On Predestination / W A Criswell
Text: Acts 27.22-31
(all comments initially moderated)
On the radio and on television, to the thousands and thousands of you who are watching, many of you on cable television in New Mexico and Oklahoma and Louisiana and throughout the northern part of Texas, this is the First Baptist Church. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled, Predestination. In our preaching through the Book of Acts we are in chapter 27. And in this chapter is one of the finest illustrations of this great and meaningful doctrine that you will find in the Word of God. I am going to read the two parts of it; the first one, God’s decree and the second one, man’s volitional effort.
First, God’s decree in Acts 27 beginning at verse 20:
“And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small storm lay upon us, all hope that we should be saved was taken away.—They fell into despair.— But after long abstinence, after long praying and fasting, Paul stood forth in the midst of them and says, I exhort you to be of good cheer, for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, only of the ship. For there stood by me this night, the angel of God whose I am, whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul, thou must be brought before Caesar, carried to Rome, and lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee—two hundred and seventy-five other souls—Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer, for I believe God.” — Acts 27.20-25
And that will be my message tonight, Facing the Future With God.—
For I believe God that it shall be even as it was told me.
That is up there in the decree, and elective purpose, and predestination of God. Now, down here where we are, beginning at verse 30:
“And as the sailors were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat under colors, [as] though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved” Acts 27:30-31.
A contingency, a possibility, a volitional response: “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.”
This morning, we are going to look at God’s spiritual government. We are going to look at it. Not that we can explain it or understand it. We don’t explain, we don’t understand anything. All we do is just observe it. And write it down. We just look at it. But we don’t understand or explain.
An old woman looked at a giraffe and said, “There just ain’t no such animal.” I can understand her response. All of God’s creation is packed with infinitude and mystery is His signature. I stood in a planetarium and looked at the sweep of the vast infinite heavens.
We don’t explain it. We just look at it. Under a powerful microscope, I looked at God’s microcosm. As God’s macrocosm, is infinite above us, no less is His microcosm infinitesimal below us and the same hand creating it all. Under a powerful microscope, I looked at a leaf. The leaf with cells and protoplasm and chlorophyll and has the mysterious gift of photosynthesis, without which there would be no life; the ability of a little cell in a leaf with his chlorophyll to take the light and power and strength of the sunlight and turn it into sugar and send it to an orange or to starch and send it down to a potato; a mystery but God’s hand.
The whole world is like that when I studied anatomy, a frog, a cat; inexplicable, just look at it or the world of nuclear science; molecules, protons, electrons; the whole earth in infinitesimal orbit. We don’t explain these things. No one can or ever shall. We just look at them and write them down. Experience them. So it is with God’s infinite spiritual government. We look at it and observe it, experience it. We don’t explain it. There are two sets of words. There are two vocabularies that describe God’s spiritual government.
One set of words refers to the great infinitude of God in heaven; up there where He is; the words up there that refer to God and God’s infinite sovereignty. These words are foreknowledge, election, predestination, sovereignty, certainty, omnipotence, and omniscience. These things apply to God in heaven.
He sees the end from beginning. All history is present tense before Him. He’s never surprised or caught unawares. Every development He sees even you before the foundation of the world. He is the alpha, the beginning, and the omega, the ending, and that is God’s sovereign decree; guiding history, moving in infinite wonder and power through His whole created universe. That’s the language of heaven. All of these things of God’s elective purpose and sovereign choice is predestinating grace. That’s up there.
Then there’s another set of the words that describe us who live in the dust of death down here. Those words are freedom of choice, free moral agency, contingency, possibility, striving, working. Those words apply to us. And as long as we keep them separate, these words apply to God. And these words apply to us, as long as we keep them separate we’ll never have any trouble. It is only when we mix them up that we fall into confusion and un-understanding.
You see, both of them are here. I now speak of God in heaven; predestination, foreknowledge, using God’s language now. “For there stood by me this night the angel of God saying, Don’t be afraid, Paul, you must be brought to Rome before Caesar. And lo, God hath given thee all that sail with thee.”
