The Greatest of the Promises
October 24th, 1965 @ 10:50 AM
THE GREATEST OF THE PROMISES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-24-65 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Greatest of the Promises. It is the kind of a sermon that we just need hours to develop. I got part of the way through it this morning at the earlier hour; The Greatest of the Promises.
In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, and verse 4:
And, being assembled together with them—
Jesus assembling with His disciples—
He commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the Promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me.
For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence.
Which is a like promise our Lord refers to in the last chapter of Luke as He went with His disciples to the top of the Mount of Olives and gave them the great worldwide Commission. He said, “And, behold, I send the Promise of My Father,” the exact words, “the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued, until ye be clothed with power from on high” [Luke 24:49]. Somebody has counted the promises in the Bible and said that they number more than three thousand, but there is only one that is called “the Promise of the Father”; just one, just this [Acts 1:4].
There are two great promises in the Bible; two all-inclusive promises. They are sort of the same thing. And I am not able to enter into the personality of deity, but they are the same kind of a thing; these two horizon to horizon, eternity to eternity promises. The first one: there is a Savior who is coming.
- In Genesis 3:15, “And the Seed of the woman shall crush the serpent’s head”; Someone is coming.
- In Genesis 49:10, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a law-giver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” Someone is coming.
- In Isaiah 7:14, “A virgin shall be with child, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” [Matthew 1:23].
- In Isaiah 9:6, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulders: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”; He is coming.
- And in Jude, “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints” [Jude 14].
- And in Revelation, “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him” [Revelation 1:7].
There is a promise through all of the Word of God. There is a Savior who is coming.
There is a like promise, and when we divide deity, it’s something that to me is so we can understand God. There are words that try to bear a burden of truth that words can’t bear. But there is another glorious promise in the Bible. In the second chapter of Joel, verses 28 and 29, the great prophet says that:
It shall come to pass in the last day that God will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream with dreams:
Even upon My maidservants, upon My slaves, and upon My menservants, will I pour out My Spirit in those days.
Not just it shall be a Samuel who is filled with the Spirit of the Lord; not just upon a David who shall sing in the power of the Lord; not upon just an Isaiah who shall see visions of the Lord; but “Upon all flesh will I pour out My Spirit.” And the humblest, even the slave, the menial, the lowly, upon them will the power of God rest. And they will see visions, and dream dreams, and prophesy [Joel 2:28-29].
What a marvelous thing that God says shall come to pass. And that is called the promise of the Father [Luke 24:49]. The reason for it is very apparent. In these discourses of our Lord in the upper room recorded in John 14:15-16, the Lord said, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, another Paraclete.” “Comforter,” just one little facet of the rich meaning of that word Paraclete, parakletōs; “He shall give you another parakletōs, that He may abide with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth [John 14:16-17]. But the Paraclete,” who is the Holy Spirit, “whom the Father will send in My name; He will teach you all things [John 14:26]. But when the Paraclete is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, He shall testify unto thee” [John 15:26]. That is why it is called the promise of the Father [Luke 24:49].
And when our Lord was raised from the dead and ascended into glory, and entered heaven, He carried with Him captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men [Ephesians 4:8]. And the superlative gift; the incomparably glorious, and heavenly, and celestial gift; the greatest of the promises is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit [Joel 2:28].
Now I speak of that greatest of the promises in comfort; second, in power; third, in truth; fourth, in salvation. First: “He is coming,” said our Lord. “I shall send Him,” said our risen and glorified Savior, “I will send Him that He may be with you; My alter ego, My other self, My very presence; I will send Him, that He may encourage you and comfort you, strengthen you, and stand by you” [John 14:16-17]. For you see, when the Lord made announcement to His disciples that He was going away [John 16:5]––and in what a tragic way, to be crucified and to die [John 19:16-30]––the Lord said, “Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart” [John 16:6]. Sorrow, understandable, explicable, our Lord gone away; even as Mary Magdalene wept at the grave, “For they have removed the body of my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him” [John 20: 11-13].
Forsaken, orphaned, without God, the Lord gone away; “sorrow hath filled your heart [John 16:6]. But for comfort, I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, even the Spirit of truth, that He may abide with you forever [John 14:16-17]. I will not leave you, orphanos” [John 14:18]. Isn’t that an unusual word, “I shall not leave you orphanos”? The singular “orphanos,” orphan, “I will not leave you,” translated “comfortless” here; “fatherless,” without a God, without a Savior. “I will come to you” [John 14:18]. And in the context, easily you can see He refers to the Holy Spirit. “I will come to you, the Comforter, even the Spirit of truth” [John 14:16-17]. And He was poured out; the presence of Jesus, the Spirit of God, upon the twelve [John 20: 22]. And they were strengthened in the Lord and became mighty in their witness to Jesus. But not just upon them, not just upon the twelve [Acts 2:1-4]; upon us, to this present day and to the end of time, until God shall come down, as we sang in the song: “O mighty eternal God come down.” Until then when we see Him in His bodily presence and face to face [Revelation 22:3-4], He is with us in His presence, the Spirit of Jesus [John 14:16-17].
