By the Spirit of the Lord
January 9th, 1966 @ 8:15 AM
BY THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-09-66 8:15 a.m.
On radio you are sharing with us the First Baptist Church in Dallas morning service, and the title of the message is By the Spirit of the Lord. It is a message that is prepared and delivered, beginning a tremendous soul-winning appeal.
We have called it the “Tell Dallas Crusade,” or campaign, or extended revival, or effort. It will go through the month of January, and the month of February, the month of March, and through most of April. It is an extended appeal: this month of commitment; the next month of training, preparation, guidance; the following month a whole month of intensive witnessing; the next month, April, our theater services, our Easter Day, our Jewish evangelism week.
It is an extended appeal. It involves great effort, and planning, and programming, and organization. It is the casting of all of our church into this organized effort. Everything in us, everything about us, everything of which we are capable is to be poured into this appeal. So, as we begin it, and as we hear much of the involvement of our people, this sermon is delivered today as a reminder and as a call to the one presence and power without which all of our efforts turn to dust and ashes.
If you would like to look at the text, it is found in the prophet Zechariah, almost to the end of the Old Testament; the prophet Zechariah, chapter 4:
And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep,
And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof:
And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.
So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord?
Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord.
Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.
I shall not read the rest of the chapter. It is addressed; the vision is addressed to Zerubbabel, the political leader of those Babylonian exiles who return to the Promised Land to build again the temple of the Lord and to reconstruct the city of Zion, and the other, addressed to Joshua, the high priest. “These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth” [Zechariah 4:14], and in them lay all of the seed of promise for whatever God might do in His redemptive purpose for the whole of mankind: Zerubbabel and Joshua [Zechariah 4:7-14].
And as they return to Canaan [Ezra 2:1-2], they face an illimitable task. The land was desolate and empty; wild and ravenous beasts had taken possession of it. The city was in total ruins, and the temple had been completely destroyed. And with comparatively a handful of miserable and wretched and poverty-stricken exiles, they came back to rebuild God’s house and to reestablish God’s name in the land of promise. It was a frightening and overwhelming task; but the Book says, “They prospered under the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah” [Ezra 6:14].
And in the preaching of Zechariah, God gave the vision that we have just read [Zechariah 4:1-5]. And when Zechariah asked the Lord, “What does it mean?” the Lord replied, “This is the message from heaven to Zerubbabel, My anointed, and to Joshua, My anointed: Thus saith the Lord, Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6].
What does He mean? Lo ve chayil, lo ve chayil, “not in ve chayil”: that word means a multitude of things, all of which are expressed in power and valor. “Not by power, lo ve chayil, not in personal courage and strength”; the word can refer to riches and wealth, and the word can refer to armies and the hosts. When you think of the word, you think of all that men are capable of doing––the accumulation of riches, the amassing of armies, and the attack of men who are pouring their very lives into the cause, “lo ve chayil, Not by our power and strength and accumulation of forces” [Zechariah 4:6].
I would say the word is the same kind of a situation that is described in Samuel, when the Philistines came with Goliath, and they made shambles of the armies of Israel. And the people cowered before that towering giant, who cursed the name of God and who blasphemed the Lord’s people [1 Samuel 17:1-11]. And suddenly, out of the sheepfold and out of the back side of the pasture there appeared an unshaven, ruddy-faced boy. And he appeared as the champion of the forces of Jehovah [1 Samuel 17:32-41]. And when Goliath looked down upon him, he was insulted, and said, “Does a boy with staves come out to challenge me? Why, this very hour will I feed him to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field” [1 Samuel 17:42-44]. And the little lad, a teenager, replied to the man of war, “Thou dost come to me with a sword, and a spear, and a shield: but I come to you in the name of the Lord God, whom thou hast defied!” [1 Samuel 17:45]. And the story of the triumph of that lad over the man of war encouraged God’s people to rise again out of their shame and cowardice and fear [1 Samuel 17:45-53]. That’s what that word means. Lo ve chayil: not by personal valor or courage or armies or hosts, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord.”
