God's Mercy Under His Sovereign Will
L. R. Shelton, Sr.
There are only two religions in the world today: one is
based upon the so-called Free Will of man, and the other one is based upon
God's Sovereign, Free Grace. Free Will and Free Grace are diametrically opposed
to each other – they stand poles apart. For either one to conquer, the
other one must be destroyed. Either Free Will destroys Free Grace and becomes
lord, or Free Sovereign Grace will destroy Free Will and stand as lord of the
battle. If you are saved by Free Will, then it is by the exercise of your own
will that you are saved, and not by God's will. On the other hand, if you are
saved only by God's will – that is, by Sovereign Grace, you are not saved
by your own will. The Apostle Paul put it in these words in Rom. 4:4, 5,
"Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly,
his faith is counted for righteousness." If you are saved by your own will,
then that's works; if you are saved by God's will, that's Grace. If you are saved
by your own will, you can lose it at any time; if you are saved by God's will through
Free Grace, then you can never lose it at any time.
If you are saved by your own will, you become
your own god, and your Free Will
is set up in the heathen temple of your own mind as your idol. If you are saved
by God's will, which is by Sovereign Grace, then the Lord Jesus Christ becomes
your Lord and your Saviour. My friend, there is no affinity between Free Will
and Free Grace. This has been the controversy, not only in the religious world
today, but ever since Christ went back to Heaven from Mt. Olivet. Free Will
versus Free Grace has divided mankind and has decided the destiny of every
individual for Heaven or for Hell. The question is, "Does God save me, or
do I by the use (we might say) of common grace, save myself? Does God have all
the glory in my salvation?" As one great writer has put it, "Does God
by sovereign election and choice make me, from unwilling, willing – or do
I elect my own self, and initiate salvation, and will because I
have power? And do I still contend that men can come to Christ without the
drawing of the Father?" I believe it was C. H. Spurgeon who said, "If
there is one thread of works in your so-called salvation, you are lost, and
never have been saved."
We are not fighting a new battle; we are fighting
a battle that is as old as
the human race. I know modern-day theology teaches "The day of Free
Sovereign Grace is over. It might have worked back yonder in other ages with
the great reformers, but they have had their day; and modem thought and
modem-day theology must replace Free Grace in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Free will has whittled our Bible to pieces. Free
will has exalted and deified man, humanized the Lord Jesus, and minimized sin.
Free will puffs up the pride of man, exalts the so-called glory of
man, magnifies the natural talents of man, and begins with man
in salvation. Free Grace begins with God and works down to man. Free Grace exalts the
Lord Jesus Christ as Lord of lords and King of kings. Free Grace puts man in the dust as a
depraved, lost, ruined sinner where he belongs, preaches him into Hell and leaves him there,
with no hope except Christ crucified, buried, and risen. Free Grace always abases the sinner
and exalts Christ. Free Grace gives the preacher a supernatural voice crying, "Thus
saith the Lord"Free will preaches ethics without the Holy Spirit, but Free Grace preaches
regeneration, the great doctrine that lays man stripped naked and helpless before God. Free grace
shuts man up to the faith which is the gift of God. Free Grace preaches that salvation is of
the Lord (Jonah 2:9). Now that gives you just a little contrast between Free Will and Free Grace.
Now to the testimony of God's Word: I want to read to you two seemingly
contradictory texts. The first one is found in Rev. 22:17, "And whosoever will, let him take the
water of life freely." And the other text is found in Rom. 9:16, "So then it is not of
him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." Immediately a blinded
fellow would say, "Well, the Bible contradicts itself." Let's see whether it does or not.
"Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." Let me ask you a question, Do
you want the "water of life"? No, you don't want it, do you? If you did, you would take
it. So then, "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that
sheweth mercy," and puts in your heart the desire to come.
May I make this statement, Rev. 22:17 is the only place in the Word
of God that this expression "whosoever will" is found. The word "whosoever"
is found in many other places, but this is the only place in God's Word where the expression "whosoever
will" is found. We find in Rom. 10:13 these words, "Whosoever shall call upon the name
of the Lord shall be saved." And we find in Matt. 11:28 these words, "Come unto me, all ye
that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Then we find in John 6:37 these words,
"All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast
out." But our two texts stand in seeming opposition to each other – Rev. 22:17, "Whosoever
will, let him take the water of life freely," and Rom. 9:16, "So then it is not of him that willeth,
nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." Now, my friends, you cannot interpret Rev. 22:17
in the light of Free Will, and then interpret Rom. 9:16 in the light of Free Sovereign Grace.
Let me ask this question, "Is a sinner saved by his own will, or is he
saved by the will of God?" That's a question you must answer. Is a sinner saved by his own will, or
is he saved by the will of God? I was saved by the will of God. Eph. 2:1 says that sinners are dead in
trespasses and sins. Can a dead man have a will of his own? Can a dead man believe? The burden of proof is on you.