“For where two or three,” said He in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst”; Jesus, the Spirit of God with us. And again in Matthew 28:20, “And I will be with you unto the end of the age”; the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus with us; here in this great congregation [1 Corinthians 3:16], the Lord present; and in our souls, our individual hearts [1 Corinthians 6:19], God with us; and for ever, in life, in death, in the resurrection, in the great consummation when we stand in His presence, God with us and for ever. “That He may abide with you for ever” [John 14:16]; for comfort, for strength, for encouragement; God isn’t out yonder somewhere. God isn’t beyond the reach of my arm, or my touch, or the call of the sound of my voice. God is near. God is closer than my hands and my feet, nearer than the breath that I breathe; “that He may abide with you for ever” [John 14:16].
I heard a missionary one time recount an experience in the middle of Africa. He’d been captured and placed in a hut to be slain the next day. And in the darkness of the night, he had escaped and climbed high up in a tree. And when it was discovered that he was gone, the savages lighted torches and searched through the jungle; and any minute they might have found him. But he said up there in the top of that tree, “I had the blessed presence of God with me, beyond what I’d ever experienced in my life.” And then testifying to us, he said, “With all of its danger, I wish I could go back to that hour, when I cringed for fear in the top of that tall tree; thinking any minute I might be found, any minute I might be slain; but oh, the presence of God with me.”
On this preaching mission I made some years ago through the Orient, Dr. Rankin, Dr. Rankin described the place and I was there where he had been interned during the war between the Japanese and the Chinese. He was a missionary in China. And when the Japanese invaded, he was taken prisoner. And he said, “I had a Japanese soldier on one side of me and a Japanese soldier on the other side. And I was marched into that concentration camp with no idea of what the future might bring. But,” he said, “I never had the peace and presence of God in my life, I never experienced it so as I did when on either side of me a Japanese soldier I was marched into that concentration camp.” The presence of God for encouragement, and for comfort, for strength, for health; He is not out in yonder somewhere as though we were searching for Him on some far away planet. But He is here [1 Corinthians 3:16], and in us [1 Corinthians 6:19], and can speak and whisper words in our souls. And the ear of faith can hear Him.
The greatest of the promises, for comfort, the greatest of the promises, the outpouring of the Spirit, for unction, for power, for attestation, for affirmation, for confirmation, for conviction––I wish we had time to go through this third chapter of the second Corinthian letter. Paul calls this age the age of the ministration of the Spirit [2 Corinthians 3:8-9]. This is the age of grace. This is the age of the display of the power and glory of God in Christ Jesus. Oh, what an incomparable privilege to live in this day in which our life and lot have been cast! And Paul calls this gospel the ministration of the Spirit [2 Corinthians 3:8-9].
This is the day of the rulership and the sovereignty of the holy presence of God. And in doing this, he contrasts the ministry of the Spirit with the ministry of the letter of the law; the Bible, the Old Testament, in its words, in its language, in its letters. And he contrasts that with the might, and glory, and power of the presence of the Spirit of God in his witness, in testifying, in confirming the revelation of Jesus [2 Corinthians 3:10-12]. Then he does it in an unusual way.
When Moses was given the letter of the Word of God, God framed it and wrote it out in His own finger, with His own finger, on tables of stone [Exodus 31:18]. And God gave it down to Moses. And when Moses came down from the mountain, having communed with God, his face shined like the sun. And Moses veiled his face that the people of Israel might look upon him [Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:13].
Now you look how Paul will use that. This ministration of the Spirit, so glorious, and one that never fades away, “not as Moses, who put a veil upon his face, that the children of Israel should not look to the end of that which is abolished: but their minds were blinded: for unto this day, the veil remaineth upon them, untaken away” [2 Corinthians 3:7, 13-15]. For in the reading of the Old Testament, the letter of the word, in the reading of the Old Testament, the veil is not done away. But that veil is done away in Christ, and in the outgiving of the Spirit. “Nevertheless,” I’m glad he parenthesized here, “when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away” [2 Corinthians 3:15-16].
