This I Know: The Power of Personal Testimony
March 6th, 1966 @ 10:50 AM
THIS I KNOW:
THE POWER OF PERSONAL TESTIMONY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Mark 5: 1-20
3-6-66 10:50 a.m.
As you look on television and listen on radio, if you would like to turn in your Bible with us here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, do so. Turn to chapter 5 in the Gospel of Mark, the second chapter, the Second Gospel, chapter 5 in the Gospel of Mark. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled This I Know. It is a message on the power of personal testimony.
There is a most unusual thing in this story that I will mention in the last part of the sermon, and it is that remarkable, remarkable verdict that brings this passage and this text and story to my soul. It begins with the journey of Jesus on the other side of the Sea of Galilee [Mark 5:1]; and always that means on the eastern side, for Palestine as we know it, the Holy Land as we know it, is mostly consumed in interest on the western side. So when the Bible says that the Lord went on the other side of the sea, it means that He went on the eastern side, and there in Decapolis in the country of the Gadarenes, Gadara was one of ten cities that belonged to a federation of merchandisers and governmental units.
Over there in that country, the Lord made this visit; and when He got out of the ship, there was a man with an unclean spirit. He dwelt in the tombs; and he could not be bound because of his superhuman strength; and day and night he was in the mountains and in the tombs crying and cutting himself [Mark 5:1-5]. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshiped Him [Mark 5:6]. Then in the conversation that followed [Mark 5:7-8], the Lord asked him, “What is your name?” and he answered, “My name is Legion” [Mark 5:9]. Many evil and foul spirits possessed that man. Then in the story that follows, for some reason, both for the man who was healed and for the witness of the gospel of the grace of God, Jesus gave that legion of foul and unclean spirits the privilege not to be condemned into the abyss to which they are going to be sent but to go into a herd of hogs, which herd, when they were possessed, ran violently down the steep declivity that goes to the water level of Galilee; and there they were drowned [Mark 5:11-13].
And when those that kept the hogs saw what had happened, they ran to their owners in the city and the whole people came out; and they were amazed to see this man possessed, sitting and clothed and in his right mind which is a very famous characterization, sitting and clothed and in his right mind [Mark 5:14-15]. But for all of the benefit and blessing that had come to this possessed man, all they could see or think of was their hogs. So in the loss of those filthy animals, they begged Jesus to go out of their country [Mark 5:16-17]. “We don’t want a man here that would cost us a hog. That’s too big a price to pay for the healing of the soul and the saving of the life, and please won’t You leave because You hurt the hog business.” Well, the Lord never stays, of course, where He is not wanted; never enters where He is not invited.
And He entered into the ship to go back across the sea; but when He started to leave, this man who had been so vilely and violently possessed, came and prayed Him that he might be one of the Lord’s disciples, that he might attend Him in His journey and sit at His feet [Mark 5:18]; and Jesus suffered him not, but said unto him, “Go back home to your friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” [Mark 5:19]. And true to that request of the blessed Savior, he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis, in the whole country, how great things Jesus had done for him, and all men did marvel, a wonderful, incomparably blessed thing [Mark 5:20].
You know, before I go on with this sermon, let me go ahead and tell you it’s a part of the message, but let me go ahead and tell you the remarkable thing in this story. When I turn to the eighth chapter of this same Gospel—you don’t see it because it is not named there by name—but in the eighth chapter of this Gospel, Jesus is again a visitor on the eastern side of the sea in the country of Decapolis and Gadara. And there, when He returns there is so great a multitude, they are thronging the Lord and so interested and so full of love and appreciation are they for the Lord that they don’t even go home to eat, they just stayed, listening to every word [Mark 8:1-2]. And the Lord, in His compassion on the multitude, fed them; and the number that ate were about four thousand [Mark 8:3-9]; and if you were to count the women and the children, what a vast multitude! Well, why that marvelous and amazing difference? When I read the story here, these people are begging the Lord to leave [Mark 5:17]. When I turn the page and read the story here, they are thronging Him by the thousands and the thousands [Mark8:1]. What happened? Why, this is what happened: when that man got through publishing throughout Decapolis and Gadara and the whole countryside in the towns, in the fields, in the cities, in the villages, when he got through publishing what God had done for him [Mark 5:19-20], when Jesus returned, there was an illimitable interest and love and appreciation in the testimony and in the witness of this one man [Mark 8:1]. Now that gave rise to the sermon that I hope God will help me preach this hour. This I Know: what God has done for me and what Jesus means to me; the power of personal testimony.
There was a fellow student in the seminary at Louisville years ago when I was there who came to me one time and said, “I have just listened to Dr. George W. Truett,” the famed pastor of this church and the preacher of this pulpit. And the student said to me, “I just never felt, I have just never experienced such a thing as I have listening to Dr. Truett.”
