and a chisel, and there before one of the greatest sculptured pieces of all human genius, Phidias’ Pallas Athena, and I said, “Bring me a hammer and a chisel, and I’m going to improve upon the work of Phidias”? What if I said, “Bring me a hammer and a chisel, and I’m going to improve upon Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, or statue of David”? What would you think? You would say, “Pastor, you have lost your mind. You have lost your equilibrium. These are perfect works of art and genius.”
Tell me. What would you think if as I stood before Raphael’s Transfiguration and I said to a painter, “Bring your bucket and your brush; I’m going to complete this beautiful painting of Raphael’s Transfiguration”? Or I said to a painter, “Bring me your bucket and your brush, and I’m going to add to this marvelous painting of Rembrandt, The Raising of Lazarus from the dead”? What would you think? You would say, “Pastor, you have lost your mind. You’ve lost your equilibrium. These are works of incomparably beautiful artistry.”
It is exactly that with the atoning grace of my Savior. “It is finished” [John 19:30]. It is complete. I can add nothing to it. Nor am I able to take away from it. It is done in God’s heavenly perspective, and arrangement, and atonement, and expiation, and salvation [Romans 11:36]—something outside of myself; something with which I had nothing to do.
You see another same facet of that in heaven. When we are in heaven, will I say, “All praise to me. Look at me. I did it. I’m here because of my genius and my goodness and my exemplary deportment. I’m here because I saved myself. And we’ll sing to myself.” Is that the song of heaven? Tell me. Isn’t the song like the first chapter of the Revelation: “Unto Him, unto Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood . . . to Him be honor and glory and praise forever and ever. Amen” [Revelation 1:5-6]. Isn’t that the song? It is His grace [Romans 3:24]. It is His goodness. It is His love. It is His atoning death for us [1 John 2:2]. He did it. “It is finished” [John 19:30].
I do not know whether some of you have been here in the church long enough to remember an officer, a general who was in this pulpit. He was in Corregidor. And when Corregidor fell in the Second World War, he and the men who survived were in that death march to Bataan. And while those men were helpless there, captured behind iron bars and a wire fence—while they were there, the United States, here in America, poured forth its life in ships and men and military might in order to rescue those prisoners. And that general who was here in this pulpit described that day when the men came and they shouted, “The Yanks are here! You’re free! You’re free.” And with their wire snippers they cut those barbed wires and they opened those gates, and those prisoners in Bataan walked out. That’s exactly like us. Those men were helpless. They were imprisoned. They couldn’t liberate themselves. But from outside, men dedicated came and opened those prison gates, and they were free.
Thus Jesus has done for us. Helpless, undone, facing the sentence of death [Romans 6:23], He came to deliver us from the judgment of our sins and to open for us the gates of heaven [Hebrews 10:5-14, Luke 19:10; John 14:3]. He did it. It is to Him, the praise and the glory of our love and gratitude, forever and ever [Revelation 5:13].
Could I turn that in just one other little different way? Suppose a man were to come to me and say, “Pastor, see this $10,000 diamond ring? I’m going to give it to you.” And I reply to him, “Oh, no. I will not take it as a gift. Here is 50 cents. I’m going to buy it from you for 50 cents.” And I give him two quarters and he gives me a $10,000 diamond ring. And I go before you and I boast and I say, “Look. Look. Look. Here’s a $10,000 diamond ring, and I bought it for 50 cents.”
Oh, that would be an insult to God! I bought my salvation with these puny works of which I’m capable and this small effort of worship in the bowing of my knee. No. It’s not anything that I have done. I could have wrought nothing. It’s a gift from God [Ephesians 2:8-9], freely bestowed. He came and died for me; a completed atonement [1 Corinthians 15:3, Galatians 2:20]. “It is finished” [John 19:30]. I add nothing to it. I take nothing away. I just receive it as a gift from my Lord. And the rest of my life is spent, not in working for my salvation, but the rest of my life is spent in praise and gratitude and love for what Jesus has done for me. The outflowing of my life is one of love and appreciation. Thank You, Lord, for saving me [1 Corinthians 15:3].