Some day Israel will see, and feel, and be convicted, and be converted, and see their Lord as He is. That veil someday will be taken away. But what Paul is doing here, he is contrasting the Word of God, the Word of God––even as I hold in my hand the revelation of the Lord––he is contrasting the Word of the Lord when it is by letter, and the Word of God when it is by the power of the Spirit. And he is saying when you separate the ministry of the Spirit from the ministry of the Word, you destroy the Word and the revelation of God. Like you destroy a man when you separate his spirit from his body—he is a corpse, he dies, so it is when you separate the Spirit and the power of God from the ministry of the Word; you destroy the testimony of the Lord. As Isaiah 59 says, God’s Word and God’s Spirit must go together [Isaiah 59:21].
I wonder if I can illustrate that in your life. There are many, many of our people who are familiar with these movies of great biblical characters. There will be Moses, and the Ten Commandments; there will be David and Bathsheba; there will be Samson and Delilah, and other of those movies. I’ve only seen one of them; I saw The Ten Commandments. I have not seen David and Bathsheba, and I have not seen Samson and Delilah. I am sure that they are tremendous presentations as Hollywood would present it. But that’s what I’m going to talk about, the letter of the law, the letter of the Word, the Bible in itself; contrasted with the Bible in the Spirit and in the power of the Lord.
Now I understand and I was introduced to this by Cecil B. DeMille. I understand that in the making of these religious films that archaeologists study and search; and antiquarians read and ferret out, and those films are made after long and studious background. Then they’re placed of course in that Hollywood cast based on celluloid, and we sit there, and look at them. But after you have seen it and after you have watched it, there is not in it, there is not in it such a thing as you will find under the Holy Spirit of God, as the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews; which will recount the life of Samson as being a hero of faith; oh, Samson, a hero of faith! [Hebrews 11:32].
See, that’s the difference between the letter of the Book, between the Scripture revelation, the story as it is told in ink and the power of God upon it in Spirit! How Samson, a hero of faith, why, it is evident that tremendous man, so great and strong, and now so weak, and the Philistines put out his eyes, and blinded him. And they bound him with fetters of brass, and he ground and ground [Judges 16:21] like a dumb animal at the prison mill, around, and around, and around. Then upon a day the Philistines said, “Bring in Samson, that we may make sport of his God, and of his people, and of his power” [Judges 16:25]. So they brought in Samson in the temple of Dagon, and they made sport of God Jehovah, and of the chosen people Israel, and of his own pretensions to power.
After they were weary of their mockery and blasphemy they shoved him aside, and a little lad led the blind man by the hand. And after they’d come to the side Samson said to the lad who led him by the hand, he said, “Son, would you take one of my hands and put it on the pillar which the building rests, and take my other hand and place it on the other pillar on which the building rests?” [Judges 16:26]. And the lad took the hands of Samson and they embraced the great pillars on which the building rest. And he bowed his head, and he prayed, “O Lord God, hear me just this once. O God strengthen me just this once.” And he bowed his great shoulders, and prayed, “Now Lord let me die with the Philistines” [Judges 16:28-30].
Would you have done that? Did you ever know of an Atlas, or a [Eugen] Sandow, or the strongest man you ever heard of or read of in your life, who would pray to God for strength to pull a great building down? Did you? You see God is not saying in ink just the life of a man, but God is writing by His Holy Spirit, a story of faith and commitment [Judges 16:28-30]. And there’s the difference; by faith, Samson [Hebrews 11:32-33].
A man can preach in all of the learnedness of academic achievement, or oratory, or man’s wisdom; and a choir can sing according to all of the beautiful teachings of a learned and gifted teacher; and a church can do according to all of the assigned duties of a fine organizational system, but the preacher is dead, and the choir is dead, and the church is dead unless it is quickened by the living presence of God. There’s a difference in preaching by the letter and preaching in the unction and power of the Holy Spirit. “Bestowed upon us,” says Paul, “for glory, for power, for unction; the ministration of the Spirit: for the letter killeth, but the Spirit maketh alive” [2 Corinthians 3:5-6].
A third avowal: the greatest of the promises, the Spirit of God poured upon us, for truth. Oh, this world maybe it has always been this way, but this present world in its contradictions, and in its bevel of voices, false philosophies, and false ideologies, and false directives, and false cults, and false religion, false words, and false everything; this world, this present world––and how does one know the truth, and how do you find the truth, and how do you learn the truth? It has always been this way. It is no different now than it was on any other day. The false prophet arises on every street corner, speaking through every announcement, in every editorial, in every broadcast. The false prophet is always here and he’s always stepping forward as though he were a spokesman and a plenipotentiary from God.