“Not by might, nor by power, lo ve choach” [Zechariah 4:6]. Well, what does that mean, lo ve choach? Well, the root meaning of that word is “to pant, to exert”; just straining with all of our physical effort. Not by panting, and not by exertion, as though in our effort these marvelous things are to come to pass.
I think in that word are the situations described in the Holy Bible like this. When Israel stood before the Red Sea, and the desert on one side, and the mountains on the other side, and the armies of Pharaoh behind them, what should they do? “Lo ve choach, Not by our straining and by our panting, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord”; and the Lord God did what no man could ever do. He divided the sea [Exodus 14:15-31]. Same kind of a story as you read in the destruction of Jericho, when the walls fell down by the Spirit of God [Joshua 6:1-20]. Same kind of an illustration as you would find in the great victory of Gideon over the Midianites [Judges 7:1-25].
“But by My Spirit, saith the Lord; My breath, ruach, My breath, My Spirit” [Zechariah 4:6]. Just a reminder and a text for our souls, that the center of our effort, and of our vision, and of our hope is in God and not in us. Something that we expect from the hands of the Lord, that God will bless, and work in power, and divide the sea, and break down the walls, and plow up hard hearts, and do monumental and miraculous things before our eyes; the center not in us, but in God.
Like Galileo’s telescope: until his day the Ptolemaic system of astronomy was taught in every school in the earth, that the earth was the center around which all of the planets and satellites and suns and stars revolved. Then Galileo in his telescope established the theory and the fact that the sun is the center, and the earth swings around the sun. Our orbits are around that glorious light and celestial body.
So the center of our hope and love and interest is not in us, but in God. And how earnestly do we need that in this tragic hour in which we live. We need to change the center from man to God. We need it in our world outlook, in our philosophy of life, in our understanding and in our assurance of the future. It lies not in us but in God.
Oh, what a frightful thing! What a frightful—could anything be bleaker than the prospect of living with atomic bombs, and hydrogen bombs, and with desperate men who blaspheme and defy the name of God? What a future. Our whole world is like—it’s like an automobile without a driver, racing madly on the highway of the universe. The militarists are predicting a greater war and one of annihilation, and the economist is predicting the pressures of inflation and finally the destruction of the monetary system, and the historian is prophesying the collapse of civilization, and the criminologist is saying that modern governmental society will rot at its core, and the psychologist and the psychoanalyst says that the human spirit can no longer bear the tensions of modern life.
And I read where one man said, “All the cosmetics of the world cannot defy or cover over the pallor of death that wrinkles this generation.” The prospect is bleak until we lift up our eyes to God! And we need to make the same Lord God the center of our theology, of our explanation of the universe.
How this modern world is reading meaning out of everything that is creation, and matter, and mind, and life, and soul, and people, and generations, and history, and the future. Even theology is saying, in modern sophistry, that God is dead. “He once was, but He is no longer.” Oh, how we need to lift up our souls to the Lord, and how we need it in confident trust! “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6].
In the day of the prophet Isaiah, when the people were searching in every corner of the earth for some assurance for peace and for victory, the prophet Isaiah said, and I quote, “Thus saith the Lord God, In returning and in rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence [shall] be your strength” [Isaiah 30:15]. I asked Dr. Fuller that we read the one hundred eighteenth Psalm [Psalm 118:1-29]. You read just half of it [Psalm 118:1-16]. The one hundred eighteenth Psalm was the song that the pilgrims sang, that the exiles sang, when they re-laid the foundation of the temple in the days of Haggai and Zechariah, the preachers, and in the days of Joshua and Zerubbabel [Ezra 3:11]; and it is a song of heroic trust in God.
Now may we speak these words of us in the church? “Not by might, nor by power, but My Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6]. You know it is a strange thing, and it is found without exception in the history of the Christian churches. It is a strange thing: when the churches lose the power of God, they inevitably turn to the substitution of system, and organization, and method, and technique for it. And wherever the churches have done that, they have become weaker and more sterile and unfruitful. Isn’t that a strange thing? When God withdraws His presence from a people, they will deify program and organization, and they will apotheosize all of the things of technique and programming. And these things without the breath of God are like Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones [Ezekiel 37:1-14]. Simon Peter and the ten apostles chose Matthias [Acts 1:26], but God chose Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:11-15]. Ah, what a difference does the presence of God make!