How do I know that I will go to heaven when I die? What is the assurance of my salvation? Number two: because of something on the inside of me. First, something outside of me, something Jesus did for me with which I had nothing to do [Titus 3:4-7]. But second, something on the inside of me. What God has done inside of me, with me. He has born me into the family of God. “As many as received Him, to them gave He the right, the power, the prerogative to become the children of God, even to them that believe on His name” [John 1:12]. Something God has wrought in me, in my nature, I am born again. I am a member of the family of the Lord, children of God.
Tell me, can you unborn your child? Can you? Sweet people, that child may be the most prodigal of any of the derelict wayward children in this earth. And that child may be a thousand things that displease you, maybe disgrace you, but I don’t care what that child does, that child is yours; born in your flesh and in your blood, in your womb, in your house, in your home. We are like that. When we are born into the family of God, we cannot be unborn. You can’t unborn us.
That’s one of the strangest, that’s one of the strangest experiences that you’ll ever observe in human life: if one is not born again, he is not regenerate, he is not a Christian. He can fall away, and will. A Judas, he never was with our Lord [Acts 1:25]. A Demas, having loved this present world, forsaking Paul [2 Timothy 4:10]. One who has never been regenerated, fall away; just the part of human life and experience.
But my sweet friend, if you have ever been saved, if you’ve ever had an experience of conversion, of receiving the love and grace and forgiveness of our Lord [Titus 3:4-7], you’ll never get away from it. I don’t care what you do. I don’t care what happens. I don’t care how far you may fall into dereliction; you’ll never get away from that experience. It will be in you as long as you live.
Could I illustrate that? I was holding a revival meeting, and a man said to me, “Out here on the edge of town is a dump, is a bar, is a dance hall, is a beer joint. Would you go out there and talk to that man who runs that place?” Well, I thought that was about as poor a prospect as any preacher could ever have, but I went. And the man received me graciously and took me to the back of his joint. And we sat down together.
I wish you could have heard him. He described to me a conversion experience he had as a teenager. He’d given his heart to the Lord. He’d been baptized. He had followed Christ. And along the way, he had gotten into that ill-advised profession, bought that place, opened that dance hall, that bar, that joint. And every night until late, late at night was there with all of those worldly people.
Then he said to me, “But, preacher, I’m the most miserable man in the world. I can’t get my heart right with me and with God. I just am living in misery.” What’s the matter with him? Why, there are men all over creation running dance halls and beer joints and liquor stores and think nothing about it. What’s the matter with him? He had an experience with God. He was a Christian. He was a child of the family of the Lord and he was in a hog pen! He was miserable.
Well, that night, when I preached and gave the invitation, he came down the aisle and made a confession before those people and said, “As of this night, that joint is closed. And I’m giving my life in the service of God. Going to get me another job. Going to live for God.” And as I drove by in the evening, there that thing was closed and dark and black. That’s God! If you have ever had an experience of grace, you will never get over it. You’ll never get beyond it. It will be in your heart as long as you live.
It’s like a sailor on a ship. He may fall and fall and fall. But he falls on the deck—never overboard. It’s like the mercury in a thermometer. It may go up and down, up and down, up and down—but also inside that thermometer. You are a member of the family of God. You’ve been born into it. It’s inside you. It’s something God has done [Galatians 4:4-6], and it will be there forever and ever. You’re a child of the King.
How do I know that I’m going to heaven? What assurance? A third: not only because of something outside of me [John 19:30], what Jesus has done for me; not only because of something inside of me, I’ve been born into the family of God [John 1:12]; but it’s because of something up above me, what Jesus is doing for me in heaven.
Let me read it from the Book of Hebrews:
Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto us, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest…
For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried, He is able to succor them that are tried.
We have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points and areas of His life tried as we are, though He without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
And just once again, “Wherefore He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” [Hebrews 7:25].
