Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

John 6:35–40  (ID: 1531)

Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Since Christians are called to evangelize, we must ask the question, “If God is in control, then what is our role in the process?” In this message, Alistair Begg helps us understand the balance between our responsibility and God’s sovereignty.

Series Containing This Sermon

Crossing the Barriers

A 12-Lesson Study on Evangelism Selected Scriptures Series ID: 23101

Encore 2017

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25908

Sermon Transcript: Print

Editor’s note: As Alistair mentions early in this message, much of what follows relies heavily on J. I. Packer’s classic book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. For the sake of readability, and because the book has been republished in numerous editions since its original publication in 1961, we have opted to forgo citations of quotations from Packer at the present time. Uncited quotations that aren’t from Scripture can be assumed to be from Packer.

Father, we delight to sing your praise, and we want to revere your name, almighty and sovereign God. And we want to acknowledge that when we think our best and brightest thoughts, still we are confounded by your incomprehensibility—that you are ultimately beyond our knowing, save that you have chosen to make yourself known. And as we study tonight in this area regarding your sovereignty and man’s responsibility, we enter into an arena that is known for argument, for debate, for discord. We pray that none of that may be our portion, but rather adoration and clarity and humility so that we might live to serve you. Guide our steps. Make us bold, sensitive, enterprising, ingenious, but ultimately humble before you, since it is you alone, O God, who can draw sinners to yourself. Hear our prayer, and let our cry come unto you, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

I invite you now to turn once again to John chapter 6. As we’ve been proceeding in our studies in evangelism these other Sunday evenings, there has been one question which in one form or another has been asked with consistency. And summarizing the question, it would go something like this: If God is sovereign in fulfilling his plan of salvation in the lives of individuals, then how does this affect our duty to evangelize? Further, if we believe in the absolute sovereignty of God, does it not follow that we must therefore jettison the notion of our human responsibility?

And I think without exception, every time I’ve been asked that question, I have recommended one book. That book bears the title which forms the title of our study tonight—namely, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, written in 1961 by Dr. J. I. Packer, who has become most well-known for his book Knowing God, a subsequent publication. And in the same way that John Stott’s Basic Christianity has become a classic in the matter of the claims of Christ upon a life, so Packer’s book has become a classic in relation to this question which is before us this evening. It has been translated into many different languages and has been used to great effect. And my dependence upon Packer’s book will become increasingly obvious to all tonight who have either taken up my recommendation recently to read it or who perhaps have read it before. Indeed, such is my dependence upon his book that we might legitimately change the title from simply “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” to “An Appreciation of Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer.

Indeed, I felt it so strongly in my spirit that I called Dr. Packer, who is on sabbatical leave at the moment, yesterday morning in his home in Vancouver, British Columbia. We had met on one occasion in Glasgow, but he didn’t remember me at all, and I wasn’t surprised. But I felt it vital that I at least tell him how badly I was plagiarizing his book in approaching this subject tonight. He was most gracious in his response and said that he felt that I had been kind even to ask him, he felt the initiative was unnecessary, and he said that “I cast my literary endeavors upon the water, and whatever returns, returns to the Lord.” And so he said, “You may use my book as much as you choose. You may mention it if you like. You may disregard it if you like. You can tell the people I said it’s okay, or you don’t have to tell them at all.” And so I said, “Well, I’m going to tell them; I’ll feel better.” He said, “Well then, that’s fine.” And I said that I was going to begin my remarks in John 6:35 and following, and he said, “An excellent choice. You couldn’t have chosen a better passage.” And so I felt somewhat encouraged by that, and consequently, here I am at this section with you tonight.

I’m not going to expound these verses. We’ve done that already; you can get the tape in our series on John. But I want to use it, then, to tackle this subject in such a way that actually turns out to be much more of a lecture than as a sermon. And my responsibility tonight is far more didactic than it is to preach. Preaching, incidentally, is more than teaching; it is teaching plus application. But preaching isn’t preaching unless you teach and then apply it. So tonight, I want to dispense with the application very much and largely try and get across the essential elements of this vast subject.

