Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-17-54 10:50 a.m.
You’re listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message from the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans – from the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans. In our preaching through the Word, for the last several Sundays now, we have been in this eighth chapter of Romans – one of the great chapters of the Bible and one of the great revelations of God.
The title of the message this morning is The Witness of the Spirit, and the reading from the text is in Romans 8:14-17 and 26 and 27. Romans 8:14:
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the children of God.
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, "Abba" – the Hebrew word for "father."
The "Spirit itself" you have in your King James Version. In the Greek, the word for Spirit is neuter gender. So many languages do not have gender like we have in English. To us, a thing is masculine gender if it’s masculine; it’s feminine gender if it’s feminine; it’s neuter gender if it’s neuter. That’s the English language; but in many, many other languages, they have grammatical gender, not actual sexual gender. So in the Greek, the Spirit – the word for spirit pneuma is neuter. It’s neuter gender.
Now in translating the Bible, they translated the word grammatically correct. They were trying to do exactly like it said in the original. So you have it translated here the "Spirit itself" [Romans 8:16]. That is an exact grammatical translation. But it ought to be, if you translate it in our English language, it ought to be masculine: "The Spirit Himself."
You ought never – we ought never, ever – to refer to the Holy Spirit of God as an "it. It." The Spirit of God is a personality. He is a member of the Godhead. He is One of the Trinity. So in your King James Version, when you read that, the "Spirit itself" [Romans 8:16], remember, that is a grammatical translation. What we ought to read it is "the Spirit Himself." So we’ll do it from now on.
"The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ" [Romans 8:16-17].
Now, the twenty-sixth verse:
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself
– once again, pneuma auto –
the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings
– sighs, yearnings which cannot be said in language –
which cannot be uttered.
And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit
– not that we could or can or do but the Spirit –
because He maketh intercession for the saints, according to the will of God.
Now, the message is entitled The Witness of the Spirit, and in this passage we have read, there are two. There is the witness of the Spirit within us, to us [Romans 8:16]. There is the witness of the Spirit before God – Intercessor, interceding, intercessory supplication before God [Romans 8:26]. Those are the two parts of the sermon: the witness of the Spirit to us in our hearts and the witness of the Spirit intercessorally in heaven before God.
The witness of the Spirit within us is the witness that we are the children of God. Romans 8:16: "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." And in the verse above: We "have not received again the spirit of bondage to fear" [Romans 8:15].
Could I illustrate that? In the day that Paul lived, that was far more regnant than it is today. To illustrate it by a scene that a world traveler would find today: the little country of Siam is one of the most interesting and unusual little nations of the world; and for many, many years, not because it is regnant dynamic today – religion over there is just nominal – but for many, many years, they lived in a Buddhist spirit world, and the spirits were everywhere. That’s the reason that in their rooftops when they build a roof, they’ll come down with the gable and then out with the eave – go out like that. The air was filled with spirits, and when the spirits hit a house, why, they soaked the roof out like that at the end of it. Gave it a little sweep like a chicken tail, swept it out like that, because a spirit always follows a straight line.
So if you didn’t have that sweeping out, why the spirit would hit the roof and drop right down there by the side of the house and come in the door. So they turn up the edge of the roof like that so when the spirits hit the house, they’re turned up and shoot out into the space and the firmament beyond and so don’t bother the house beneath.
Now, when you go to a temple in Siam, they are the most unusually colored and the most unusually made in architecture. They sometimes – in those porcelains by which they made them – sometimes they’re breath-taking; and you look at it, and you say, "Truly this is the product and the ingenious workmanship of one of the most unusual peoples in all of this world." It will amaze you. There’s nothing like it in the earth.
But you go up there to that temple and stand in that temple court and look around you, and again, I say, you will be amazed because the guards that are there in bronze and in brass and in porcelain and in marble – those gods, those guards, are the most fierce-looking creatures that you ever saw. They look like they come out of the pit of the dark, out of the night of hell. And the whole religion is framed together and posited on the basis of an everlasting, unendurable fear – afraid of everything: afraid of the sun by day and of the moon by night and afraid of the spirits that crowd and press from every hand. And that is typical of all heathen and pagan religions. They live in cringing, mortal fear before everything, and their whole religion is one of placating the spirits.