In the Old Testament they battle the false prophet always. Sometimes he was an emissary of a heathen god as on top of Mount Carmel when they prayed to Baal, “Send the fire” [1 Kings 18:22-29]. And sometimes it would be an emissary who self style called himself a spokesman from Jehovah Lord. The prophets battled, and confronted, and wrestled with them always. For example, Jeremiah says, “The Lord says, ‘I have not sent these prophets, yet they run. I have not spoken unto them, yet they prophesy’” [Jeremiah 27:15]. Ezekiel writes, “This is the word of the Lord saying, Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel; thus saith the Lord God, Woe to you foolish prophets that follow your own spirit, and have seen nothing!” [Ezekiel 13:2, 3]. The whole Bible is filled with that, all of it.
Jeremiah and Hananiah; Jeremiah stood up and said, “Because of the sins and iniquities of this nation, Nebuchadnezzar of the Chaldeans shall come and destroy this people” [Jeremiah 25:9]. And in token thereof, Jeremiah wore a yoke around his neck, and went through the streets of the city of Jerusalem with a yoke around his neck [Jeremiah 27:2]. And Hananiah said, “I am a prophet of God, and I say to you by the word of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar himself shall be destroyed; and he will never come against the city, and he will never touch this city nor touch this holy temple” [Jeremiah 28:10-11]. And Hananiah went to Jeremiah and broke the yoke from off of his neck [Jeremiah 28:16]. Jeremiah turned to him and said, “Hananiah, this year thou shalt die” [Jeremiah 28:16]. And Nebuchadnezzar came. Carnal security, false hopes from a false prophet [Jeremiah 28:17].
I don’t suppose there’s a child who goes to Sunday school that isn’t familiar with the story of Micaiah and Zedekiah. When Ahab sought comfort to go against Ramoth Gilead, and Micaiah said, “And you go, and you will come back a corpse.” And Zedekiah said, “Not so, not so. Ahab, go and find victory and come back with laurels of triumph” [1 Kings 22:1-28]. You know the story, in the battle at Ramoth Gilead, an archer drew back his bow at a venture, without aiming, and let fly the arrow. And that arrow found a crease in the harness of Ahab and pierced his heart, and his blood flowed out in the chariot; and they brought him back dead; the false prophet [1 Kings 22:34-35].
And it was no less prophesied for us in this day. Peter says, “But there were false prophets among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you and many shall follow them” [2 Peter 2:1-2]. Then John says, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” [1 John 4:1]. And we listen to them on every hand, these who say this, and these who say that, and these who say the other thing. Well, how do you know the truth? How do you find the truth? Where does a man speak the truth of God? That is the ministry of the Holy Spirit [Luke 24:49; John 14:16-17; 16:13].
And when one opens his heart and asks God for an ultimate and final answer, the Spirit of God is there to say it and to give it. I may not understand. I may not be able to explain but there is no time in your life, never, there is no time in your life when you seek the directive of heaven but that the directive of heaven is yours, “the Spirit of truth,” whom the world cannot receive…but you know Him” [John 14:17] and He will whisper direction, and solutions, and answers to your soul.
I have just a minute left. May I speak of the Holy Spirit of God for salvation; this greatest of the promises for salvation? You see, the Lord is present among us for regeneration, and for sanctification, and for cleansing, and for the enablement for all good works. But oh, oh, what heaviness is brought with that announcement that the Spirit is here, testifying to the merit of the blood of Jesus; witnessing to the redemptive grace of our Lord, wooing a man’s soul to come to Jesus? But oh, oh,
Verily I say unto you, All sin shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and every blasphemy and rejection whereby they shall blaspheme and reject; But he that shall reject the witness of the Holy Spirit, he that shall call the appeal of the Holy Spirit false, shall say nay, shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, has never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.
[Mark 3:28, 29]
And this last word of John, “There is a sin unto death: I do not say that ye shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin [not] unto death” [1 John 5: 16-17]. God doesn’t have another Son to sacrifice. God doesn’t have another Holy Spirit to bring to us the mediation of that sacrifice. And when I say no, and when I reject, and when I turn Him down, there is nothing left, nothing else, nothing beside but an eternal condemnation [Mark 3:28-29]. O Lord, O God, if I am to be saved, I must listen to the still small voice that speaks to my soul.
And in this moment that we sing our hymn of appeal, and in this moment when our people pray, and in this hour when you are here; if God speaks a word of appeal and invitation to you this morning, would you come? “O Lord, the best I know how, I open my soul, and heart, and mind, and life to the leadership of the Holy Spirit of God. I ask God to forgive my sins. I ask the Lord to take my life, and here I come [Romans 10:8-13]. Here I am.” A family you; a couple you; one somebody you; as the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, come. Make it now. Make it now. “Here I am, pastor. Here I come.” Any way that God would lay His appeal, His word of invitation, upon your heart; if the Lord bids you come, come now; make it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.