The Greatest of the Promises
October 24th, 1965 @ 8:15 AM
THE GREATEST OF THE PROMISES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-24-65 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 message entitled The Greatest of the Promises. It is the kind of a sermon that one ought to have one hour, two hours to preach on. So the presentation of the message will be very succinct. It will just be a suggestion almost of the infinite depths of riches that lie back of the truth that is preached.
In the first chapter of Acts and the fourth verse:
And Jesus, being assembled together with the disciples, 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.
That exact nomenclature, “the Promise of the Father” [Acts 1:4] is also said in a like manner in the last chapter of Luke, when they were led by the risen Lord to the Mount of Olives, and they were commissioned to carry the message of salvation, of redeeming grace throughout the world. The Lord said, “And behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you: but tarry in the city of Jerusalem, until you be endued—until you be clothed—with power from on high” [Luke 24:49].
Someone one time remarked that there are more than three thousand promises in the Word of God. Think of it, how many assurances the Lord has bestowed upon us—more than three thousand. But I point out there is only one of all the promises in the Bible that is called “the Promise of the Father” [Luke 24:49]. Now, this refers, of course, to the word of our Savior:
I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another paraklete—
translated “Comforter,” which is just an infinitesimal meaning of the word paraklete—
He will give you another paraklete, that He may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth.
But the paraklete, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things.
But when the paraklete is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me.”
The promise of the Father: the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world to make His abiding place in the church, in the congregation [1 Corinthians 3:16], and in our individual souls [1 Corinthians 6:19].
As I think through the whole Word of God, all of it together, there are two tremendous promises, two. And they are alike because they concern deity and who could enter into the personality of deity.
The first promise: there is a Savior who is coming, reiterated through the whole Word of God. He is coming.
- Genesis 3:15: the Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head, shall crush his head; the promise.
- Genesis 49:10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.”
- Isaiah 7:14: there shall be a virgin with child, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which being translated is God with us [Matthew 1:23].
- Isaiah 9:6: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty Father, the Everlasting God, the Prince of Peace.”
- Or in Jude: “Behold, He cometh with ten thousands of His saints” [Jude 1:14].
- Or in Revelation: “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him” [Revelation 1:7].
That is the refrain that runs through every syllable, and every sentence, and every paragraph, and every chapter of the Word of God; He is coming, a Savior is coming.
Now in the same vein, and I repeat, to enter into the personality of deity is beyond what a man made of dust and ashes could ever understand or ever know, but in the same vein, there was another promise given. There shall be poured out, said Joel in his great second chapter and twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth verses, there shall be poured out upon the earth the Holy Spirit of God, upon all flesh, bondservants, maidservants, menservants, slaves. And they shall prophesy. Not just an Isaiah or a Samuel, but among the humblest and the least of God’s children. They shall see visions and dream with dreams [Joel 2:28-29].
Then our Savior made that marvelous prophecy as at hand, as at hand. “You wait, you tarry just a few days, not many days hence, and there shall be poured out the Promise of the Father” [Luke 24:49; Acts 1:5].
Ah, what stupendous, and indescribable, and incomparable things the Lord hath done for us when He entered on high, taking captivity captive, and bestowing gifts unto men [Ephesians 4:8], and the greatest is the presence of the Holy Spirit of God.
Now just for a few moments—and you ought to take hours for each one of them. First: this greatest of all of the promises, it refers to the presence of Jesus with His children. He spake of it with His disciples, the twelve, “Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your hearts” [John 16:6].
When the Lord announced He was going away, being delivered into the hands of sinners to be crucified [Luke 24:7; John 16:5], “sorrow hath filled your hearts” [John 16:6]. It fills our hearts to this present hour just to think that our Savior should have so suffered. “Sorrow hath filled your hearts” [John 16:6], but the promise of the Father [Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4], “I will pray the Father, He shall give you another Paraclete, Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth [John 14:16-17]. I will not leave you comfortless” [John 14:18]. You think of the same word in our English, it’s orphanas, orphans. “I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you” [John 14:18].
And as you can see in the context, He is speaking of the promise of the Father [Acts 1:4; Luke 24:49], “I will come to you,” the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, will come to you [John 14:18]. “I will not forsake you” [Hebrews 13:5].
And that same promise is to all of His children through all time [Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4]. Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst,” the Holy Spirit of God. And in the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew and the twentieth verse, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. His presence is our strength, and our refuge, and our comfort. God is not out yonder somewhere. God is not in a far place where you must send by post or by messenger. The Lord God is with us, here and in our souls. This is to be our comfort: “I will not leave you orphans,” alone. “I will come to you” [John 14:18].
I heard a missionary say, in the middle of Africa he’d been seized and was to be slain the next morning. And that night he escaped and ran away and up into a tall tree. And he said they found that he had escaped, and with torches those savages were running through the forest and lighting to see if they could rediscover him and recapture him. And that missionary said, “Never in my life did I feel the presence of God as I did up there in the top of that tree. Any minute they might find me, but I never felt the presence of God so near.” And he said, “I would go back to that hour if I could just feel once again God as near as I did in that moment of danger.”