Now, to the child of God:
Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the spirit of adoption
– the children of the Almighty and enlightened God of life and light –
whereby we cry, "Abba, Father."
For the Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God.
Now, the witness of the Spirit is to the greatest conception and persuasion that a mortal man could ever have. When the seventy came back to the Lord Jesus, the Bible says: "And they came back rejoicing, saying to the Lord, ‘Why, even the devils are subject unto us’" [Luke 10:17]. They could do miracles. They could speak, and it was done. They could put their hands on the sick, and they were healed [Luke 10:9]. The miraculous power of God was in their very fingertips, and they were rejoicing over such miraculous presence. And do you remember what the Lord Jesus said? The Lord Jesus said: "In this rejoice not, that miracle, that power, is in your very fingertips. In that rejoice not. But rather rejoice that your names are written in the Lamb’s book of life" [Luke 10:20]. Rejoice that you are a child of God. Rejoice rather that you’re saved – that some of these days, we’ll see God’s face when we die; that we’ll live forever. "In that rejoice: that your names are written in heaven" [Luke 10:20].
Now, if I could take the opposite of that. If the cause, the real cause, the only basic cause, for a man’s rejoicing is that he’s saved, that he’s a Christian, that his name is in God’s book in heaven, then the opposite of that is true. A cause for infinite and indescribable sadness is this: that a man doesn’t know whether or not he’s saved, whether or not he’s a Christian.
Are you saved? Are you a Christian? Are you born again?
"Well, Pastor, I hope so. I think so. I want to be."
And then sometimes a man will answer the pastor like this: "Well, Pastor, I go to church" or "I was baptized" or "I go to confession" or "I try to pay my debts" or "I try to live right" or "I give to the poor."
I was seated in an airplane that was filled and just had one seat remaining, and I sat down by a fine-looking man. He was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and as we were going through the air, he pulled out a little book and was reading it. It was about the first time I had seen a man on an airliner read a little book like that. I looked at it and followed the pages as he turned it. The book was entitled How To Become A Christian. As we rode along, I finally summoned up temerity enough to put my hand on his arm and say, "Sir, I’m very interested in the book you’re reading."
He looked at me and said, "You are?"
I said, "Yes. I see it’s entitled How To Become A Christian." I asked him, "Are you a Christian?"
And his answer was this. He said, "Sir, I was made a member of the church – a formal, ritualistic church – I was made a member of the church when I was a baby. As a very small child, I was christened, I was baptized." But he said, "In these years since, I’m afraid I haven’t done much about it; and we live in a community, and we go to the church in our community – my family and I." But he said, "Whether I’m a Christian or not, I don’t know, and one of my friends gave me this little book."
Well, I got to talking to him, and he gave me that little book. He said, "My friend will give me another when I go home," and he gave me that little book. And I took it home and read it myself. I thought as I sat by that man and talked to him: "Isn’t it a shame? Isn’t it a shame that so much of Christendom," and that includes all of us – I don’t look askance at them and not at us – "that so much of Christendom comes into the faith, into the fellowship, into the communion of the church, and they come nominally. They do not come experientially. They do not come dynamically. They do not come with a vast and an infinite and an unspeakable and an indescribable assurance. But they live in a spiritual limbo: ‘I hope so. I would like to think so. I should be.’"
But all these things are not enough. They don’t suffice. For a man to build his hope and to build his salvation on maybe a habit of going to church or upon something that happened when he was an unconscious infant or upon some measure of morality to which he may give his life today, these things do not suffice [Isaiah 64:6]. Our salvation, our assurance, must rest upon something far more primary and fundamental and unsinkable and enduring than these things that a man might inhabit or having one time might have done.
Now, this thing of being a child of God: how do I know? How shall I find? How shall I learn? With what assurance can I face such an all-important question as that?
All right, let’s look at it. Who calls me a Christian? Who calls you a Christian? "Well, the pastor says I’m a Christian." That’s all right. Or, "The deacon says I’m a Christian." That’s fine. "My neighbor says I’m a Christian." That’s good. "My business associates say that I am a child of God." That’s good. "My whole neighborhood speaks well of me." That’s fine.
I do not minimize any of these testimonies, but tell me, you men who are lawyers, isn’t it true that in a court of law, it’s not so much what a man says, but it’s who is saying it that bears weight in any court? A dozen rascals could swear to a lie. That doesn’t prove the truth. The man’s character and who he is – he is the one whose testimony bears tremendous and everlasting weight.