That’s God. That’s the elective decree and predestinary purpose of God. That’s God’s language. That’s up there in heaven. Down here in this earth where we are. Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “If you let these sailors escape and leave this ship without a guide, you cannot be saved.”
Contingency, possibility, that is language down here. So we look at both of them; first of all, the decrees of God, the sovereign purpose of God, the elective choice of the Lord, God’s language.
He will say in the twenty-third chapter of Acts in verse 11, He will say to Paul in a conspiracy by which they sought to murder him, by night, the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul, as thou has testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also of Me at Rome.” God says that. Whatever the providence or the turn of fortune, whatever apparent interdiction, God says, “Paul you shall testify of Me in Rome.” God says that.
And he repeats that in the passage that I have just read. “There stood by me this night the angel of God saying, Fear not, Paul, thou must be brought before Caesar.” God says that. And not only does God say that, not only does He announce that, but the Lord also said other details that follow after.
Here’s one, “Not only shall you be brought before Caesar in Rome, but there shall not be the loss of any man’s life among you.” Not one. And that’s repeated three times.
In verse 22, “There shall not be a man’s life that is lost.”
Number 24, “Lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.”
And verse 34, “There shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.”
That’s what God says. That’s what God has decreed. Not only that, not only does God say, “Paul you’re going to stand before Caesar in Rome,” and not only does God say, “There shall not be a one that is on the boat that is lost, two hundred and seventy-six of you, not one.”
But God also says that the ship will be destroyed. In verse 22, “You’ll lose the ship,” and not only that, but in verse 26 God says, “You will be cast upon a certain island.” That’s what God says. And those are the decrees of the Almighty. And they cannot be interdicted or changed. That’s predestination. That’s election. That’s God ruling the universe up there in the infinitude of His glory in heaven.
So when God says that you are going to stand before Caesar and all of these are going to be saved, there is no providence that will interdict it. The storm rages for two solid weeks, fourteen days and fourteen nights, the sun and the stars are blotted out. And the storm takes that little vessel and drives it up and down the Sea of Adria, but God said, “They will all be saved. You, Paul, will stand before Caesar in Rome.” However the storm rages.
Seemingly death was impatient of its prey. Not only did the storm rage, but the sailors panic-stricken sought to flee out of the ship in a little boat. In a little lifeboat and go to the shore of the island. Not only that but the sailors said to the centurion—but the soldiers said to the centurion, “Let us kill all of these prisoners lest they escape,” and were responsible for their lives.
Seemingly death was on every hand, but God had said, “You’re all going to be saved and you, Paul, are going to stand before Caesar.” So Paul says and look at him. In the midst of the fury of the storm, and certain death that awaited them, Paul says, “Be of good cheer, for I believe God that it shall be even as it was told me.” And he took bread and gave thanks and began to eat. And he said, “All of you be of good cheer. And break bread with me.”
And in quiet and in confidence, in the raging storm, the apostle is quiet in the Word and the promise of God. That is predestination. That is election. That is the foreknowledge and the sovereign grace of the Lord. That’s up there in heaven.
Now, we’re going to look at the other side of God’s government. We are going to look at the strivings of man; at the volitional choice of man. And it is very plainly set forth here in this story of the raging storm on the Mediterranean Sea. For God’s decrees, God’s predestinated purpose for us includes our efforts. It includes us.
So when God said to Paul, “You’re going to be saved and everybody in the ship with you. And you’re going to stand before Caesar,” God said that to him. Then when Paul sees those sailors about to forsake the ship and nobody to run it, nobody to guide it, Paul said to the centurion, “Except these sailors abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.”
That’s contingency. That’s possibility. That’s down here in this world talking to the centurion and to the soldiers. So the whole thing follows after a tremendous effort on the part of those men who are on that ship, two hundred seventy-six of them. God says they’re going to be saved. Not a one of them is going to be lost. But dear me, how they strive and how they work down here in the earth where we live. When the ship was broken up, all of those that could swim, swam. With all of their might and power in that raging storm they swam to the shore.