How is it that I know that I’ll be in heaven someday? Because Jesus is there at the right hand of God interceding for me [Romans 8:34], praying for me, calling me by my name, knowing all about me. There’s not a hurt or a heartache or a disappointment or a bitterness that you ever suffered that He didn’t also suffer. Tried and hurt, a Man of sorrows acquainted with tears [Isaiah 53:3], knew all of the vicissitudes and fortunes of life. And He did it in order that He might be our sympathetic, loving, understanding, great High Priest, praying for us [Hebrews 4:14-16]. It is a wonderful thing, sweet people.
We have not trusted a creed. We’ve not given our life to a doctrine. We have not accepted an institution or a system. We have trusted Somebody. We’ve given our hearts and lives to Someone, Jesus our Savior [Romans 10:9-10]. And there He is in heaven, having, having, having, having endured all of the vicissitudes that we experience in this life. Knowing all about us and loving us still, and praying for us before God’s great throne of grace. Never forgetting, always remembering, ever interceding [Romans 8:34].
I must hasten. How do I know I’m going to heaven when I die? Not only because of what Jesus did outside of me [John 19:30] and what Jesus did inside of me [John 1:12], and what Jesus is doing above me [Hebrews 7:25], but what Jesus is doing before me [John 10:27-30]. Listen. Your great, marvelous, wonderful reading of the Scripture:
My sheep hear My voice . . .
I give unto them eternal life. I go before them, and they follow Me. They shall never perish. Neither shall any one pluck them out of My hand.
My Father, who gave them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.
I and My Father are one.
Jesus is there before us, leading us and we follow after. O Lord, where will Jesus lead us? I’ll tell you. He will lead us to heaven. He will lead us to heaven. We’re going to heaven one of these glorious days. We’re going to play. We’re going to sing. We’re going to rejoice. We’re going to live in His sight. O God, what a wonderful rendezvous when the Lord gathers His sweet people together in heaven [John 10:27-30].
You know, those old-timers sang a song that once in a while we sing.
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus hath fled.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I’ll never, no never desert to its foes.
That soul though all hell should endeavor to shake
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
[“How Firm a Foundation,” John Rippon]
What a glorious hymn, and what a truth from the Word of God, going before us, leading us into heaven.
I have one other. How do you know you’re going to heaven when you die? How is it that you may not fall into the fires of damnation between now and the day of your death? Because of God’s sovereign, elective purpose—He purposes some wonderful thing for us [Hebrews 11:40].
Could I imagine a scene before the foundation of the world? And it will not be just fanciful. I think it happened. The Lord God Almighty said to His Son in heaven, “I foresee the coming of sin. And the fall of the race and the disintegration and death that will overwhelm humanity. I foresee that. Will You go down into that world of darkness and death and sin? And will You become incarnate? And will You die for the sins of the people that they might be saved?”
And the Lord God Almighty said to His Son, “If You will go down into that dark, sinful world of death and become incarnate and suffer on the cross for the sins of the people, if You will do that, I will give You a people. I will give You a people who will love You and worship You and honor You.” That is election, “I will give You a people to bow at Your feet, and honor You, and praise You, and worship You forever and ever.”
May I turn aside here just for a moment? So many people have trouble with the doctrine of election, and predestination, and all of those things that belong to the sovereignty of God, and free moral agency, and repentance, and faith, and commitment, and acceptance—they have trouble with it. Sweet people, if you’ll do this one thing, you’ll never have any trouble with it, never in the earth. Remember, there are two nomenclatures in God’s Word. There are two of them.
One of them is up there in heaven. When you talk the language of God, this is the kind of words that you use. Up there in heaven, where God is, you use the words sovereignty, and foreknowledge, and predestination, and election, and perseverance. All of those words belong up there in heaven with God. There is another set of words, another nomenclature that is down here in the earth where we are. When you talk about us where we are, you talk about free moral agency, and choice, and repentance, and faith, and commitment.
And if you’ll keep those two separate, you’ll never have any trouble. Talking about God, you’re talking about foreknowledge, He sees the end from the beginning. You’re talking about sovereignty, you’re talking about predestination, you’re talking about election—you’re talking about calling and choice. Then when you come down here where I am, you’re talking to me, you’re talking about repentance. You’re talking about confession. You’re talking about faith. You’re talking about free moral agency.
