Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—Predestination
In Isaiah 45:11, God decrees His superintendency over all of history: “ ... What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.” (Isaiah 46:11, NIV84). God will do all that he has planned by providentially bringing his decrees to pass! Throughout the history of the Christian church, few doctrines have provoked such consternation or have been so hotly debated as the doctrine of predestination. John Calvin, the 16th century Reformer most closely associated with the doctrine of predestination, said that it was both “a horrible decree” and a “a very sweet fruit." In his book the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin addresses the danger of a superficial treatment of predestination by stating: "Human curiosity renders the discussion of predestination, already somewhat difficult of itself, very confusing and even dangerous. [Therefore] if anyone with carefree [attitude] breaks into this place, he will not succeed in satisfying his curiosity and he will enter a labyrinth from which he can find no exit." And I will tell you that is exactly how I have felt at times as I have studied the doctrine—will I ever find my way out of this theological maze? Calvin’s answer to finding our way out of the labyrinth that is the doctrine of predestination is to avoid philosophical speculation about it, and accept only what the Scriptures disclose about it, and to accept the theological tension that the doctrine creates between God’s predestination and man’s free will. While on earth, completely grasping these two truths is impossible. Ultimately we will see them reconciled when we are in the eternal kingdom. Someone once asked Charles Spurgeon, a 19th century Baptist preacher, how he reconciled God's predestination of believers before the foundation of the world, and human responsibility to believe. Spurgeon responded, "I don't reconcile friends." This is a great quote because it reminds us that it is alright to hold Scriptural ideas that are in tension, which we may not fully get our arms around.
For me it is unthinkable that a God of infinite wisdom and power would create a world without a definite plan for that world. And because God is infinite his plan must extend to every detail of the world’s existence—including your life and mine. ILLUS. Walter T. Conner, Professor of Systematic Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for thirty nine years, wrote: "The Scriptures teach not only that God had a general plan that is being carried out in human history, but also that God's purpose applies to the individual. When a man is saved, he is not saved as a matter of chance or accident or fate; he is saved in pursuance of an eternal purpose of God. God saves men because he intends to. He saves a particular man, at a particular time, under a given set of circumstances, because he intends to.”
It is a doctrine that reminds us that God is sovereign in His choices. The Bible clearly reveals that the Lord announces future events, and then through the centuries, providentially guides the movement of history to the fulfillment of what He has decreed. “ ... What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.” (Isaiah 46:11, NIV84).
This evening, I want to finish this 3-part message by making some conclusions about the doctrine and its practical application to our lives.
III. THE DOCTRINE: SOME CONCLUSIONS
- two weeks ago we began our journey into the labyrinth with an introduction to Isaiah 49:9-11
- the passage introduced us to a God who decrees future events and then providentially moves to bring His decrees to fruition
- this is clearly seen in his prophecy concerning King Cyrus of Persia
- last Sunday we turned out attention to Romans, chapter 9 since we cannot broach the subject of predestination without a careful examination of that passage
- I provided you some illustrations of how providence and predestination work hand-in-hand, and I gave you three assumptions about the doctrine of predestination that we can glean from Romans 9
- tonight I want to close out by providing you some essential conclusions about the doctrine
- with a little luck, we’ll find our way out of the labyrinth!
A. 1st, THE DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION IS A DIFFICULT DOCTRINE BUT A BIBLICAL DOCTRINE
- the word is used twice in the Book of Romans and twice in the Letter to the Ephesians
- the doctrine is implied in numerous other biblical passages such as our focal text—Isa. 46:9-11
- we cannot be a spiritual ostrich, burying our heads in the sand and pretending that we don’t see it
- while Romans 9:19-29 does not use the word predestination, it certainly contains the doctrine
- whether we like it or not, whether we fully understand it or not ...
- some people are vessels of wrath while others are vessels of mercy
- some are chosen unto salvation; others are not
- we can debate over how God does His choosing, but we cannot debate that God does indeed choose
- for those who are not chosen, God need do nothing but let man’s sinful nature take its course and reap the ultimate consequences
- ““For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16–18, NIV84)
- “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4–7, NIV84)
- when I look at God’s exceeding holiness and man’s exceeding sinfulness I ‘get’ hell and damnation
- when I look at God’s exceeding holiness and man’s exceeding sinfulness I ‘don’t get’ grace which is amazing
- though I am glad for it!
- “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”” (Romans 9:14–15, NIV84)
- the fact that we don’t fully understand this doesn’t change the truth
- we would do better to say, “The Bible says it, I don’t fully understand it, but I still believe it.”