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

Now, let’s just begin by looking at the verses before us. In verse 35, Jesus declares that he is “the bread of life,” and he says that whoever comes to him “will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” And so, verse 35 states quite obviously the opportunity of belief to all and to any. Verse 36 reminds us of the responsibility for unbelief: “But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.” The opportunity to believe is in verse 35; the responsibility for unbelief is in verse 36. The offer in verse 35 is a real offer, pointing out that the unbeliever may have salvation, if he would; and therefore, no one else, according to verse 36, is responsible for the fact that he chooses to reject it.

In verse 37, in the opening part, you have this element of divine sovereignty: “All that the Father gives me will come to me”—that God the Father has purposed to give to his Son those whom he has chosen from all eternity. And then immediately in the very same verse, the second half of verse 37, it moves from the sovereignty of God to the opportunity of man: “And whoever comes to me I will [not] drive away.”

In verse 39, once again we have divine sovereignty: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me”—once again, this notion of election. And then verse 40: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life”—the opportunity of faith and the responsibility of man to respond to God’s offer of salvation.

God the Father has purposed to give to his Son those whom he has chosen from all eternity.

So, far from the notion existing in disparate elements of the Bible, this whole question exists—indeed, coexists—in the very same verses of the Bible. You do not need to go beyond, for example, verse 39 or verse 37 of John 6 to be confronted with this question of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

What we have here is an antinomy—not a paradox, which is different and upon which I’m not going to dwell, but an antinomy, which is two truths; two truths that sit side by side, seemingly irreconcilable and yet both undeniable. Truth number one: God is sovereign. Truth number two: man is responsible. That is an antinomy. That God first of all “orders and controls all things, human actions among them, in accordance with his own eternal purpose” is the first truth, and then that God “holds every man responsible for the choices he makes and the courses of action [that] he pursues.” Now, this is heavy, isn’t it? (As they used to say in the ’60s.) And this is far out! And it is clear that each truth must be true on its own, but it is not clear to see how they can both be true together—hence the antinomy.

Now, I’m no physicist, but I believe there is something of an antinomy in the world of physics in relation to the question of light. For I believe, unless times have changed, that light is conceived of in terms of waves, but it is also conceived of in terms of particles. And it is both true that light is waves but that light is also particles. To try and explain it in the terms of one to the detriment of the other is to be inaccurate. Both is true, but it’s difficult to see how both can be true side by side.

Now, in this matter, the preponderance of response, in an endeavor to tidy things up, to try and get our theology all buttoned down, and to make sure that there’s no mystery left, we tend to be confronted by the temptation to reject one side of the equation. And so you can talk to people who will tell you, “I believe only in human responsibility, and thereby, I reject divine sovereignty,” or “We believe in the sovereignty of God, and therefore,” apparently, “we reject human responsibility.”

What happens? Well, an overemphasis, first of all, on human responsibility in relationship to evangelism almost inevitably leads to an approach whereby we’re tempted to regard ourselves as responsible for securing converts. If you come down on this side of the equation, you will feel constantly that unless you adopt a certain style of approach, unless you use a certain methodology, unless it is gone at in a particular way, people will not be saved, because we have this human responsibility to get at the question.

And this is largely evidenced in a style of evangelism which was pioneered by Finney and by Moody and by others besides—an approach to evangelism which is not all wrong but tends to be heavily weighted on the side of human responsibility. When this is the approach, the tendency is to evaluate evangelism not simply by the criterion of the message proclaimed but by the visible results. So people will say, “Well, nothing happened.” Now, that is not to say that we should devalue our responsibility to preach, nor is it to say that we should diminish in any way the listener’s responsibility to decide. But an overemphasis on human responsibility declares itself in a certain style of evangelism.

On the other hand, to fall down, as it were, on the other side of the fence, the opposite temptation is to so emphasize divine sovereignty that we’re tempted to lose sight of the church’s responsibility—of our individual responsibility—to evangelize at all. And Packer in his book uses the illustration, which is familiar to us from other sources, where Carey, as a young man, attending a ministers’ fraternal in the South of England, suggested to all these Baptist ministers present that he thought it was an excellent idea to establish a missionary society. And he said, “We could establish the Baptist Missionary Society, and we could reach the world”—on which occasion the chairman of that ministers’ fraternal was reported to have said to him, “Sit down, young man. When God is pleased to convert the heathen, he will do it without your help or mine.” Okay?