I asked him, “What do you mean? How is it? What happened? What did he say?”
And the student replied to me. He said, “It was just a thing, it’s a way, but I just never felt that way, I just never experienced such a thing.”
“Well,” I said, “Give me an example; what did Dr. Truett say?”
Well, one of the things that he spoke of, the student reported to me, he described for a moment, for a while in the message, his visit to India; and in the preaching mission of Dr. Truett to India, there had been brought together, a convocation of Brahman leaders, Hindu leaders, the highest caste, Brahman, and they came, of course, critical. They are not Christians, and they look with caustic eye upon the Christian faith. And those men were brought together and Dr. Truett described the hour and the message that he brought; and when he was done and was seated, one of those Brahman priests stood up and turning to the great pastor said, “Sir, we find no fault with your Christ. We have for your Lord nothing but reverence and love and appreciation.”
What the great pastor had done in the wisdom of God was this: he did not seek to argue, he was not polemical or forensic in his message. He had stood before those men of the highest caste in the Hindu religion and had sought to describe and to present what Jesus meant to him, what God had done for him. And this is the most powerful, the most reaching, the most moving of all the words that a man can say about God. Not what somebody else has known, or somebody else has experienced, or somebody else has seen or heard, but what I know—this I know!
Now, in this passage and in this text that I follow, first, there is a very definite method, a procedure that Jesus describes: “Go and tell how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” [Mark 5:19]. I am sure that God has done marvelous things in the pages of Christian history for many of these that are past; but does God live today, and does God mean anything to me, and has God blessed me? Do I know? Is there something I have seen? Is there something my ears have heard? Is there something my heart has experienced? Is there something that has blessed my life? Is there? This is the method of our Lord, not alone in the days of His flesh; you go tell what things God has done for you not only in the days of His flesh but resurrected from the dead. And now, at the right hand of the throne of God [Hebrews 12:2], He has not changed that mandate and that method.
And He came unto His disciples on the Mount of Olives just before He was ascended into glory, and He said, “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon you: and ye shall be witnesses, martyrs, and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth” [Acts 1:8], and the word that the Lord uses there is a judicial word. It is a word of the law courts, of the great jurisprudence of the Roman Empire, “and ye shall be martus, martus.” A martus is a witness in a Roman court who stood up to say what he had seen, what he had heard, and what he had experienced, a martus, a witness. And so oft times was a Christian witness a man who laid down his life for the faith that the word martus became, in our language, “martyr,” and is sometimes translated in the Authorized King James Version as martyr. In the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Acts, Paul, talking to the Lord, “And when the blood of Thy martyr Stephen was shed, I was consenting unto his death; and they that stoned him laid their raiment at my feet [Acts 22:20], martus, witness translated there, martyr. In the second chapter of the Book of Revelation, the Lord, speaking to the church at Pergamos speaks of “My witness,” martus Antipas, and the word is translated there, martyr [Revelation 2:13], a witness testifying humbly, simply, but commitedly, “This have I seen, and this have I experienced.”
So deep an impression was this method of our Lord incised into the very soul of the apostle John that when he writes he will follow it faithfully, both in what he says of himself and in the story that he records of our blessed Lord. In the first chapter of 1 John, he begins, “This that we have seen and heard declare we unto you what our eyes have seen and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” [1 John 1:1]; not something hearsay, not something told me by somebody who told them, but what my eyes have seen, and my ears have heard, and my hands have handled, of the Word of life.
Then when John begins the story in his Gospel of the days of our Lord in His flesh, he follows that outline and pattern faithfully [John 20:30-31]. When John writes this, he’s in his old age. Simon Peter’s been dead for a generation. Malchus, the servant of the high priest, whom Simon sought to kill with the sword [John 18:10], been dead for a generation, and he calls names; he calls names. Had he written that Gospel in the days when those men lived, they could have been arrested and tried for murderous assault; but they’ve all been dead for a generation. And yet when John writes this letter, when John writes this Gospel, he remembers every exact hour, and time, and place, and detail, and he starts off like that [John 1:19, 29, 35, 43]. And John the Baptist in his testimony said, “There is the Son of God, for the Lord said on whomsoever I would see the Spirit descending, this is He” [John 1:24-34], and Andrew and John heard John the Baptist speak that word of testimony, and they followed the Lord, and John says “I remembered exactly, it was at ten o’clock on that morning” [John 1:36-39]. And then he, starting there, follows it through; and Andrew—a man preached a sermon about Andrew and somebody said, “Why preach about Andrew?” and he said, “It’s a remarkable thing. Every time he’s mentioned in the Word of God he’s introducing somebody to Jesus—and Andrew, so John tells, found Simon his brother and brought him to Jesus, and the next day Jesus went forth and found Philip, and Philip found Nathanael [John 1:40-46]. And as you turn the page, then there’s the Lord speaking personally and in the nighttime to Nicodemus [John 3:1-21]. Then you turn the page and the Lord is speaking personally to this woman of Samaria at the well at Sychar [John 4:7-26]. Then you turn the page and John is describing the conversion of a man born blind [John 9:1-38], and the Sanhedrin tried every way possible to break his testimony; but he replied, “Whether He be a sinner or no, as you say, this one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I can see!” [John 9:25]. Just exactly what would you do with a testimony like that? And not only in the apostle John, but you will find Luke following the same pattern as all of the other Gospel writers depicting the life of our Lord. His method was to go to the town where the lost sinner was, to go to the street where the lost sinner lived, to look up the tree where the lost sinner has climbed and call him by name, “Come down, Zaccheus, for today I am to break bread in thy house” [Luke 19:1-5], and win that lost sinner to Jesus [Luke 19:10].