And when the church has been in its greatest glory, it has magnified simplicity and spirituality and prayer. And when the church has done its most monumental work, it has been in those days of greatest leaning upon the presence of the Almighty. And we humbly beseech that God shall bless and sanctify this noble effort we offer unto Him.
It is not to take the place of the Lord. It is but an instrument in His precious hands. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6]. And we look to God for that favor upon the congregation, in which souls can be born unto Jesus; the warmth of the presence of the Holy Spirit of heaven.
How many churches build vast monuments of stone, and the architecture announces to the world that “this is a lighthouse for Jesus, this is a church of the Savior,” then when the people come inside it is cold and indifferent and removed, without love and warmth, without tears, without intercession and appeal, and the services are formal and ritual, and the benedictions are said and none are saved, and no one is born into the kingdom? How many churches are like that?
The great Baptist leader, Edgar Young Mullins, president of our Southern Seminary in Louisville and president of the World Alliance, Edgar Young Mullins one time told the story of a little monkey, an organ grinder’s monkey. In one of those big cities in the North and East, in the dead of winter the little monkey somehow had got loose from its master and it was shivering with cold. And it jumped on the ledge of a house and saw warm fire inside. And the little thing ran around the house, and finally found an entrance, and ran into the room and lifted its little paws before the fire on the hearth, and continued to cry and shiver in the cold, and fell over frozen and dead. “For,” said Dr. Mullins, “it was a painted fire on a screen before the fireplace.”
And our churches are so oft like that. They announce the presence of God and the Spirit of the Lord and the flames of heaven, but the souls that seek to warm their hearts by the burning, freeze and die. The only difference between an iceberg that sends the Titanic to the bottom of the ocean and the great vast deep that bears the commerce of the world is temperature; that’s all, temperature. Oh, for the warmth of the fire of the presence of the Spirit of God. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6].
And because I suppose I am so involved in it, I take time to speak of that text, and the preaching of the gospel. I, as you, I hear many preachers, and they have very decided effects upon me as I listen to them. I can just close my eyes, and I can see and I can hear some of the great preachers of the world. I made a trip to New York City one time as a youth, for the express purpose of hearing the most famous preacher in the world. And as I listened to him, I had the effect upon me, “This is absolutely the most brilliant man I ever heard; brilliant!” In another one of the great cities of the world, I heard a world-famed preacher, and I had the effect—it was upon me how winsome and how affable, how fine. I heard another of the great preachers of the world in one of our great cities, and the effect it had upon me was how socially conscious, very sensitive to all of the social ameliorations that ought to come to pass around us, the changes that ought to be made in the structure of society. He was very much socially conscious. And others academic, others scholarly, others in many other ways.
But there comes to my mind a preacher, a preacher with nothing of the marvelous advantages of any of the others that I call to mind; yet when I heard him preach, I felt stirrings in my soul, tugging at the heart, and when he pressed for invitation and commitment, people come down the aisle, giving their lives to Jesus, and confessing the Lord as a Savior. It is that holy presence, the seeking, the searching, the appealing, the inviting, the convicting, the changing, and the saving for which we plead and ask of God.
I tried to find this word of testimony, but in my library and among all the things that I have kept, I’m not able to lay my hands upon it. It is a testimony of the pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. Oh, I wish I could lay my hands on that again! All I can do is kind of summarize out of my memory of the days passed, summarize what he said. It went something like this. I wish I could fill in the details exactly as he said it, but it went something like this.
The pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City, one of the richest churches in the world and one of the most cultured and respected of all congregations, in the providence of God, in this last century, presented Dwight L. Moody in the pulpit. And when Mr. Moody stood up to speak, this pastor, who is writing the testimony, said, “My soul sank within me. His grammar was indescribably atrocious, and the way he pronounced names was unspeakable and heretofore unknown.” And as that man Moody stood in the pulpit before that fashionable and cultured church, the pastor said, “My heart sank within me. But,” said the pastor, “to my amazement, to my amazement, instead of the people being offended or their cultural consciousnesses hurt, or disappointed, or disabused, or disgusted, they began to listen with their souls. And men began to lean forward and some to sit on the edge of the pew.” And he said, “When Mr. Moody was done with his message, it had an effect upon the people like I had never seen before,” and he said, “I tried to think, ‘What is this? What has happened?’ because it happened to me also.” And in his testimony, he called it an overtone, something in the preacher beyond the syllable, and the vocabulary, and the sentence, and the grammar that he uses. He called it an overtone; the breath and the presence of God. And this learned and gifted minister said, “From that day on, I began to look and to listen for the overtone in a man’s message. Not the grammar, not the sentence structure, not the homiletics, but the overtone; the speaking of the voice of God.”
Now I want to illustrate that to you so you’ll know exactly what I mean. A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak to the chapel of our Dallas Baptist College. And as most any speaker would do, I suppose, I prepared a little address to make to the students at our Dallas Baptist College.
When I went out there on the campus, I was met by the president, and he said to me, he said, “Preacher, today, when you speak to the student group, I am hoping that you will give an invitation.” Well, I said, “I hadn’t even thought about giving an invitation. I’ve come out here to give a chapel address. I haven’t come out here to make an appeal.”
“Oh,” but he said, “I am praying that you will give an invitation.” Then when I walked in with the group, the students, there was a lineup. And the students said to me, “We have been out here for this semester and there has been no appeal yet extended in our chapel service. And we’ve been praying in the night and in the day that God would put it upon your heart to give an invitation.” Well, when I stood up to speak, it was ten thousand miles away from and different to a chapel address. For there had been prayer offered unto God: “May the preacher of this chapel hour so be used of the Spirit as to make an appeal to our souls,” and it is in a different world. To stand up and make a speech, to deliver an address or a lecture is one thing, but to move into the human heart and soul and make appeal for God is in a different world. And this comes not by brilliance, and not by education, and not by training, and not by mortal might; this comes by the Spirit of God. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6].
I have spoken of the passage respecting our church, respecting this pulpit, its preaching ministry. I haven’t time to speak of it respecting our souls. Who converts the soul? If ingenuity, if education, if training, if worship services, if preaching sufficed to convert the soul, this world would have been converted generations ago.
It is God that raises the dead. All the science and medicine, all the practitioners, all the men who have ever lived are helpless in the presence of death; all we’re able to do in the presence of death is to dig a grave and hide our dead out of our sight. Who can raise the dead but the power of the living God? And the Holy Scriptures avow that we are dead and lost in trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1]. Who is able to bring to spiritual life these who are lost? Who can convert the soul? This is the work of God [Psalm 19:7].
And our people, and we, in our tremendous appeal and effort, we can extend the invitation. We can read the Word. We can ask and invite, but the Holy Spirit must do His office work in the human soul. God must save, and we are cast upon the mercies of the Lord. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6]. We are attempting a ministry, an assignment, that is in the prerogative and power alone of God, and we must cast ourselves upon Him [John 15:5].
And in accordance and in keeping with what our men have prayed through, group by group, an ever enlarging and expanding group, they are laying this burden upon our souls. So they wanted me today to begin with our deacons and our Junior Board. There is a little card of commitment: “I will commit myself to pray every day; praying for the lost in our city, praying for our ‘Tell Dallas’ appeal,” and every one of us can do that. “I will commit myself to pray every day. I will commit myself to witness as the Holy Spirit will lead.” Most of us can do that, and will. “I commit myself to lead one soul to accept Christ and be baptized.” Maybe not all of us would do that, but we could try, and leave it in the hands of God to bless our stammering lips and our feeble efforts. So we shall begin. Every deacon who is here this morning and every member of the Junior Board who is here this morning, this moment, this very second, if you will give yourself to prayer—and all of us will, all of us can, asking every day God to bless the appeal—give ourselves to prayer, and as God shall bless, to speak a word for Jesus to somebody lost, and to win that someone to Jesus, as God would give us the reward. Every deacon, every member of the Junior Board, stand up and come down to the front and get on your knees, and we shall commit ourselves and our souls to Jesus in this moment of prayer and dedication. Come. Come.