Now, you say, “Whoa! But let’s take the pluses for the man.” The pluses in terms of what the man was saying are undeniably there. The man recognized that it is God who saves. Always and every time, God saves people. Okay? He also knew that with or without our involvement, the work of God would go on. And he also knew that without our involvement, God is not helpless. So he had those pluses in his favor in his comment. However, the minus largely is this: that it seems that the man in making that statement was forgetting that God’s way of saving people is by sending out his servants to tell others the gospel. So he was in danger of emphasizing one truth to the exclusion of the other.

“Christ’s command means”—and I’m quoting now, probably from Packer. Any quote tonight that I don’t identify you’ll be able to find in his book. “Christ’s command means that we should all be devoting all our resources of ingenuity and enterprise to the task of making the gospel known in every possible way to every possible person.” And I like that, and I believe that, and I believe that’s what the Bible teaches: that all of us have no other mandate given by Christ save to use all our ingenuity, all our endeavors, all our responsibility to seek to convey to others the saving news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So what are we saying? We’re saying there is an antinomy. We’re saying that the temptation is to embrace one to the exclusion of the other, to seek to dilute one by the overemphasis of the other. And we’re suggesting that that is not the way to go. For if you try that, you will find yourself all the time trying to explain verses away in your Bible. Every time you come to a verse that falls down on the side of God’s sovereignty…

For example, if you’re a human responsibility individual, this is how you’ll read these verses in John 6. Okay? “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up [on] the last day. For … everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.” Of course, if you are a divine sovereignty wallah, then you tend to read it like this: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me …. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son…” See? You can’t do it! You just can’t do it! So, if you’ve been trying it, I want you to know that it’s futile. You will be “a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction.”[1] Yeah! That’s right. It’s inevitable. You can’t do it.

Now, that’s a real mindblower, but it’s a liberating truth. And if you grab ahold of this, it’ll set you free. If you don’t, you are destined to pain your brain for the rest of your life. The only way to come through this is the way I’m about to tell you. That is, we must hold to each truth with equal seriousness, for that is what the Bible does. And we have no right to seek to dilute one by a heavy dose of the other.

They once asked Charles Hadden Spurgeon, “How do you reconcile the notion of divine sovereignty and human responsibility?” And Spurgeon replied, “I don’t. You don’t have to reconcile friends.” And he understood that these truths, set side by side—sometimes even in the one verse, as we note here in John 6—were purposefully put there by God. And we may be sure that both truths find their reconciliation in the mind and counsel of God. And we may expect that one day, when we get to heaven, we may understand how they are reconciled. But today, as we live life down here, we must realize that this notion, these truths, must certainly be under the orb of Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.” And here is one of God’s secrets—that is, how to reconcile the plain truth of human responsibility and the clear truth of God’s divine sovereignty. “Man’s responsibility for his actions, and God’s sovereignty in relation to those same actions, are … equally real and ultimate facts.”

Let me illustrate it in another arena. In Luke 22:22, you find this plainly stated concerning the matter of the betrayal of Christ. Luke 22:22: “The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed.” Decreed by whom? By God. When? In his eternal purposes. That is divine sovereignty. “But woe to that man who betrays him.” That is human responsibility. And Judas was responsible for his actions. But God in his eternal wisdom determined that it would be so.

Acts 2:23, after the events have taken place, you find the same thing being proclaimed. Concerning what happened to Jesus: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”

Now, we could go all through our Bibles dealing with this; we don’t have time to do it tonight. But let’s just try and answer this question: How, then, does a robust faith in the sovereignty of God—and I’m going to assume that we can start there, although some of you will not yet be there—how then does a robust faith in the sovereignty of God affect our duty to evangelize?

The Necessity of Evangelism

Now, Packer answers it as follows—and I’m doing this for those of you who don’t read or can’t read or won’t read; but for those of you who do and can and will, then you will find the book greatly beneficial. This is what he says: “The sovereignty of God in grace does not affect anything … we have said about the nature and duty of evangelism.” He has just spent two chapters saying, “We’d better evangelize.” Now he comes back to his question that he has posited in the opening chapter, and he says, “The facts of God’s sovereignty in no way negate the previous two chapters.” God’s secrets in relation to salvation have no bearing on our clear duty to evangelize.

The banquet which God has prepared in heaven for us all will be populated as a result of the activity of his servants.

