The Deep Things of God
January 10th, 1965 @ 8:15 AM
1 Corinthians 2:9-10
THE DEEP THINGS OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 2:9-10
1-10-65 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message on the Holy Spirit of God. I have entitled it The Deep Things of God. In the second chapter of the first Corinthian letter, Paul writes, “That eye has never seen, and ear has never heard, and the heart has never been able to imagine the things God hath prepared for them that love Him. But,” Paul says, “God hath revealed it unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” [1 Corinthians 2:9-10].
The first rule of homiletics, of preaching, is this: that the preacher is never to preach his doubts, or his perplexities, or his uncertainties; but the preacher is always to proclaim his convictions and his assurances. And this is the first time that I can remember in all of the many years of my preaching ministry that I have ever broken that homiletical rule. A long time ago, I announced in this pulpit that I would begin delivering sometime soon a series of sermons on the Holy Spirit; but no such series has been forthcoming.
And the days and the weeks and now the months have passed; and I have yet to announce even the beginning of that series of studies on the Holy Spirit. And the reason is very plain: I have fallen over my head. There are so many perplexities, and there are so many unanswered questions; and there are so many deep and unsearchable things that pertain to the very heart and character of God until I just—I just don’t have the answers yet.
Now several have asked me . . . that is an astonishing thing! I had one member of the church come to see me and to say, “I don’t understand that, I don’t see that.” So the sermon this morning is a brief outline, and it has to be very brief, of the perplexities that I face as I have entered this study of the Holy Spirit and why the long delay in the delivering the series of sermons. I want to have an answer when the sermons begin. And I want to be able to say with assured conviction that these are the truths of God when once I begin to deliver what to me will be God’s message concerning the third Person of the Holy Trinity.
Now, a brief outline of the perplexities that I face: first of all, the delicacy of the subject itself. In the passage of Scripture that we read together in the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, our Lord said of the Holy Spirit, “for He shall not speak of Himself. . .[John 16:13]. He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you [John 16:14]. He shall glorify Me” [John 16:14]. But, “He shall not speak of Himself” [John 16:13]. The Holy Spirit always remains in the background, in the hidden sanctuary of God. And when we probe into the Holy Spirit, we probe into the very sanctum sanctorum, into the very Holy of Holies, of the character and the presence of God. “He will not speak of Himself” [John 16:13]. The Holy Spirit is sensitive, like a dove; and how easily will a dove fly away. There is a delicacy in this intrusion into the holiest of all holy revelations of the Lord. The Holy Spirit is always in the background. “He shall not speak of Himself” [John 16:13].
I quote from one of the great theologians who lived in the last century. He said,
The need of divine guidance is never more deeply felt than when one undertakes to give instruction in the work of the Holy Spirit, so unspeakably tender is the subject, touching the inmost secrets of God and the soul’s deepest mysteries. We shield instinctively the intimacies of kindred and friends from intrusive observations. And nothing hurts the sensitive heart more than the rude exposure of that which should not be unveiled, being beautiful only in the retirement of the home circle. Great delicacy befits our approach to the holy mystery of our soul’s intimacy with the living God.
[“The Work of the Holy Spirit,” by Abraham Kuyper]
I think of our approach to this subject in the same way that Isaiah looked upon the scene of the throne of God, in the sixth chapter of his prophecy. The nearer we come and the more we know—or would know—the more removed we are from assertiveness, and ostentation, and boasting, and learnedness. For when Isaiah saw that glorious scene of the Lord, he described the seraphim who minister in the presence of the great God. And in describing those holy creatures, he said:
with twain, with two wings, they covered their face. And with two wings, with twain, they covered their feet. And with two wings, with twain, they lifted themselves from even the contact with the earth.
So, our looking upon the holy mystery and the secrets of God; Lord, we cover our faces, we cover our feet. We would not even touch a polluted earth. So holy, so holy, so holy! [Isaiah 6:3]. That’s the first thing: the intimacy and the delicacy of the subject.
A second thing: as you enter any study of the Holy Spirit of God, you will find there is nothing said about Him but that is bitterly contested. It is a doctrinal battleground and has been from the very beginning. In the story of the early centuries, the churches and the theologians were divided over the presence, and the personality, and the definition, and the delineation of the Holy Spirit of God.