You see, God speaks of that in His Holy Word. In the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans:
Whom He did foreknow—foreknowledge, whom He did foreknow—He did predestinate…
And whom He did predestinate…He called: and whom He called…He justified: and whom He justified, someday, He will also glorify.
That’s God. That’s God. And it is God’s purpose that there be a people to honor Christ.
Precious people, would you forgive me if I were to take myself for an example, and speak of myself? We’re talking about this predestination. We’re talking about this election. We’re talking about this calling. I cannot remember when I did not have it in my heart to be a preacher. A little boy, a little bitty kid, in grammar school, in grade school, I was preparing in my heart to be a preacher. I studied hard, even in those long ago days, preparing to be a preacher.
Well, my mother’s father was a physician. He was a doctor. He was a doctor in the Confederate army. How the years pass! He was a doctor in the Confederate army. And my mother had it in her heart that I was going to be a physician, a doctor, like her father. So she, when I was little, she taught me to say, “If anybody asked what are you going to do when you get grown, ‘I’m going to be a doctor, like my grandfather.’”
And as the days go, why, she built that in my heart, I’m going to be a doctor. And when I was graduated from high school, she took me to Baylor University and put me in Baylor and stayed down there a year with me, and I took those pre-med courses in Baylor. My mother wanted me to be a doctor.
But I never wavered in my heart, God’s election and God’s call. I was going to be a preacher. And while I was taking those pre-med courses in Baylor, and I made A+ in every one of them, because I had a good memory—I could memorize easily, make a 100 on those examinations—while I was taking those pre-med courses in Baylor, I was out on the street preaching. I was in the jail, preaching. I was in the poorhouse, preaching. And I was out in the country, preaching. And when I was 17 years of age, I was called as pastor of a little country church.
My mother at first was so disheartened and so discouraged and so disappointed. She later changed when you called me as pastor of the church here. Thank the Lord. Thank the Lord. But that election, that call, that choice, that’s God [2 Thessalonians 2:12]. And you have felt it in your heart. God has called you to believe in Him and to trust in Him and to give your life to Him [2 Corinthians 6:2]. And there was a time so vivid in your memory when you went down an aisle and gave your hand to a preacher and said, “Today, I accept the Lord as my Savior” [Ephesians 2:8].
That’s God. Without that effective calling, we would all be lost. But in the love [2 Corinthians 5:14-15], and grace of Jesus [Romans 3:24], we are trophies of His care and His love, brought to the Lord Jesus. And oh, how precious to think that He included me; He included me.
I must close. Dear people who listen to this message on television, where you are is a good where to give your heart to Jesus. Anywhere, anywhere is a good where to accept Christ as your Savior. Open your heart to Him. Open your house and your home to Him. He will be the best friend you have ever known. And there are no problems that you cannot face without Him. Do it now. Call us on that telephone number or write us a letter, and we will rejoice with you in God’s amazing and abounding grace.
And to the great throng in this sanctuary today, “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me and I am answering with my life.” Accepting the Savior [Romans 10:9-13], coming into the church, giving your heart and life in a special way to Him, make it now and a thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing.
A. What is finished?
B. The vital importance
of heavenly assurance
II. Because of His finished, completed
atonement for our sins
A. There is nothing to
be added from me (Revelation 1:5-6
B. A gift bestowed
III. Because of what He has made us
A. A member of the
family of the Lord, children of God (John 1:12)
B. The unregenerate
fall away (2 Timothy 4:10)
C. The regenerate never
get away from experience of conversion
IV. Because of what Jesus is doing today
is at right hand of God interceding for me (Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:15-16, 7:25)
have trusted Somebody
V. Because of His immutable promise
He is before us, leading us (John 10:27-30)
VI. Because it is God’s sovereign, elective
purpose to take us to heaven
A. God promised His Son
He would not die in vain
1. A people
promised (Romans 8:29-30)