You need to read the old Puritan writers to get to grips with this, because those men pointed out that God had his secret will, that would not be known to us, and then he had his revealed will. And the Reformers pointed out that our inability to grasp his secret will could not be used as an excuse for failing to fulfill his revealed will. And his revealed will is that we should evangelize the world, and his secret will is that he has purposed from eternity to have a people of his own. So his secret will in no way prevents or forgives our responsibility to evangelize. And we may underscore this by noticing, first of all, that the belief in the fact of God’s sovereignty in grace does not negate or affect the necessity of evangelism.

So often people say, “Well, if I believe that God is a sovereign God, why, forget the guest service! Let’s just all sit on our bottoms and wait for all these people to come in and be saved! After all, isn’t that what you’re saying?” No, it’s not for a moment. God’s way of saving sinners is how? God’s way of saving sinners is to bring them to faith through bringing them into contact with the gospel. That’s how he saves.

Matthew 22:1: “Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. [And] he sent his servants to those who had been invited … to tell them to come, but they refused to come.’” It’s interesting, see? He sent them, and they refused. How did they refuse? They refused because they were human, and they had responsibility. And “then he sent some more [of his] servants … ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner,’” and so on. And eventually, as you read the story, what happens is they go out into the highways and the byways, and they populate the banquet as a result of the activity of the servants. The picture is clear: the banquet which God has prepared in heaven for us all will be populated as a result of the activity of his servants, as a result of us going out in evangelism into the highways and byways and compelling people to come in. It is by this means that God will bring to faith those whom he has purposed.

So, a belief in the sovereignty of God in grace in no way negates the necessity of evangelism.

The Urgency of Evangelism

Secondly, it does not affect the urgency of evangelism. The word of Jesus was clear, Luke 13:3: “unless you repent, you … will all perish.” “Unless you repent, you … will all perish,” said Jesus. Now what was he saying there? He was saying, “I urge you to repentance.” Hence the hymn is a great hymn: “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, … tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.”[2] And the urgency of the responsibility of evangelism is found in the greatness of our neighbor’s need and in the immediacy of their danger. They are like individuals who are asleep in a burning building, and they don’t realize. So they need somebody to go and to wake them up and say, “Listen! Don’t you realize? Wouldn’t you trust Christ?”

And we should not be held back—and again, this is Packer—by the thought that if they are not elect, they will not believe us, and our efforts to convert them will fail. That is true, but it is none of our business and should make no difference to our action. Do you see? So we can’t say, “Oh no, we’re not going to have an evangelistic campaign.” We can’t say, “We will go to those whom God has elected.” How do you know who they are? That’s why Paul, when he proclaims his word, he says, “We are proclaiming and warning and teaching”—Colossians 1:28—“every man.”[3] We warn and we teach every man.

The Genuineness of the Gospel

So, the necessity is not negated. The urgency is not negated. Thirdly, the genuineness of the gospel invitation and the truth of the gospel promises, they’re not negated either. The fact that God is sovereign in no way undermines or chips away at this truth. Romans 10:13: “Whosoever shall call upon the … Lord shall be saved.”[4] That is true truth. Right? It precedes the whole progression: “And how will they go if they’re not sent? And how will they hear,”[5] etc., “and whoever calls upon the Lord will be saved.” God “commands all [men] everywhere to repent”[6]—Acts chapter 17—and God invites all men everywhere to come to Christ and to find mercy.

How much does one need to know in order to become a Christian? Two things: one, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior. You only need to go through your Bible and underline all these amazing opportunities of Jesus. Matthew 11:28: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”[7] John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believe[s] in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”[8] My belief in the sovereignty of God does not mean that we cannot then preach John 3:16. First Timothy 1:15 (I need to turn it up; I can’t quote this one off by heart): “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Sinners! The invitation, then, goes out to sinners only but to sinners universally. “None are shut out from [God’s] mercy save those who shut out themselves through impenitence and unbelief.”

And now there’s a great quote: “Some fear that a doctrine of eternal election and reprobation involves the possibility that Christ will not receive some of those who desire to receive him, because they are not elect. The ‘comfortable words’ of the gospel promises, however, absolutely exclude this possibility.” So, no one who ever wanted to become a Christian was unable to become a Christian on account of God’s sovereignty. Do you understand that?