In the 200s, Sabellius—who is the ancient father of modern Unitarianism—Sabellius denied the person and personality of the Holy Spirit. He said, “The Holy Spirit is nothing but a modal form of God, an influence. Arius, of the 300s—the greatest heretic of all time—declared that the Holy Spirit was a creature of the Son of Jesus; as Jesus Himself is a creature of the Father. The story of the theologians and the churches of the middle centuries is an astonishing story! For it was over the Holy Spirit that the great split came in the church between the Eastern church, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Western Church—the Roman Church, the Latin Church. They split over a doctrine of the Holy Spirit of God.
In the Nicene Creed, 325 AD, in the Council of Nicaea, the Creed stated that the Spirit proceeded from the Father; though it was commonly believed that the Spirit also proceeded from the Son. In the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD, the same creed was reiterated: the Spirit proceeded from the Father, though commonly believed that He also proceeded from the Son. But in the Council of Toledo, in Spain, in the Council of Toledo in 589 AD, a representative convocation of only the Western Church—the Roman Church, the Latin-speaking church—they added to that creed one word, Filioque—“and the Son.” The Holy Spirit proceedeth from the Father and the Son.
There were no representatives in the Council of Toledo from the Eastern church, from the Greek church, and when they added that Filioque, “and the Son,” to the creed, it angered the Greek, the Eastern Church. And thereafter, there was a doctrinal war between the two until finally, in 1054 AD, the two branches of the church anathematized each other. They cursed each other, and that split lies to this present day. You have an Eastern Church, a Greek Orthodox Church; and you have a Western Church, you have a Roman Church. And they divided over that doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit The Eastern Church said—and they quoted John 15:26:
But when the Comforter, the Paraclete, is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father. . . .
That was the case of the Eastern Church: it was said, they quoted, “He proceedeth from the Father.” But the Western Church quoted, in the next chapter, a passage you just read, in the seventh verse:
…It is expedient for you that I go away: if I go not away, the Paraclete, the Spirit, will not come; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.
So the Western Church said, “The Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son.” So they divided over that doctrine! And that division, you see to this present day.
I haven’t time even to begin to mention the violent, divisive doctrines current today in Christendom concerning the Holy Spirit of God. I point out one, that doubtless you are not aware of. Within recent centuries—within recent years—our Baptist churches have had violent disagreements and disassociations from each other concerning the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
Now here is one of them: did you know it has not been too long ago when many of our Baptist churches said, “There are three ordinances? And immediately you think baptism [Matthew 28:19], the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-30], and washing of feet [John 13:3-17]. That is what many of our Baptist churches have said.
But there were also others who said, “There are three ordinances in the church: one, baptism [Matthew 28:19]; two, the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28]; and three, the laying on of hands. And they quoted Acts 8:17, “And laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” And according to the doctrine and practice of those Baptist churches, no man ever was received into the fellowship of the church until first he had been baptized [Matthew 28:19]; and then, kneeling before the deacons and presbyters and pastors of the church, they laid their hands on their heads, that they might receive the Holy Spirit [Acts 8:17].
Now I come to a third delineation of why the long hesitancy of the pastor in delivering the series of sermons on the Holy Spirit. I refer to the almost endless difficulties, almost endless difficulties of finding what to me would be a truth, the truth. And I’m not going to stand here and preach those sermons until I find that conviction in my soul that what I say is the truth of God. Many of these things are beginning to resolve in my soul as I study, and pray, and search the mind of the Lord. But I want to delineate some of the difficulties that I face, some of them I have already resolved; others, I am still praying and studying about. But I want you to know of them.
Here is one: the very nomenclature itself is very difficult. What is the difference between the baptism of the Holy Spirit , and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit, and the infilling of the Holy Spirit? What is the difference in those designations? Some of them are positional, and some of them are experiential. And when you mix up what is experiential with what is positional, you will find yourself bogged down and lost in the truth of the revelation of God concerning the third Person of the Holy Trinity.
Now I need to explain even that. What is the difference between a thing positional and a thing experiential? A positional reference is to something up there in heaven; our relationship to God. And it doesn’t enter our feeling or our experience at all. For example, adoption is one of those. We are adopted into the family of God [Galatians 4:5]. And we are made a joint heir with Jesus Christ [Romans 8:17]; but that is something up there in heaven. It is something not experienced at all.
When your name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 21:27], you never saw that finger. You never saw that hand. You have not seen that book. That is something up there in heaven. It is a positional thing. It is a positional relationship, our adoption into the family of God [Romans 8:15].