Now, for the pastor to say I’m a Christian or the Sunday School Superintendent or the teacher or the neighbor or the family or the business associate – that’s good. But our great and primary witness must always be the corroboration of God Himself.
In your heart, in your deepest soul, what does God say to you? "The Spirit Himself," God in us, "the Spirit Himself beareth witness to our spirit" – with our spirit, deep in our soul – that we are the children of God, that we belong to Him, that we’re saved, that we’re Christians [Romans 8:16], "Whereby, we cry, ‘Abba, Father’" [Romans 8:15] – our Father.
Now, a word about that child and father God relationship. You are not a child of God by virtue of your physical and fleshly birth. You are not born into this world a child of God. Paul writes – and we’ve been preaching on that for Sundays now, especially these Sunday evenings – Paul writes – and if we accept the Word of God this is inescapable. Paul writes that by nature, by physical birth, we are the children of wrath [Ephesians 2:3]. We are the children of judgment. By nature, we are not children of God.
Well, what about that catch phrase: "The fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man?" In no sense is that a true philosophy regarding spiritual things. We are the children of God by birth in the sense that a bug is, in the sense that an insect is, in the sense that a star is, in the sense that an ocean and a continent are. We are the creatures of God, all of us, in the sense that God somehow made us and created us [Genesis 1:1-2:25; Psalm 139:13-16; Colossians 1:16]: the bugs, and the bees, and the insects, and the germs, and the stars, and the planets, and the sidereal spheres in our universe. In that sense, we are all the creatures of God. But in no sense is a man a child of God, a son of God, until he is born of the Spirit – until he is born again [John 1:12-13, 3:3]. Until, as Paul uses the word here, he is adopted into the family of the Almighty [Romans 8:15-17].
We are children of God by the new birth – by being born again. One-time born is not enough. A man to be a child of God must be twice born – two-times born – born of the Spirit [John 3:1-21]; and when a man is born of the Spirit, he has the witness of God in himself [Romans 8:16]. "It is the Spirit" – and this is your Scripture reading this morning we shared together: "It is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is true . . . If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater . . . He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself" [1 John 5:6, 9-10]. A child of God has God in him – has the Spirit of the Lord in him [Ephesians 1:13; 1 John 5:10] – and the Spirit of the Lord witnesses on the inside to that man that you are God’s son [Romans 8:16; 1 John 5:]. "You are God’s child." He whispers that in your soul. Now, I do not think that any man of God ever fails to have that assurance. The witness of the Spirit on the inside of his heart: "You’re a child of God. You belong to God" [Romans 8:16].
In Powhatan James’ biography of George W. Truett [George W. Truett: A Biography, 1939] – the only place I have ever seen printed the story of the deep, intimate sorrow that came to the great pastor of this church. In a hunting trip, due to an accident by his own hand, the pastor killed a man. Because of the accident, the man’s life was taken away. The man died from the hurt and injury of that accident; and he was a wonderful, fine man – the chief of police, I think, in this city. And it plunged the great man into an inexpressible sorrow, into a depth of despair that only a sensitive spirit like his could ever know.
And the people began to wonder, "Will he preach again? Will he stand in this pulpit again? Will he come back to this church again?"
And in that biography by Dr. James, that little intimate story is related. In the depths of his despair and in the night of his impenetrable sorrow, there appeared to him in a vision the Lord Jesus Christ saying, "Do not be afraid. From now on, you are My man." And the pastor rose to face the tasks of a worldwide ministry that increased in unbelievable power, and he never, he never wavered. He never fell away from that tremendous assurance of the witness of God: "Do not be afraid. From now on, you are My man."
In the Boston Common, there is a statue of a great preacher named Phillips Brooks, and the marvelous thing about that statue is this: that the sculptor cast back of that wonderful preacher the likeness of Jesus Christ. And the Lord Jesus has His hand on Phillips Brooks’ shoulder, and the preacher stands there as the emissary and the ambassador and the spokesman of God. And right back of him is the Lord Jesus with His hand upon Phillips Brooks’ shoulder.