When He died on the cross, Luke says—and all four Gospels are careful to point out—that in keeping with prophecy, the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, Jesus was not crucified alone; He was crucified between two malefactors [Isaiah 53:12]; and when Jesus died and went to glory, He never entered the gates of heaven alone. Hand in hand or arm in arm or side by side He brought with Him a converted thief [Luke 23:42-43]. When you follow the story through the Book of Acts, it is the same pattern, the method described by our Lord, that of a witness—this I know! And the Holy Spirit said to Philip in a great revival meeting in Samaria [Acts 8:5-25], “You go down into the desert and wait” [Acts 8:26], and as he waited there wondering why, there came riding along the treasurer of the nation of Ethiopia, and the Spirit said, “Join yourself to that chariot and to that man” [Acts 8:27-29]; and he witnessed to him, he testified to him of the grace of the blessed Lord Jesus [Acts 8:30-35]. We must hasten.
Do you notice again not only the method, a personal testimony, but do you notice to whom the place? “You go home,” He said, “and tell thy friends how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and have had compassion on thee” [Mark 5:19]. You go home. People who understand your language, people who breathe your air, live in your cities, citizens of your country, you tell them what great things God hath done for thee.
You know, there’s a psychological turn in our Christian minds. Somehow because, maybe, of the difficulty with which we are confronted here; if we could just go abroad, if we could just speak in another place or another language, it would be so much easier, so much easier. John Wesley thought that, the precise little Oxford don. It was difficult in England, so he got on a ship in a day when crossing the sea was a major assignment and came to Georgia in order to witness to the American Indian, to win the heathen Indian to the Lord. And finally, in discouragement and dismay, he returned back to England. It is hard, a thousand times harder beyond the sea.
I heard one time a discouraged Moslem missionary say to me, he said, “I do not know of a single woman Moslem convert to Jesus in the earth.” And he said, “I only know five or six men Moslem, Islamic, converted to Christ, and there is a missionary grave for each one of them. It is a thousand times more difficult in a Hindu or a Moslem or a Buddhist or a Shintoist land. It’s hard everywhere. It’s not easy to win people to Jesus. The world is too much against saving grace, but oh how it is needed not only there, not only yonder, not only abroad; how it is needed here, right here, right here.
This missionary of the Home Mission Board last Wednesday night, speaking here in this pulpit, had been a missionary to Japan, and he said there are more lost, unchurched people here in America than in the whole population of Japan. He said a group of things that were startling and amazing just like that and how we need God’s witness here where we are, among our people.
In the first pastorate I had out of the seminary, in the little city there was a reprobate who died drunk in an accident, a car accident, and everybody knew him and everybody knew all of the reprobation of his life. And I had just come, so they came [from] everywhere, mostly just to see what I would say and what I would do. “That young fellow just out of school surely is on the spot now, having this funeral service. And all of us have known him and all of us know he died drunk. Now, let’s just see what he’ll say.” And nine parts out of ten, curiosity; just came to the service from everywhere. You know what I did? When I stood up to bring the message at that hour, I admitted the opprobrium of his life, and the dereliction of his days, and the worthlessness of all of the years he had spent, and I admitted that he had died drunk which was known to all who listened to me. I said it all and I admitted it all. Then I added, “But knowing and realizing and the years that he lived in this community with you, how many of you ever prayed with this man? How many of you ever testified to this man of the saving ableness and adequacy of the Lord God? How many of you ever called his name before the throne of grace in prayer? How many of you ever knocked at his door? How many of you ever cared enough about his immortal soul to speak to him about Christ? Just how many?” I hadn’t planned on doing anything like that; just something that God put on my heart just at that time. Why, you would have thought we had a mourners meeting.