But something that is experiential would be the infilling of the Holy Spirit [Ephesians 5:18]. If the Holy Spirit came in tremendous, and great, and inconceivable, and immeasurable power upon us, and nearly shook us to the depths of our souls, that would be experiential. Some of those things are positional. We never feel them at all. We never experience them at all. There are things that describe our relationship with God, up there in glory. And some of these things are experiential: down here in this earth. That is one. The very nomenclature is not easy, especially that baptism of the Holy Ghost [Matthew 3:11].
All right, a second thing: the reception of the Holy Spirit is how men differ; the reception of the Holy Spirit, when He comes to us. For example, this is the position of theologians whom I admire limitlessly and immeasurably. You listen to this: “One can be indwelt by the Holy Spirit only once, but each day thereafter can bring a new submission to the control of the Spirit of God. The believer will never have more of the Holy Spirit than he has the instant he accepts Jesus Christ as personal Savior. Our problem day-by-day is not getting more of the Spirit, but letting the Spirit have all there is of us. We have—the instant we are saved—all of the Holy Spirit we shall ever have,” say these theologians I admire so much. “And the only thing that remains,” they avow, “is for the Spirit to have more of us.” For example, their interpretation of this passage in the eleventh chapter of Luke:
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?
Now listen to the comment by one of these tremendous theologians:
Christ limited to His immediate followers during His life on earth, the possibility that the Holy Spirit would be given to those who asked for Him. We have no record that the disciples ever acted on this promise. And in contrast, we have the promise of Christ that the Spirit would indwell them after His departure.
[author and work unknown]
And of course, the passage would be John 14:16, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter (another Paraclete), that He may abide with you forever.” So these theologians say, “All of the Spirit we shall ever have, we receive when we are converted—that instant. And we are never to ask for the Holy Spirit. We are never to pray for the Holy Spirit, because He is already here, and we have all of Him we’ll ever have; it’s just for the Holy Spirit to have more of us”: the reception of the Holy Spirit.
And then the corollary: is there just that one experience and that alone? And there is not any other experience beyond the reception of the Holy Spirit when we are converted? And is that all? And is that all? Is there a second work of grace? Is there another experience that a Christian can have just as definitely as his conversion when he receives the Holy Spirit of God? Are there two of those experiences? One, when I am saved, and another when the Holy Spirit—they are not using the word correctly—but when they say, “when we are baptized of the Holy Spirit,” referring to the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts? “Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” [Acts 8:17]. Is there a separate experience like that?
John Wesley would say, “Yes.” John Wesley had that second experience at Aldersgate when the Holy Spirit came upon him, and his soul was strangely warm. Any man who has ever read the intimate life of Dwight L. Moody knows of that experience, when he was walking down Wall Street in New York City, and the Holy Spirit of God—for whom he had been praying of baptism from above—came upon him. And he was taken to a friend’s room. And finally, such waves of the Holy Spirit came upon him that Dwight L. Moody prayed to God to stay His hand lest he die. And thereafter, when Moody stood up to preach, the power of God was in His message: a definite and separate experience.
R. A. Torrey writes extensively of the same thing, believing in a very definite second experience of grace. Wilber Chapman did the same thing. On and on and on, these men of God, for whom we thank God upon every remembrance of them, testify to that second experience: definite, just as definite as their conversion. And yet, practically all of the remainder of Christendom will avow that that is nothing other but a repetition of the infilling of the Holy Spirit that comes again and again and again.
In the second chapter of the Book of Acts, verse 4, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” [Acts 2:4]. In the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, verse 8, “Then Peter”—who had been filled with the Holy Spirit in the second chapter [Acts 2:4]—“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said. . . .” [Acts 4:8]. There he is, in-filled again, and in the thirty-first verse of that fourth chapter, “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” [Acts 4:31]. These are the same people that were filled in the second chapter [Acts 2:4]. Is that true? There is no such thing as just one separate experience as your conversion; but the experience could come again, and again, and again, and again. What is this experience when the Holy Spirit in-fills us?
All right, another difficulty: what is the difference that Pentecost made? Did Pentecost make a difference? Is there a difference in dispensation in the Old Testament, before Pentecost, and in the New Testament, after Pentecost? For example, in the Old Testament, 1 Samuel 16:14, it says of Saul, “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” The Spirit of God departed from Saul.
In the Old Testament, in that penitential Psalm, David cries, “O God . . . Cast me not away from Thy presence: and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me” [Psalm 51:10-11]. In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God could be withdrawn from a man. But the theologians say that in the New Testament that cannot be done, because the Lord said, “I will send you the Paraclete, and He will abide with you forever” [John 14:16]. He never is removed or taken away. What is the difference in the dispensation? What is the difference in the administration of the Holy Spirit of God before Pentecost and after Pentecost?