And those that couldn’t swim, some of them seized a board and some of them other parts of the broken pieces of the ship. And in great effort and in great striving, they finally found themselves safe on the shore of the land.
Isn’t that amazing? God said, “You are going to be saved.” God said, “Not a one of you is going to be lost.” God said, “Not a hair of your head shall fall to the ground from anyone of you.” That’s what God says. And yet they are striving for all that they can to reach that shore.
I’m amazed at the effort they put forth. Those sailors sensed that in the fury of that storm, they were drawing near to some country. So they sounded. They let down a plumb line and found it one hundred and twenty feet deep. And when they further, they sound it again and found it ninety feet deep.
And then fearing lest they should be driven against rocks that were hidden, they cast four anchors out of the stern of the ship. You always cast your anchor in the foreship. They cast it out of the stern of the ship. They anchored the thing and let it drive, let it fold itself out before the wind.
And then Paul says when those sailors were trying to escape, “Except these abide in the ship you’ll not be saved.” Then Paul said to them, “Listen, you’re going to have a great strenuous ordeal tomorrow, eat a good meal so you will be strengthened for it.” And he encouraged them to eat.
Then finally, they took up the anchors and they loosed the rudder bands that held the rudders so that the ship should somehow be guided. And they hoisted the mainsail to the wind and they made for the shore. Then when the ship broke up as it was caught in the violence of the waves on the shore, those that could swim, they swam. And those that couldn’t swim, took broken pieces of the ship and so they came to the land.
And isn’t that amazing? The decree of God plainly announced by the Apostle Paul, “Not a one of you will be lost. Not a hair of your head will fall. All of us are going to be saved.” But, when the time came, they struggled and they swam and they clung to broken pieces of the ship. They poured their utmost strength into that effort to reach the land.
Now, those two always go together, always. The decree of God, the elective purpose of God, the predestinated announcement of God always carries with it the effort of man. They go together; God’s decree and purpose and man’s volition and choice. The Lord’s elective predestinary announcement and our volitional decision to follow after the will of God, both of them go together.
The preacher has to preach. Paul plants. Apollos waters. The preacher has to preach. But it is God that gives the increase. If anybody’s saved, if anybody responds, if anybody comes down that aisle, it is because of the moving Spirit of the grace of the Lord Jesus.
And it takes both of them. And both of them are in God’s will; His elective purpose for us. He knew us before we were born. He called our names before the foundation of the world. He knows all about us. He knows how our lives shall end. He knows when I shall die and how, all in the elective purpose of God. But at the same time, things happen to me, a day at a time, a moment at a time. And I strive and a work and all of it is in the will and circumference of God’s good pleasure.
Thus it is in the doctrine of election in our salvation. In the first chapter of Ephesians, verses 4 and 5:
According as God hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself according to the good pleasure of His will.
What an astonishing statement: “Before the foundation of the world.” Before God flung this planet into orbit, God chose us, called us, new us, adopted us. He knew all about our salvation before we were born. That’s called election and predestination. And yet, at the same time, at the same time God says as in Luke 13:3, “Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish,” or in [Acts]16 verse : “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” God elects and God knows before the world is made, but I must repent and I must believe.
In one instance, I’m talking about the language of God in heaven when I talk about election and predestination. When I am talking about repentance and belief, I’m talking about language down here in the earth, about us.
It is like our eternal salvation and security. Jesus says in chapter 10 of John verses 27-29:
“I know My sheep. I call them by name. I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish. Neither shall anyone pluck them out of My hand. My Father Who gave them 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” John 10:27-30.
Secure, saved forever in the decree and elective purpose of God. No one is able to pluck us out of the hand of the Almighty, omnipotent God. And yet, in Hebrews 10:38, “The just shall live by faith. And if he draws back my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” Or the tenth chapter of Matthew, “He that endureth unto the end, the same shall be saved.” They are together; God’s grace and elective purpose in my volitional choice and decision. All of them are in God’s infinite government. That’s His spiritual world.