God never called us to condemn people, and to damn people, and to find fault with people, and to criticize people, and to judge people. That belongs to God. God has called us; God has assigned us to help people, to pray for people, to be sympathetic with people, to love people. Let the liquor traffic damn them. Let the vileness of the world condemn them. Let the devils in hell work for their destruction. Let God’s people pray for their salvation. We’re not in the damning business, and we’re not in the condemning business, and we’re not in the judging business, and we’re not in the destroying business. We are in the saving business!
Do you remember the word of our Lord when James and John came to Him and said, “Let us call down fire from heaven on this Samaritan village that refused to welcome You. Burn ‘em up, Lord! Burn ‘em up!” [Luke 9:54] And the Lord said, “James and John, you do not realize what spirit you are of [Luke 9:55], For the Son of Man came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save men’s lives” [Luke 9:56]. Let others do the damning and the destroying. Let God’s saints do the saving, and the praying, and the helping, and the encouraging. You tell the folks at home who understand your language, live in your town, tell them what great things God hath done for thee, and have had compassion on thee [Mark 5:19]—this I know.
Now I have a word and then we must close. I have a word about the precious and blessed reward, and he left the presence of the Savior, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel [Mark 5:20], and then there came to pass this remarkable thing that I have described to you in the eighth chapter of the Book of Mark. Just turn the page and there are these thousands and thousands waiting on the Savior [Mark 8:1]. Why, when that man got through testifying and witnessing, Jesus was the most loved and appreciated, the most thanked-for of all of the personages who had ever visited that part of the earth. That is always true. The reward that comes from a personal witness and a personal testimony never fails, never.
In the revival meeting that we held out at the Coliseum, these Coliseum crusades for Christ two or three years ago, there was a young man in this church who persuaded a friend, another young man, to go out there and to attend the Coliseum crusade with him. And when the preacher had delivered his message and the appeal was given and we sang the invitation hymn, that young man turned to his friend and pled with him to accept Jesus as his Savior and to go down to the front and make a public confession of his faith in Christ, but the young fellow steadfastly refused, “No. No. No.” And finally, finally as he ceased his pleading in despair, there was a little girl seated in front of the young man in our church who was making that appeal. There was a little girl, and she turned around to the young man and said to him, “Would you take me down to the front and to the pastor? Would you go with me down to the front, go with me?” And the young man, not knowing what to say or do, said, “Why yes, why yes,” and they came down to the front and to me; and the young man, when he came to me, said, “Pastor, I have no idea who this child is. I have no idea where she came from or what her name is or who she is, but she turned around to me and asked me if I would come down to the front with her and if I’d take her down here to you.” You know what I found out talking to that child? As that young man pled with his friend to come to Jesus, he said, “No! No! No!” But unknown to him, seated in front of him, standing there for the invitation was this little girl; and he said no, but the little girl in her heart said yes, and finally turned around to him and asked him if he’d go with her down to the front, that she’d given her heart to the Lord.
God has promised, “My word will not return unto Me void,” never, never, never. We may die before the harvest. We may never see it with our mortal eyes, but when we sow the seed of the Word, somewhere, sometime in God’s time, the Lord will honor it and bless it. This is the promise of God: “My Word will not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish the purpose whereunto I have sent it” [Isaiah 55:11].
At this early service, I mentioned a funeral service that I had Friday, last Friday. The family does not belong to this church. He did not belong to this church. This is what happened: in a store, in a business store downtown, in these days past, I had spoken to that man, and he said to his wife, “Dear wife, when I die, I want you to ask that pastor to conduct my memorial service.” I said to his wife in visiting with her, “That is an astonishing and an amazing thing!” She said, “But that little contact that he had with you made him think that God was near and the Lord is dear, and he has asked me if you’d hold his memorial service.” Why, I never dreamed of such a thing. It never entered my mind. It was a casual thing, but God has said, “My word will not return unto Me void” [Isaiah 55:11]. Scattering seed, testifying of the goodness and the grace of our blessed Lord, and God honors it, and will.
Our time is past, and while we sing this hymn of invitation, somebody you, give himself to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8-9]. A family you, putting your life into the fellowship of the church, as the dear Lord in heaven will guide, will woo, will say the word of appeal, come and stand by me. “Pastor, today I give my heart to Jesus” [Romans 10:9-10, 13], or, “Pastor, we’re putting our lives with these dear people in the fellowship of this church.” We can’t convert anybody, we can’t save any soul. There’s no adequacy or ableness in our hands. But God is able [Hebrews 7:25]. We can just point to Jesus like John the Baptist, “Look, look, look, the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world; look” [John 1:29]. All we can do is to point. It is God that saves. And if the Holy Spirit has spoken to your heart and bid you come, on the first note of the stanza, come, make it today, make it now. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming into this aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I make it today.” Will you? Will you? While we stand and while we sing.