And we must close. I point to one other. What are these nine gifts of the Holy Spirit? What are they? Where are they now? And if we had a New Testament church—a primitive church, a church of this Book—would we have those same gifts? In the twelfth chapter of the first Corinthian letter:
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
For the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
[1 Corinthians 12:4, 7]
Then he names nine of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, “To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge . . . to another faith . . . to another the gifts of healing . . . to another the working of miracles . . . to another prophecy . . . to another the discerning of spirits . . . to another divers kinds of tongues … to another the interpretation of tongues” [1 Corinthians 12:8-10]. What about those nine gifts of the Holy Spirit?
Let’s just take one of them: healing, healing. “to another, the gifts of healing” [1 Corinthians 12:9]. Oh! My soul is bared before God, in agony, in supplication. Look at this: a man is asked,
“If you had been living when Christ was on earth,
And had met the Savior kind,
What would you have asked Him to do for you,
Supposing you were totally blind?”
The man considered and then replied,
“I expect that, without doubt,
I’d have asked for a dog with a collar and chain
To lead me daily about.”
How often thus, in our faithless prayers,
We acknowledge with shame, surprise;
We have only asked for a dog and a chain,
When we might have had opened eyes.
[author and work unknown]
Yet, if someone proposes to have the gift of healing, why not walk up and down the corridors of Baylor Hospital and heal the sick? In the story of the Lord at the pool of Bethesda, in the fifth chapter of the Book of John, the story says there was a multitude of impotent folk, blind, halt, ill, and He healed one of them. He healed one of them [John 5:1-9].
In the Lord’s sermon, in the fourth chapter of the Book of Luke, in the Lord’s sermon at Nazareth, He said, “There were many widows in the days of Elijah.” He was sent to one at Zarephath in Phoenicia [Luke 4:25-26]. The Lord said, “There were many lepers in the days of Naaman, in the days of Elisha the prophet, and there was one who was healed—a Syrian [Luke 4:27]. What about the gift of healing? And when James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, says in the last chapter of his book:
Is there any among you sick? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil . . .
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he has committed any sins, they shall be forgiven.
The anointing with oil: half of your theologians will say—and they will take instance after instance, where the rubbing of oil was a medicinal approach to the illness of the day—and half of your theologians will say, “It’s a symbol of the Holy Spirit of God and was the healing from the Father.” The gift of healing [1 Corinthians 12:9]; what about that today?
And the gift of divers kinds of tongues? [1 Corinthians 12:10]. You know it is hard for me to get away from the fact, after Paul had written the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians and he came to the conclusion of it, he said, “Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues” [1 Corinthians 14:39]. What about the speaking in tongues? What about that?
We must close. Out of all of it, out of all of it, as I pray, and as I study, and as I beg God, and as I ask of the Lord, and I don’t know when this series is going to begin, but I want an answer from heaven. I want God to tell me something about healing, and about the enduement, and the endowment, and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. And I want an answer to these experiences of Charles G. Finney, and Wilbur Chapman, and Dwight L. Moody, and R.A. Torrey, and the experience of churches such as a Moravian movement that began at Herrnhut, under Zinzendorf—the whole church, what they called, ‘baptized’ with the Holy Spirit of God. I want an answer. I want an answer. Lord, give me an answer.
And the reason the apostle Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” [1 Corinthians 2:3]. And as I said at the beginning, any one that draws nigh to God will have that feeling: the opposite of boasting, or prideful knowledge, or ostentation.
I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And 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.
[1 Corinthians 2:3-5]
Lord, not just the theology, and not just the doctrine, and not just the delineation, and not just the discussion, but Lord, the reality. If there are miracles, Lord, perform one here. And yet, if it were ostentatiously done, it would deny the whole purpose of God.
Lord, if there is power, send the Holy Spirit upon us here. But it could never be done with the purpose of prideful boasting. It would have to be done in our weakness, and in our reverential awe and fear, and in our trembling in the presence of God. O Lord, speak to our hearts, and show us Thy truth, and bestow upon us—if God can trust us with it—bestow upon us Thy presence and Thy power. I feel like calling for a prayer meeting. The days of prayer will come.
Now we are late. On the first note of the first stanza, somebody today to give himself to the Lord; somebody today to put his life in the fellowship of the church; a couple, a family, or one somebody you, while we sing this song of appeal, would you make it now? Make it this morning, come now. While we stand and while we sing.