The Doctrine of Election | Sermon By Dr. W. A. Criswell
In Acts 13:47 Luke records the words of Paul and Barnabas: “For so hath the Lord commanded us saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.
When the Gentiles heard this they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord.” And then Luke adds this amazing and unusual sentence. “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
Our message today is a look at that. It is one of God’s wonders, like looking at the vast creative realities flung into space by the hand of our Almighty God, the vast universe filled with millions of galaxies thronged with billions of stars.
This also is one of God’s mighty creations: “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
The doctor uses a verb translated here “ordained.” “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” It is a periphrastic perfect participle, passive voice, indicative mood of tasso.
Tasso is a military term referring to orderly arrangement; we might better translate it with the word “appoint.” “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” He does not say by whom they were appointed.
There are extreme Calvinists who would say it is the Lord God who did that appointment—completely, fully, without any discussion—fully appointed of the Lord God.
There are others who would say that the verb does not carry that extreme interpretation; that it allows for a disposition on the part of those who heard the gospel to be appointed to eternal life.
“As many as were disposed to eternal life believed.” So the Lord may have disposed them to believe, but the people may also have disposed themselves to believe.
Well, I think it says both. “As many as were willing thus to dispose their souls, hearts, lives, minds to receive the word of life, they were appointed to that everlasting kingdom.”
But others were not disposed, as in verse 46: “Seeing you put this word from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.”
But however the verb is ultimately interpreted, it is certainly there in the Scripture. “As many as were appointed or ordained to eternal life believed.”
So we’re going to look at both of those facts; the fact of God’s choice, of God’s appointment, of God’s election, and also the fact of a man’s free moral agency.
It is a fact that God chooses and God elects. That is as much a part of Scripture as the Scripture itself.
Just listen to these words out of the first chapter of Ephesians: “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself . . . in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His will.”
That sounds like sovereignty; purpose, choice, election, predestination.
Isn’t that right? Or Romans 8:29: “For whom He did foreknow—the foreknowledge of God—He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
Or again in Romans 11: “God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew . . . Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace”
It is a facet of the glory of God that He is sovereign, that He chooses, that He elects, that He calls.
And that is the whole story of redemption from beginning to end, the hand of God working in human history. God called Abraham out of idolatry. God called Moses and sent him down into Egypt.
God called David and anointed him above his brethren. The Lord chose twelve apostles. The Lord God intervened in the life of Saul of Tarsus and made him the apostle Paul.
God did it. It is the hand of the Lord. God has done that through the years and the centuries since, and God does it today. God moves, God elects, God calls, and God chooses.
Now the other facet is also no less gloriously presented in the Scriptures. A man is morally free, and He chooses. That has been true from the beginning.
In the second chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul writes that Adam was not deceived; he willfully chose to eat the forbidden fruit and to die with his wife rather than live without her. He was morally free, and he chose to die.
Moses stood in the midst of the camp as they were dancing around the golden calf and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come and stand by me.”
Joshua said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve; . . . but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”
Do you remember Elijah? “How long halt ye between two opinions? If Baal be god serve him; but if Jehovah be God serve Him.”
How many of the wonderful invitations of Lord are addressed to the human heart? “Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and are heavy laden.”
Do you remember the great avowal of the apostle concerning his ministry in the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians? “We then are ambassadors for God; and we beseech you in Christ’s stead,” as though He were saying it, “be ye reconciled to God.”
Or the last invitation in the Bible: “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. Let him that heareth say, Come.
Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
The elect are the “whosoever wills”; the non-elect are the “whosoever won’ts.” Isn’t that a remarkable thing? Both of those are in the Bible, fully and completely revealed, and in no sense are they contradictory.
If we would see God in His fullness we must see Him in both lights: the sovereignty of the Almighty and the free will of the man.
There is a nomenclature used in the Bible, and it is separate and distinct vocabulary.
There are words used to describe the great God who sits above the heavens, and it is a celestial and a heavenly language: almightiness, sovereignty, foreknowledge, election, predestination.
Then there is another language, another nomenclature that is used talking about us down here: freedom of choice, moral responsibility, freedom of the will, a commitment, a response.
And our trouble lies in mixing or commingling those words. There are certain words that belong up there, and certain words that belong down here, and when you mix them you fall into grievous trouble.
There is mystery in God always present. We don’t find ourselves able to encompass the infinitude of the Almighty because our minds are limited and circumscribed.
If a man could contain God he’d be greater than God Himself. But we are limited and cannot understand. If we understood it fully as it is in His mind, it would be one voice.
But we have spiritual astigmatism. We can only see one thing at a time, whereas God sees it all. We are always eccentric.
We’re always on one side. It is only God who is at the center. And He sees truth as a great complete circle.
That’s why the apostle closes Romans 9, 10, and 11 with a marvelous paean: “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”
The purpose of election for us is one of grace and of mercy, always that. It is the redemptive purpose of God that He is sovereignly working out in human history and in our individual lives. Always it is for our salvation, our blessing.
“As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked: but that the wicked would turn from his evil way and live: O turn ye turn ye from your evil way: for why will ye die?” [Ezekiel 33:11].
And that is the gospel message. The Lord sent you here. God brought you to this place. The Lord spoke to your heart.
The Lord made the appeal. And the Lord disposes your soul to respond. And the praise and the glory is to Him who liveth forever and ever.