It is a strange thing how it works out in our lives. In this story here, in the raging storm, “all hope that we should be saved was taken away.” They expected to die. Fourteen days, they were in that terrible storm; fourteen days. God said every one of them is going to live; everyone of them. And after great trial and terror and striving, they finally landed on the shore; all of them, all of them; every one of them; two hundred and seventy-six of them.
Now you look. I can just see those 276 sailors, soldiers and prisoners. I can just see them standing up there before all of those natives on the island of Malta and gathering around and telling them about that awesome storm and how the ship was broken up and how finally they came to land. And there they are drenched with water; shivering with cold; exhausted with the effort. I can just see them, each man telling his story to a wide-eyed amazed native. But all of the time, it was God who said, “You are going to be saved. All of you.”
I can just see that. And you know what? I can see it in my life and yours. I can’t this way, living a day at a time, moment at a time. I can’t see it that way. I can’t see it before me. I don’t know. How shall I die? Will it be a heart attack? Will it be a heavy cancer? Will it be after long days, maybe years of agony?
Will it be like my old mother, having a terrible cerebral hemorrhage, she lived without her mind almost seven years? It will be like that? Or will I just fall asleep in Jesus? Will it be in old, old age? Will it be tomorrow? Will God wonderfully bless us in these days that lie ahead here in the church?
You see, I just live that moment at a time, day at a time, because I’m down here in the dust of death. And I’m circumscribed and I can’t see. That’s before me that way. But when I look back of me that way, oh, I can just preach to you almost forever about the hand of God that I can see that way. Back yonder looking down through those years, almost sixty years ago now, I can tell you all about how God saved me.
Just a boy, 10 years of age, I can tell you all about that. How God saved me sixty years ago. And I can tell you how I felt as a little boy, called of God to be a pastor. And all through those years, even as a little boy, going to elementary school and then to high school, how I was preparing to be a preacher and a pastor. I can tell you all about that. That’s back there; the hand of God.
I can tell you all about those days against the day when Bob Coleman called me on Wednesday night and he said, “We’ve had a conference here in the church and they have unanimously asked you to be their pastor and under shepherd.” I can tell you all about that. The things that are past, I can see God’s hand in a thousand ways. I can see that. This way, I can’t see. But my brother, the same gracious hand that guided in those years that are past, will be the same gracious hand that guides in these years or days that lie ahead. God’s infinite purpose; some of which I see. Some of which I can’t see. But like Paul; quiet and assured in it all.
My brother, my sister, that’s a wonderful way to live. That in all things God works together for good to them that love the Lord. That He purposes some better thing for us. That He is guiding us to some ultimate and final and glorious home. It is a pilgrimage filled with song. It is a life overflowing with praise and gratitude. It is the joy of the Christian life. And it is ours in the love and mercy of our blessed Jesus. Now, I want us all to stand together with our heads bowed in quietness before the Lord.
Our wonderful sovereign Savior, how infinitely good Thou art. Ah Lord, before we were born you called us by name; chose us before the foundation of the world. And now Thou hast brought us to this present gracious moment. And Thy Holy Spirit moving in our souls fills us with praise and gladness to God for His wonderful goodnesses to us. And our Lord, these today, who have heard God’s call, may they answer with their lives in the saving name of our wonderful blessed Christ Jesus. Amen.
Now we are going to sing our hymn of appeal. As we pray, as we wait, down that stairway, down this aisle, “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me and here I am. My family; all of us are coming. The two of us, my friend or my wife,” or just one somebody you as we pray before the Lord, as we wait before God, and as we sing this hymn of appeal, I will be standing right there. You come and stand with me. “Today I accept Jesus as my Savior.” Or, “Today we are putting our lives in the circle of circumference of this wonderful church.” On the first note of the fist stanza, into that aisle or down that stairway, “Here I am pastor.” God love you. God bless you. Angels attend you as you come while we sing.
Copyright © 2014 The W. A. Criswell Foundation.
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Posted with permission.
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