Making a trip through the Orient one time on a preaching mission, Dr. Rankin of sainted memory, now in glory, at that time the head of our Foreign Mission Board, Dr. Rankin said, “This is the little isle where I was incarcerated, placed in a concentration camp when the Japanese invaded China,” and he was there as a missionary. And he said, “When I entered this concentration camp,” and it was right there; he said, “When I entered that concentration camp, there was a Japanese soldier on either side of me, and I had no idea what the future might hold.” “But,” he said, “I never felt the presence of God so with me as when I entered that concentration camp and on each side of me, marching, a Japanese soldier.”
“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” [John 14:18]. This is the promise of the Father [Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4]—never alone, never; and not out yonder somewhere beyond arm’s lengths, but right here in this presence and in our souls.
Then it has another tremendous significance, the promise of the Father, the coming of the Holy Spirit from heaven: this is the age, administration, and dispensation [Romans 6:14], this is the government of the Holy Spirit of God, this day in which we live. Ah, how fortunate and how blessed that our lives were cast in this hour, and in this day, and in this dispensation. In the third chapter of the second Corinthian letter, Paul calls this very gospel the ministration of the Spirit [2 Corinthians 3:8-9]. And He uses the word—oh, I wish I had time to read that chapter and discuss it with you! He uses that phrase, “the ministration of the Spirit” [2 Corinthians 3:8], in contradistinction to the ministration of the letter of the law, of the Word itself, avowing that “the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life” [2 Corinthians 3:6].
And then he uses as an illustration Moses and the law [2 Corinthians 3:7-15]. When Moses was given the letter of the law, written by the finger of God on tables of stone [Exodus 31:18], he came down from the mountain, and Moses wist not that his face shone [Exodus 34:29], but the people could not look upon him for the glory that shined in his face. So Moses covered his face with a veil [Exodus 34:33]; then Paul uses it—Moses covered his face with a veil; that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished [2 Corinthians 3:7, 13]. Then he follow; “And their minds are blinded to this day, and a veil is over their hearts so that when Moses is read, even today, the veil is over their hearts” [2 Corinthians 3:13-15].
Then he hastily says there’ll come a time when the veil shall be taken away [2 Corinthians 3:16], and we rejoice in that promise. But now when they read, the Book is a letter, the Book is a sentence, the Book is word, and it does not have to them the message and power of the Holy Spirit of God [2 Peter 1:20-21]. And Paul is avowing, “The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life” [2 Corinthians 3:6].
It is only as the Holy Spirit of God shall empower the reading of the Word and the message of this Holy Bible; the unction that we pray for upon a preacher who mediates it, who preaches it, who delivers it, it is only in the power of the Spirit that the letter lives, that the Book comes to life, that it has meaning, and unction, and saving grace [2 Timothy 3:16-17].
Just as a human body separate the spirit from the body and it’s a corpse; separate the living, quickening Spirit of God from His Word, from the Bible, and it’s a dead letter. We destroy it. As the fifty-ninth chapter of Isaiah says, God’s Spirit and God’s Word must go together [Isaiah 59:21]. And when they’re separated, it’s dead. It’s dead.
I want to illustrate that for you in a way that I think you could understand. I have seen some of these religious movies. By that, I mean a movie like David and Bathsheba; I never saw that one, but I did see the one on Moses, The Ten Commandments. And I didn’t see the one on Samson and Delilah, but I want to use that one as an illustration. A movie, Hollywood—Hollywood will take a movie, Samson and Delilah, and they will employ wonderful antiquarians, archeologists, and they’ll learn all of the things back of the story in the Bible.
And in so far as Hollywood could, they will follow that story in their Hollywoodish way and present it, but how different, how different when a movie is made of, say, Samson and Delilah, and they are following their archeological discoveries, and they are following the letter of the Book, but how different when, say, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, Samson is presented as a hero of faith [Hebrews 11:32], and you can close your mind’s eye and see that great judge, so mighty and strong in his frame, and because of the iniquity and sin into which he fell, his eyes are put out and his hands are bound in fetters of brass, and he grinds at the prison mill [Judges 16:21].
How could a man like that be a hero of faith? [Hebrews 11:32]. Oh, that’s the Spirit! That’s the Spirit that you can’t capture on celluloid; for you see, after they made sport of Samson’s God Jehovah and made sport of his people, Israel, and made sport of his own commitment [Judges 17:25], and they were done and tired with him, they placed him to the side, and a little boy led the blind giant by the hand [Judges 17:26].
And Samson said to the little lad that led him by the hand, he said, “Son, would you place one of my hands on the pillar on which the building rests and my other hand on the pillar on which the building rests” [Judges 16:26]. And the little lad took the blind man’s hand and put it against one pillar and his other hand against the other pillar [Judges 17:29], and Samson bowed his head and prayed and said, “O, Lord God, hear me just this once. O Lord God, hear me just this once and strengthen me.” And Samson bowed his head and said, “Lord, let me die with the Philistines” [Judges 17:30].