Now let's turn to Psa. 110:3, "Thy people shall be willing in the
day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning." So we see from this
Scripture that God has to make a sinner willing by His sovereign power. Christ over and again said,
"Ye will not come to me that ye may have life." Writing to the church of Thyatira in
the third chapter of Revelation, Christ speaking of the pastor's wife, whom He called Jezebel, said,
"She repented not," or literally, "She willed not to repent." A sinner
dead in trespasses and sins cannot will himself to repent, he cannot will himself to believe, because his
will is held in bondage by his old depraved nature and his deceitful, unbelieving heart; therefore, any
individual apart from the will of God does not and cannot will to be saved in Christ. He may have
a natural desire to go to Heaven; he may have a natural fear of Hell, but only Sovereign Grace can turn
a sinner's will to will to come to Christ.
Let's listen to the Word of God, "But as many as received him,
to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were
born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John
1:12, 13). So you see here God has to give the sinner power to become a son of God, who is born of
the will of God. So salvation does not begin with the sinner's will, but with God's will. Listen again
to the Word of God, "Even so the Son quickeneth (makes alive) whom he will"
(John 5:2 1). We see here that the salvation of every sinner rests upon the Sovereign Grace of God to
make alive whomsoever He will. No sinner would ever will to come to Christ until first he is
made alive in Christ and given power to come to Christ.
Now let's turn to John 6:44 and read, "No man can come to me,
except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day."
Here was a group of unsaved religionists who were murmuring among themselves about the Lord Jesus and
His teaching that He was the Bread of Life, the Manna sent from Heaven. They began to say among themselves,
"Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, who was born out of wedlock, whose mother was a
harlot?" Jesus, looking them in the face – and, I believe, more or
less, in sarcasm – said, "All right, go on and make fun of Me, if you
please; but remember one thing, I am the Son of God who should come into the
world. I am the Saviour of men; I am the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of
the world, and 'no man can come to Me except the Father which has sent Me draw
him.' " That shut them up.
The same thing is still true today. You
modernists can go on making fun of
God's Word; you can call it folklore, if you want to. You can deny the Virgin
Birth of Christ if you please, make fun of His death on Calvary, preach that
there is no resurrection from the dead, deny the verbal inspiration of the
Bible, but this great text stands as a Rock of Gibraltar immovable in the face
of every one of you, "No man can come to me (Christ), except the Father
which hath sent me draw him." You can deny that, if you want to – you can try to
explain it away – but it still stands. It has been there for nearly 2,000 years, and no
sinner ever has been saved or ever will be saved, except he be made alive by the power
of the Holy Spirit and be drawn to the Son by the Father.
How does the Father draw a sinner to Christ? Jer.
31:3 says, "With lovingkindness have I drawn thee."
God chose that sinner in love; He predestinated him in love; He calls him in
love; He makes him alive in the love of Christ. He draws him with
lovingkindness and accepts him in the Beloved, according to His own sovereign
will. Read the first chapter of Ephesians. No man would ever come to Christ if
he could help it. He wouldn't! The only thing God has to do for you to go to
Hell is just to let you alone – just let you alone, and you will go your
own way and wind up in Hell. It would be laughable if it weren't so tragical
– there are some folks who are afraid to be associated with me because
they are afraid they will catch my religion. My friend, it doesn't rub off like
that! You don't catch religion like you do the measles. You can be associated
with me all your life and never get saved.
Now let's look again at God's Word,
"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 own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ"
(Eph. 1:11, 12). We see here that God works all things after the counsel of
His own will to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. So it is not the sinner's
will, but God's will. This is brought out so clearly in Phil. 2:13,
"For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good
pleasure." From these Scriptures, my friend, we will see that salvation hinges entirely
upon the will of God. The reason that you cannot see that thing is because you are totally depraved,
and "if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath
blinded the minds of them which believe not (blinded by the god of this world)." Therefore,
you are not only dead in trespasses and sins, and not only is your will held in bondage by your depraved
nature, and you cannot choose Christ because your old depraved nature hates
Christ, but you are blinded and cannot see.
Now let's notice another condition of every sinner, as set forth in
II Tim. 2:26, "And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil
(Satan), who are taken captive by him at his will." This the sinner does not know, that he is
held captive by Satan at Satan's will.
Now, that's your trouble! In other words, Satan, who holds you captive, has a
greater will than you have. Now if you don't believe that, let the Lord awaken
you to the fact that you are lost and you will see you can't deliver yourself!
You see, when God saves an individual, He has to deliver that individual from
Satan's power. Therefore, salvation is not only by blood, but by power. To tell
you that you are a son of Satan and are held captive by Satan at his will means
nothing to you unless the Holy Spirit opens your blinded eyes and lets you see
that you are held captive as a prisoner by Satan. Then your will is not only
held in bondage by your depraved nature and unbelieving heart, but it is held
captive by Satan. Therefore, you are thrust into the inner prison and held fast
in the bonds of your own depraved nature and the power of Satan.