- in that sense predestination fits into the same category as the Trinity
- it is a difficult doctrine that demands to be handled with great care and caution
- yet it is a biblical doctrine and therefore demands to be handled
- we dare not ignore it
B. 2nd, THE DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION HUMBLES US BECAUSE IT EXALTS GOD AS THE AUTHOR OF OUR SALVATION
- in the final analysis, this is why some people fight so strongly against predestination
- they don’t like any doctrine that gives all the credit to God and none to us
- but that is precisely why predestination must be true
- it teaches us that salvation is of the Lord
- it is a work of God from first till last
- it starts with him and ends with him
- nothing else displays God’s sovereign mercy like the doctrine of predestination
- it is the story of sinful, undeserving men receiving the gift of salvation for no other reason except that God wished to extend his kindness to them
- if predestination is true, it means that we can never claim any credit for our salvation
- we don’t even get credit for seeking the Lord because he sought us before we sought him
- ILLUS. Harry Ironside, American Bible teacher, preacher, theologian, pastor, and author, told of a prayer meeting where a man gave a stirring testimony of God’s grace in his life. Afterwards someone came up to him and said, “My brother, that was a fine testimony you gave. You talked a lot about God, but you didn’t mention your own part in salvation.” The man thought for a moment and then said, “You’re right. I did leave that out. My part was to run away from God as fast as I could, and God’s part was to run after me until he caught me.”
- we do the running away
- God does the catching
- the wicked receive precisely what they deserve
- the elect receive precisely what they do not deserve
- ILLUS. The Reformer, John Calvin, wrote: “Without a proper understanding of predestination, humility is torn up by the roots.”
- predestination simply means, God chose you first and if he didn't choose you first, you would never have chosen him
- to say it another way, God so arranged the circumstances of my life so that when the moment was right, I had no other choice but to freely choose Jesus
- as I look back at my own salvation experience, I clearly see the hand of God drawing me to Christ
- my guess is, you can, too
C. 3rd, THE DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION PRESERVES HUMAN FREEDOM BECAUSE EACH PERSON MUST STILL PERSONALLY RESPOND TO JESUS CHRIST
- some people consider the doctrine of predestination and assume, “Why should I bother responding? If I’m predestined, God will save me when he’s ready.”
- ILLUS. Some of you are familiar with the story of William Carey. He was an English Baptist Missionary who had been a shoe cobbler by trade. He eventually became a Baptist, and began to pastor Baptist Churches. At a ministers' meeting in 1786, Carey raised the question of whether it was the duty of all Christians to spread the Gospel throughout the world. An older pastor told him: "Sit down, young man. When God is ready to save the heathen, he will do it without your help or ours."
- well, not so fast
- the Bible says that God saves those who believe in their heart and confess with their mouth that Jesus is the Christ
- no one is saved without calling upon the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13)
- “As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”” (Romans 10:11–15, NIV84)
- we can never, ever use the doctrine of predestination as an excuse to not preach the gospel to every nation, people, tribe, and tongue
- Christ, himself commanded his church to take the free offer of the gospel into all the world
- does God work providentially in the world to accomplish His will?
- does God’s providential workings destroy man’s ability to make free choices?
- “When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”” (Esther 4:12–14, NIV84)
- from our human standpoint, lost sinners are completely free
- when they wake up in the morning, they have a choice to get out of bed or to stay in bed
- they can put on a red dress or a blue one
- when they get in their car, they are free to drive to work or to St. Louis
- every decision they make is a free choice
- by that I simply mean that lost sinners are not constrained by some divine power that forces them to eat at Burger King instead of McDonalds
- but make no mistake about it, all that lost sinners can do is sin—all their righteousness acts are as filthy rags before the Lord—they cannot please God
- from our human standpoint, saved sinners are completely free
- when you wake up in the morning, you have a choice to get out of bed or to stay in bed
- you can put on a red dress or a blue one
- when you get in you car, you are free to drive to work or to St. Louis
- every decision you make is a free choice
- by that I simply mean that saved sinners are not constrained by some divine power that forces them to eat at Wendy’s instead of White Castle (I readily confess, that for me every trip to White Castle is a ‘divine appointment’)
- but make no mistake about it, while Believers still sin, because we are in Christ we can please God the Father as we are conformed into the image of God the Son
- “ ... What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.” (Isaiah 46:11, NIV84).
D. 4th, THE DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION GIVES THE BELIEVER ASSURANCE
- perhaps the most troubling part of being a pastor is to see parishioners troubled about their salvation
- Satan has no more grievous or dangerous temptation to dishearten believers than when he unsettles them with doubt about their salvation
- rightly understood, predestination is a bulwark against doubt—it gives the believer an “impregnable security” (Calvin)
- God saves those who sincerely call upon the name of Jesus—end of story!
- ILLUS. Over the years I've counseled with several Christians who have sweated great drops of blood over this doctrine. They'll ask me, "Pastor, what if I'm not predestined to be saved?" I've always answered this way: "Have you ever placed your faith in Jesus Christ, and in him alone-for your salvation? If the answer is "yes," then I've got good news, you're predestined for heaven."
- Henry Ward Beecher, a prominent Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, and abolitionist, of the mid to late 19th century, had a pretty simply way of looking at the doctrine of predestination. He said that God's Elect were the "Whosoever wills" and the non-elect were the "Whosoever won'ts."
- “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”” (John 10:27–30, NIV84)
Con. Run to the Cross. Here is the good news for sinners. If you want to be saved, you can be saved and you will be saved. That is the promise of God to sinners. No one will ever be lost who turned to Christ for salvation. No one will be in hell who truly wanted to go to heaven by faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. Over 245 years ago Joseph Hart wrote one of the grandest gospel hymns ever composed: Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy. The chorus says:
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.