Would you have done that? Would you? Would any Sandow [a German bodybuilder] you ever heard of do that?
And in faith and in the persuasion that God answers prayer, would forgive him and listen to his cry, he bowed his great shoulders and arms, and that building crumbled into dust [Judges 16:30].
That’s what I’m talking about. It is the Spirit, it is the Spirit that quickens the Word, that quickens the Book [John 6:63], and apart from the Spirit of God it is a dead letter, as Paul avows in the third chapter of 2 Corinthians [2 Corinthians 3:6].
We can have sermons, and sermons, and sermons and no power of the Spirit of God. We can have songs and songs and no power of the Spirit of God. We can have messages, and activities, and programs, and duties performed without the Spirit of God. These are in the letter; “It is the Spirit that quickeneth” [John 6:63], and this is the day of the ministration of the Spirit” [2 Corinthians 3:6].
Any humble preacher in the earth, and I’ve been preaching to preachers this week, any humble preacher in the earth who will seek the face of God can have the power of God upon him, any humble preacher, anyone. Any Sunday school teacher can have the unction of heaven upon her, upon him, anyone, anyone. “It is the Spirit that maketh alive, that quickeneth” [John 6:63].
Another avowal; this is the promise of the Father because in the Holy Spirit God leads us into truth. All the maze, the maze of conflicting reports in this earth, false religions, and false ideologies, and false directions, and false cults, and false presentations, and false on every hand, false, how do you know the truth?
One of the bitter things you find recorded in the Word of God is the false prophet. He is everywhere, the false teacher. Sometimes he comes as a representative of a false religion, as on Mt. Carmel when they cried to Baal in the days of the terrible apostasy, when all Israel had turned to the worship of the sun god, Baal [1 Kings 18:20-29].
Sometimes they come forward in the name of the Lord; with these Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and almost all of the prophets contended. For example, Jeremiah, speaking for the Lord, says, “I have not sent these prophets, prophets yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied” [Jeremiah 23:21].
In the same vein, Ezekiel said, “The word of the Lord came unto me saying, Son of man, prophesy against the prophets. Thus saith the Lord God, woe to the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing” [Ezekiel 13:3].
Oh, it’s just everywhere. In the days when Jeremiah wore a yoke, prophesying the coming of the Babylonians to destroy and to punish Judah, Hananiah, Hananiah, the false prophet, broke the yoke from off Jeremiah’s neck and said Nebuchadnezzar is not going to come, and he’s not going to take our people captive, but he himself, Nebuchadnezzar, is going to be destroyed [Jeremiah 28:10-11]. And Jeremiah pointed to the false prophet and said, “This very year you will die” [Jeremiah 28:16], and Nebuchadnezzar came and carried the people into captivity [Jeremiah 52:28]—the false prophet.
Micaiah had that same confrontation with Zedekiah when Micaiah said to Ahab, “And you go to Ramoth Gilead and you will die.” And Zedekiah said, “You go to Ramoth Gilead, King Ahab, and you’ll come back in peace and glory and triumph” [1 Kings 22:1-28]. And as you know, a man drew a bow and shot an arrow at a venture, without aiming it, and it entered a joint in the harness of Ahab, and he died there when his blood poured out in his chariot [1 Kings 22:34-35]; the false prophet.
You have a no different presentation in the words of the New Testament, “There shall come false prophets,” said Simon Peter, “among you and false teachers” [2 Peter 2:1]. And the same thing is found in the words of the apostle John, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God” [1 John 4:1].
Well, how am I going to the try the spirits, whether they be of God? How am I going to know the truth? How? There are so many conflicting presentations; how? The Lord Jesus said, “Behold, I send the Promise of the Father upon you [Luke 24:49], even the Spirit of truth” [John 14:17]. And to the child of God who opens his heart to the whisperings of the word of Jesus, there will be a final, final record, a final decision, a final choice from heaven.
You don’t need to be indecisive in any decision you ever make. We may not understand it all, but there will be a clear pattern of what you ought to do, and what you ought to believe, and what you ought to say, very distinct, when you wait on the Spirit of God.
As Paul wrote in the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, “The spirits of the prophets must be subject to the prophets [1 Corinthians 14:32]. And when a man stands up and speaks and when a man stands up and says, I don’t care who the man or what he says, if there is in you the Holy Spirit of God and listening to the Spirit of the Lord, there’ll be a whispering, whether it is of God or of Satan, whether it is of truth or of falsehood.
Dear people, we must close. O Master, that we might sit at Thy feet and learn of Thee [Matthew 11:29].
And in the moment that we sing, and we must come on the first stanza; in the moment that we sing, if the Spirit of God has whispered to your heart, come, make it this morning, make it now [Romans 10:9-10]. A family coming, a couple coming, one somebody you, coming; a child, giving your heart to Jesus, putting your life in the fellowship of the church; coming by baptism [Matthew 28:19], coming on a confession of faith, as the Spirit of God shall speak to your heart, on the first note of the first stanza, come, come. When you stand up, stand up coming, and God bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.