The witness is from God. "You are My man. You are My child. You belong to Me" – the witness of God, and that witness is in every Christian’s heart. Somehow, it’s always there. Somehow, we never get away from it. The witness, the whispering, the testimony of God: it’s in your hearts, in your hearts.
A. Ackley was asked: "How do you know that Jesus lives?"
And he said, "Why, I read it in the Bible, and I read it in history."
And the unbelieving questioner said, "But I don’t believe the Bible, and I don’t believe in history what it says about Jesus. I don’t believe He ever lived!"
Ackley replied quickly, "I know that He lives because He lives in my heart. The witness is in my heart."
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s weary way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me, "How do you know that He lives?"
He lives within my heart.
[From "I Serve a Risen Savior," by Alfred H. Ackley, 1933]
The witness is in your soul, and you never get away from it. Never! Never! Not all of us live on the mountaintop all the time. Not all of us give ourselves to intercessory prayer all the time. Not all of us live to our highest usefulness all the time. But you never get away from the witness of the Spirit. He whispers, "You’re a child of God. You belong to God. You’re a servant of the Lord."
I come into those things so many times and in unusual and strange ways. In a little city in the state of Texas, holding a revival meeting in the downtown church, I was asked by a sobbing wife if I’d go out and speak to her husband. I went out. Guess where I went? Guess what he was doing? On the edge of town, he had a honky-tonk. On the edge of town, he had a beer parlor and a dance hall on the edge of town. And I went out there and introduced myself to him: "I’m the pastor of this church, and your sobbing wife asked if I wouldn’t come to see you."
He looked at me. "So you’re the preacher and the pastor of that church."
We went to the back to a little room, and he shut the door and sat down there by my side and said, "I am so miserable I don’t know what to do. I am so unhappy. Life to me is a burden."
I said, "You know why? You’re a Christian. You’ve been saved, and the Spirit of God whispers in your heart every hour of every day and night that you run this joint, ‘What you doing here? What you doing here? What you doing here? What are you doing here?’"
And as he talked to me, he just broke down: "That’s right, and I’m so miserable I could die."
That’s the witness of the Spirit. You never get away. "What you doing here? What you running this thing for?" Well to make it come out like most times God makes it come about, he got rid of his place. He sold the thing. He got rid of the dump; and with his family and with his children back into that glorious church, got him another job.
The witness of the Spirit: it’s in you. If you want to know whether you’re a Christian or not, go out and try the life of the world and see if on the inside of your heart, there doesn’t rise up some other – up. He’s just like a man talking to you, and He’ll whisper, "What you doing here? What you doing here? You’re a child of God. You’re a child of the King" [1 Kings 19:9-18].
"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God" [Romans 8:16]. That’s the witness on the inside of the heart. Now, in the moment remaining, the witness of the Spirit to God:
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities – our weaknesses. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
Now, dear people, all I can do is just go to the brink and look over into the unfathomable depths, the impenetrable mysteries, of the wisdom and grace and goodness of Almighty God. Or to turn it upward, all I can do is just go outside and look into God’s infinite and illimitable firmament and marvel at the stars and the universes and the infinitude of the great heavenly of heavenlies that rises above us.
I cannot enter into the mystery of this verse: "We know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" [Romans 8:26].
I remember back there in the second chapter of the Book of Exodus, the last verses of the Book of Exodus – I remember that word "groaning" used, and God heard it. The verse goes like this. The children of Israel were down in the land of Egypt, and the Bible says:
And the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried; and God heard their cry. And God listened to the groaning of the children of Israel by reason of their bondage . . .
And the Lord had respect unto the sighing and the yearning and the crying of the children of Israel.
[Exodus 2:23, 25]
It’s the same thing here. We who are in this place do groan within ourselves [Romans 8:23]. The [twenty-sixth] verse: "And the Spirit helpeth our infirmities. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" [Romans 8:26].
Burdened in this life, living in this house of clay, we don’t know how to pray as we ought, and we don’t know what to pray for as we should – lost like sheep with our minds clouded, and our spirits dulled, and our bodies weak, filled with every infirmity that flesh is heir to – burdened. How do you do, and what do you say? And how do you pray? And what do you cry for? And how do you place in language, in sentence and word, some of those unutterable things that the spirit feels but can never say? What do you do? What do you do? How do you approach the great God? How do you stand before the mighty King?