So we need never fear concerning our children. That’s why we will “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”[9] We won’t lie awake at night wondering if they’re elect. We may lie awake at night praying God for their salvation, and for our relationship with them, and for the nurture and admonition in which we bring them up. And if one day they do not arrive in heaven with us, it will be because of their unbelief.

And that, of course, you see, is what we find set side by side back in John 6:37. Nothing that we may believe concerning God’s sovereignty can rob the invitations of Christ of their genuine nature.

The Responsibility of the Sinner

Okay, so we said three things: that the sovereignty of God in grace in no way affects the necessity of evangelism, in no way affects the urgency of evangelism, in no way affects the genuineness of the invitation given by Christ. And fourthly, “the belief that God is sovereign in grace does not affect the responsibility of the sinner for his reaction to the gospel.” Going to say that one again: whatever we may believe about God’s sovereignty in grace, it in no way affects the responsibility of the sinner for his reaction to the gospel.

Whatever we may believe about election, the fact remains that a man or a woman who rejects Jesus Christ thereby becomes the cause of their own condemnation. There is nowhere in the Bible that we are told that sinners miss heaven because they are not amongst the elect. The only reason that people miss heaven is because they neglect so great a salvation, because they will not repent and because they will not believe. God gives men and women what they choose. He does not give to them the opposite of what they choose.

That, then, is the fundamental truth concerning these things: that the sovereignty of God in grace does not affect anything we have to say about the nature and duty of evangelism. The second thing is this (and I can only just mention it; our time is gone): the belief that God is sovereign in grace gives us our only hope of success in evangelism.

The only reason that people miss heaven is because they neglect so great a salvation, because they will not repent and because they will not believe.

See, when you begin to think this out, you realize that far from an implicit belief in the sovereign power of God negating our responsibility and effectiveness in evangelism, it is only an implicit belief in the sovereignty of God that gives us any hope in evangelism. You see, because evangelism is a hopeless task, engaged in on a purely human level. If evangelism is “Go out and convert the world by your own ability to rationalize,” if evangelism is “Go out and, by your psychological, persuasive powers, bring in the redeemed,” then it’s futility.

Obstacles to Successful Evangelism

And when we read our Bibles, we discover that there are two obstacles in the way of successful evangelism, and they’re these. Obstacle number one is man’s natural and irresistible impulse to oppose God. That’s foundational in man: “There is none that seeketh after God. … No, not one.”[10] So men and women are not wandering the streets of Cleveland looking for God by nature. You see? So to go up to them and say, “Do you feel lonely?”—of course you may get a reaction on the basis of that. “Would you like something to fill up your life?” “Yes, I certainly would. What are you talking about? Coca-Cola, or what is it? Transcendental meditation? Whatever it might be?” You see, if you approach them on the level of felt need, you can offer them anything, and you can gain many converts. But first we need to realize that “there is none that seeketh after God.”

So the individual who begins to turn their gaze towards God, although they may not realize it, is bearing testimony to the fact that God is already at work in their life. And it is only the fact that God is already at work in their life to engender faith in them that gives any power and efficacy to the evangelistic call. So we don’t need to rely on a methodology, because fact number one is that the great barrier is found in man’s natural aversion to God—and, secondly, in Satan’s activity in seeking to keep men and women in the ways of unbelief and disobedience. The fact of God’s sovereignty does not close down evangelistic zeal; it gives it power and it gives it purpose.

And indeed, that was what drove Paul on. Because if anybody understood God’s sovereignty, Saul of Tarsus did, didn’t he? See, ’cause what was he doing? Walking along the road looking for God, going to Damascus? Hey, no! He thought he knew God, first of all. He was plugged in. He had to find out that he was plugged in to the wrong socket first. So we have revelation: God speaks, Paul hears. “He speaks, and, listening to his voice, new life the dead receive.”[11] The call of Jesus to the tomb, “Lazarus, come forth,”[12] had a name on the front of it, because if he hadn’t named his name, the whole shooting match would have come out. Such is the power of his call. They all would have come out! But he called him by name: “Lazarus, come forth.”

God’s sovereignty does not close down evangelistic zeal; it gives it power and it gives it purpose.