Now isn't that an awful condition for you to be
in, and then you stand up and
tell me, "Oh, I can believe, I can be saved at just any time that I want
to; it doesn't make any difference if I get ready at my last minute on my
deathbed. I can be saved when I want to"! Brother, that's a lie Satan has
crammed down your throat: you can't do it!
Then for you to be rescued, the Holy Spirit must
visit you and make you alive in Christ, as we read in James 1:18,
"Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of
firstfruits of his creatures." Then the Apostle Paul writing to the Corinthians said,
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature (creation) "
(II Cor. 5:17). Now this brings us face to face with this great fact, that every sinner has to
be born again, born from above, regenerated, made a new creature in Christ; and no sinner wills
of his own accord to be made a new creature. This is wholly the will of God, which is expressed
so clearly in Rom. 9:15, where the Lord says, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." Now that's clear, isn't it?
That's God's Word. Are you going to believe it? No – you won't! You'll throw up your hands,
saying, "I don't believe it." Now, why don't you believe it? It is because you have never
been touched by the Grace of God. Your eyes are blinded. You can't see, and you will never see it
until the Holy Spirit opens your heart and mind.
Now what is the evidence that an individual is one of
God's chosen or elected ones? This is brought out so clearly in I Cor. 2:4, 5, when the Apostle
Paul said, "My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom,
but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of
men, but in the power of God." The outstanding evidence that any sinner is one of God's
elect is that the Word of God goes home to that sinner's heart in demonstration of the Holy
Spirit and in the power of God, until that sinner is awakened to his lost condition and begins to
cry, "God, be merciful to me a sinner." This is God showing mercy to a sinner.
Luke 4:32 says that the people were astonished at the teachings of Christ, for "His word
was with power."
John 1:12 says that God gave them power to become the sons of God.
The Apostle Paul writing to the Romans said. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ:
for it (the Gospel) is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth"
(Rom. 1:16). This truth is set forth clearly in John 17:2 (Christ speaking of Himself said),
"As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many
as thou hast given him." We see here that Christ has power over every individual, and He
gives eternal life to as many as He chooses. Listen again to the Word of God, "Hath not the
potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the
vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the
vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the
Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?" (Rom. 9:21-24). You see, my friend, you are either a
vessel of wrath or a vessel of mercy: "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy,
and whom he will he hardeneth." "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that
runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy" (Rom. 9:18, 16). We come back to our same conclusion,
based upon God's Word which cannot be broken, that Christ does not stand before the sinner to be
accepted or rejected, but every sinner stands before Christ to be accepted or rejected by Him, based
entirely upon the will and purpose of a sovereign God. This exalts God on the throne as Sovereign and
puts man down at His footstool. That makes a sinner mad. David Brainerd said, before he got saved, it
made him so mad he could have killed God if he could have gotten his hands on Him. Yes, sir! It makes
a sinner so mad when he finds that he has to stand before God to be accepted or rejected, to be saved
or damned. Now that's the position that God puts every sinner in. It's foolish for a sinner to say he
can believe any time. My friend, if you have never come to the place that you can't believe, you are
not saved. As long as you can point back and say, "Here is where I believed and God saved me," you are not saved!
Listen! the very moment God begins to open a sinner's heart, that is the moment
he begins to repent, and that is the moment he begins to believe. Then he keeps
on repenting and believing until God delivers him. There is no definite place
where you can say that you believed and God saved you, or you repented and God
saved you. You begin to repent, you begin to believe, and after God saves you,
you keep on believing and repenting until you get to the Pearly Gates.
It is all of God. It is all of Grace, and nothing is of Free Will.
Did you ever stop to think, my friend, that you
don't deserve mercy? There is
nothing in you for God to love until God puts it there. Did you ever stop to
think that you are lost, fallen spirits living in a body fit for Hell? Did you
ever stop to think that in your bosom is a miniature Hell, in which dwells
every kind of viper? Did you ever stop to think that if God let you alone, you
would go to Hell of your own choice, because you are a miniature Hell on earth?
The only reason God chooses anyone to salvation according to His own purpose is
because the sinner cannot make the choice himself – God has to make it for
him. If God didn't make the choice, no one would ever get saved. So Sovereign
Grace sits upon the throne; Free Will is a heathen idol and must crumble at the
feet of Sovereign Grace. Free Will is the heathen idol that will crumble at the
feet of Sovereign Grace when the sinner gets saved.
When Free Will is destroyed and God unshackles
the will of the sinner and gives
him grace, he can believe. So then the invitation to that one is –
"Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."
There comes such a thirst and a hunger in that sinner's heart for Christ that
he can't be still. He's crying. "Lord, Lord, help Thou my unbelief. Lord,
give me faith to believe. Lord, give me grace to lay hold of Christ." And
the individual who ever lays hold of Christ never turns loose! because it is by
Sovereign Free Grace that he has laid hold of Christ. He never turns loose,
because God never turns him loose. That is the Word of God, and I'll stake my
eternal destiny upon it!