Like Abraham said: "Behold, God, I have taken upon myself to speak unto Thee, I who am but dust and ashes" [Genesis 18:27].
How do you do? And what do you know to say? And how do you say it? Our infirmities – this is the answer of the Book. We are to cast the burden of all of our weaknesses and of our infirmities of the things that we don’t know and cannot do, we are to cast them all upon the Holy Spirit; and He, He pleads for us. He prays for us in our stead with sighings, with yearnings, with groanings that are not capable of being expressed in language [Romans 8:26], and the great God our Father – He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit pleads and prays and makes intercession for us according to the will of God [Romans 8:27] just as God would have it done.
You notice that word "intercession" is twice used there? "The Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us." [Romans 8:26] And in the next verse: "Because He maketh intercession for us" [Romans 8:27] – God our Father. And when you put it in words like this – and I don’t know how to say it. It looks like we’re tearing the Trinity apart, but I don’t know how to say it other than this. God our Father who made us, in whose hands all things are, God our Father who has the judgment of our souls and of our will before Him, who holds this earth in the fine balance as though it were just a piece of dust – God our Father, and at His right hand is Jesus, our Savior, interceding in heaven [Romans 8:34], and in us, and by us, and for us is the Holy Spirit pleading, interceding, pulling for us here in earth [Romans 8:26].
And that’s the status of the child of God: the Lord Jesus able to save to the uttermost because He ever liveth to make intercession for us [Hebrews 7:25]. Jesus interceding at the right hand of God in heaven, and the Holy Spirit, with groanings which cannot be uttered, making intercession, pleading for us here in the earth [Romans 8:26]. And isn’t that a glorious revelation of the infinite grace and mercy of God? The Lord Jesus.
"Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died," [John 11:32] said Martha and said Mary to the Lord Jesus.
And the Lord said: "It is expedient that I go away; for if I go away, He will come" [John 16:7] – the Paraclete. You have it translated "Comforter." You can’t translate "Paraclete." The Holy Spirit: "If I go away, He will come." The Holy Spirit: the "One alongside" is the literal word – the "One alongside" – the Helper, the Exhorter, the Guider and Keeper. The Paraclete: the One called alongside.
"If I go, I’ll send Him to you that He may abide with you forever" [John 14:16]. How close is God to you? This close, like my breath; that close, like my hands and my feet – that close! Like my heart, that close. God is that near – the Paraclete, the Spirit bearing witness, our Helper, is at hand.
In discouragement He says, "Be of good cheer" [John 16:33]. In perplexity He says, "This is the way. Walk ye in it" [Isaiah 30:21]. In youth He says, "Remember! Remember!" And in old age He says, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" [Hebrews 13:5]. In service He says, "I’ll go with you to the end of the world" [Matthew 28:20]. In our supplication He says, "I will answer thee" [Jeremiah 33:3]. In our giving He says, "Prove me and see" [Malachi 3:10]. In our faintness He says, "I will uphold thee by the power of My right hand" [Isaiah 41:10]. In our burden He says, "Casting all your care upon Him" [1 Peter 5:7]. And in our weariness He says, "I will give you rest" [Matthew 11:28] – the witness of the Holy Spirit of God!
And He talks to you this morning. Dear people, if it depended upon my poor sermons and my feeble words to be saved, you’d never make it; and if these services depended upon the poor stammering eloquence of this pastor, you’d never come. But the power of the message of God doesn’t rise with the preacher in any eloquent peroration [1 Corinthians 2:1-5]. The power of the gospel message of Christ is in the Spirit bearing its word to your heart.
And He speaks [John 16:13]. He always speaks: to one who’s lost, to trust in the Savior; to one in the city, to put his life in the church. And He speaks to your heart this day. Would you listen and would you respond? "Here I come, Pastor. Today I’m opening my heart to the Lord Jesus."
"As many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the children of God, even to them that trust in His name" [John 1:12]. And some of you into the fellowship of His church – as the Spirit shall lead and direct and say the word, while we make appeal today, would you come? "Here I am, Pastor," or, "Here is my family."
All of you or one somebody of you, while we make appeal – in that topmost balcony, anywhere from side to side – would you come? Would you make it now? "Here I come, Pastor, and here I am." Give me your hand. Give your heart to God. Put your life with us in this church and in this precious ministry. Would you so? Would you now while we stand and while we sing?