And one day, in eternity, when we discover these things, we will praise and magnify him from our hearts. Acts chapter 18: “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’”[13] In other words, “Paul, here is the basis of your evangelism: I have many people in this city. Now, Paul, you go preach the word, and I will bring my people to myself.” Well, you see, that immediately refocuses things, doesn’t it? It takes it away from man and his ability, and it turns it to God and his power and his intervention.

Argument Ends on Our Knees

These are weighty matters. I can tell just by your faces how weighty they really are. Some of you have never thought these things through. I want to conclude by making this assertion: every single one of us tonight believes unequivocally in the sovereignty of God in the matter of evangelism, even though you may not know you do. And I’ll tell you why I know you do.

First, because you thank God for your salvation, don’t you? Now, why would you thank him for it if you are responsible for it? If salvation for you was “Hey, get smart, choose God,” then you can walk around and say, “Hey, I got smart. Why don’t you get smart like me?” And for the individual who gives his testimony that way, there is a more than even chance that he has never understood salvation at all.

Wesley, who debated Whitefield on these very questions, wrote these amazing words: “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night.” That’s total depravity. That is the human inability of man to change his circumstances. “Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray, I woke”—that’s regeneration—“the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off”—that’s justification—“my [soul] was free; I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”[14] And Wesley, you see, was a clergyman when it happened!

And the final thing is this: that we believe in it, and that’s why we thank God for our salvation; and that is also why we pray for the conversion of others. Go to the prayer meeting, and find out if people believe in God’s sovereignty, when you hear them praying, “O God, open their eyes. O God, unstop their ears. O God, soften their hearts.” Why? Because we know that if he doesn’t, we can’t; and therefore, there ain’t nobody getting saved. And it’s as simple as that.

So why the problems? Why are there problems in relation to these things? Well, there may be many answers, but part of the answer is this—and with this I close. The reason that you or I may still live with problems in this area may largely be due to a reluctance on our part to recognize the existence of mystery and to allow God to be wiser than us; our reluctance to subject ourselves to the truth of Scripture; an exalted notion of human logic, which says, “If I can’t understand it, I won’t believe it.”

Well, I want you to know, if that’s your answer to the study tonight, have a good life, ’cause you ain’t ever gonna understand it. See? You may accept it, which demands humility. You may be able to formulate it, which demands clarity. But you will never ultimately be able to explain it. Because the reconciliation of these two truths, set side by side, intersect somewhere in eternity, and we’re in time; somewhere in heaven, and we’re on earth; somewhere in God, and we are mere men.

So where does liberation come? It comes in saying, “This is the absolute truth concerning God’s sovereign plan. This is the absolute truth concerning my responsibility and human responsibility.” It is counter to the perversity of our human thinking. We would like to simplify the Bible in all our parts. On our feet, we may find argument possible. On our knees, all argument ends. The answer to these questions, as I have wrestled with them and continue to wrestle with them in my own mind, finally comes on our knees. And until we’re there, we’re nowhere.

Let’s pray together:

I found a friend, O such a friend!
He loved me ere I knew him;
He drew me with the cords of love,
And thus he bound me to him;
And round my heart [so] closely [twined]
Those ties which naught can sever,
For I am his, and he is mine,
Forever and forever.[15]

Grant to us humble hearts to bow before your secrets and your mystery. Save us from embracing one truth to the detriment of the other. Grant that we may become increasingly biblical and live with this antinomy, to the salvation of many and to the glory of your great name.

Master, let us walk with you into the days of this week, “in lowly paths of service free.”[16] For we ask it in the name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Kris Kristofferson, “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33” (1971).

[2] Fanny Crosby, “Rescue the Perishing” (1869).

[3] Colossians 1:28 (paraphrased).

[4] Romans 10:13 (KJV).

[5] Romans 10:14–15 (paraphrased).

[6] Acts 17:30 (NIV 1984).

[7] Matthew 11:28 (KJV).

[8] John 3:16 (KJV).

[9] Ephesians 6:4 (KJV).

[10] Romans 3:11–12 (KJV).

[11] Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (1739).

[12] John 11:43 (KJV).

[13] Acts 18:9–10 (NIV 1984).

[14] Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be?” (1738).

[15] James G. Small, “I’ve Found a Friend” (1863).

[16] Washington Gladden, “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee” (1879).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.