THE MIGHTY POWER OF THE WORD OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-15-68 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. I also like somebody who can talk straight. And I am going to preach tonight on The Mighty Power of the Word of God, things that I have stumbled into, looked at, that, to me, are like the twenty-ninth chapter of the Book of Acts. It is not just something that happened centuries ago. It is something that is happening now, what God does in blessing His Word.
Now I have a text and it will be the last verse that you are going to read. Turn to the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, Acts chapter 19. Now the context will be, let us say, beginning at verse 13. We could begin anywhere in the passage. Verse 13 and read through verse 20 [Acts 19:13-20]; and the text is 20: “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed” [Acts 19:20].
Now let us read the context. Acts 19, verse 13 through verse 20. Now read it out loud. I did not say mumble it to yourself now. Read it out loud. And when you men get up here, Mel and Clark, and you lead our people in reading the Scriptures; I want you to read it out loud. You read slow and you read soft. I like it loud I say, read it out loud. And half the times I cannot hear the choir read it at all. I do not know what they are doing back there. I want you to read it out loud, all of us now, Acts 19, verses 13 through 20, now all of us together:
Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.
And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.
And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
And many that believed came, and confessed, and showed their deeds.
Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.
So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.
And when I read that text, “So mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed” [Acts 19:30], it brings to my mind the story of the days of the Flood when the waters came up from the breaking up of the fountains of the deep. And the water fell down from God’s heaven and covered the face of the earth and prevailed over the deep [Genesis 7:18-20]. That’s what God says here happened in the Roman province of Asia; “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed” [Acts 19:20].
In the passage that we read this morning, Demetrius the silversmith, who was making little idols to be worshiped at the shrine of Diana; Demetrius was out of business and called all of his fellow silver craftsmen together and created a riot in the city because the mighty power of the word of God had subverted his idol making factory and put him out of business [Acts 19:24-36]. Now God’s Word is like that wherever it is introduced and wherever it is faithfully preached. So in the service tonight I am going to recount some of the remarkable and unusual things that I have seen in these recent days of the mighty power of the Word of God. “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed” [Acts 19:20].
In the city of Rio there is a devout and fine Baptist family. I asked about them, where they came from, and one of the men, who is in our Baptist Publication Society in Rio, said that there was a miserable and hungry little boy who was going through a garbage can. And that is one of the sights that is familiar. Wherever there is a city dump or wherever there is garbage or wherever there is trash, you will find poor people going through all of that dirt and filth and outcast stuff. It just accentuates the need and the poverty of those people.
Well, this ragged, hungry little boy was going through a garbage can and found in that can a Bible. Evidently, whoever lived in the home had found it and threw it away. And that little boy going through that garbage can found God’s Book and read it and was saved by it. And taking it home hid it under his pillow. As the days passed, his mother found it. It was strange to her. And she asked the lad what it was, and he told her it was the Bible. And the little lad read to his mother out of that Bible, and his mother was saved. And from the child and from the mother the whole family was brought to the Lord; out of a garbage can, God’s Word speaking to the human heart.
The missionary, Edgar Hallock, preacher Hallock’s son, I say the godliest preacher that I know in America; preacher Hallock, pastor of the First Church at Norman, Oklahoma—his son heads our big publication manufacturing plant where they make Bibles and print our literature and thousands and thousands of leaflets and tracts. Edgar Hallock said to me, “We had a meeting to decide how should we do? Should we sell these Bibles or should we give them away?” He said, “We decided to sell them. Make it cheap. Make it so anyone could buy it. But we decided to sell our Bibles.” So he said, “We started out and on a street service we took two of them, and to the people gathered around we offered two of them for sale. They were immediately bought. He said, “The next time we had a street service we offered four of them for sale, and immediately they were bought.” He said, “The next street service we had we offered eight of them for sale, and immediately,” he said, “eight of them were sold.”
“Now”, he said, “They come in boxes of twenty-four. So the next street service we took a box of Bibles and offered them for sale. And all twenty-four were immediately bought.”And he said, “We are sowing down this city and this nation, please God, with the Word of the Lord.”
Now, one of those Bibles found its way into the vast interior of that great country, a country that is bigger than the continental United States. One of those Bibles found its way into the interior, far from anyone who knew anything about it. And a man, a native in a village, read it and was saved. There was nobody to baptize him. There was no one to whom he could turn for baptism. But he read in God’s Book that when we accept the Lord as our Savior we are to be baptized [Acts 2:38]. The first thing the Ethiopian eunuch wanted to do when he heard the gospel appeal from Philip the evangelist was, “Here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? I want to be baptized” [Acts 8:36]. There wasn’t anyone to help him. There was no believer around him and he never heard of a missionary or of a gospel preacher. So what he did, he went out in the middle of the river and baptized himself. He immersed himself. He dipped himself. Then having followed God’s will and God’s commission, he preached the gospel to his fellow villagers, and he won the entire village to Christ. And he baptized every one of them, all of them.
And as the days passed they heard of a missionary, and one of our Baptist missionaries made the long trek into the interior of the nation and found those people, all of them saved, all of them baptized, just as it says here in the Book. And he organized them into a Baptist church. And they said to me that the largest Baptist church in the interior of that great nation Brazil is that Baptist church!
Now what do you think about the ecclesiology of that? What do you think about the doctrinal background of that? Well a long time ago—though this may be heretical; a long time ago, though this may not be doctrinally acceptable; a long time ago, though my brethren may not acquiesce in this judgment—a long time ago, I concluded that we can find and organize and found an apostolic church in true apostolic succession anywhere in God’s earth that people read God’s Book and obey God’s Word.
Now I think it would be great, as some of our ministers have done, I think it would be great to say I was baptized by someone who was baptized by someone, who was baptized by someone who was baptized, who was baptized by someone who was baptized by someone, who was baptized before him by someone who was baptized by one of the apostles, who was baptized by John the Baptist. Now I hope that my baptism has that continuity—but I’d have a hard time proving it.
And I think anybody—though I have read those who have sought to do it—I think anybody would have a hard time establishing that, historically. Now I’m just telling you what I think now. This isn’t the Book; this is one of those Criswellian aberrations. I don’t think authentic baptism would have to be by somebody who was baptized by somebody, who was baptized by somebody, who was baptized by somebody, who was baptized by somebody, somebody, somebody, somebody, who was baptized by an apostle, who finally was baptized by John the Baptist. I think that would be wonderful if it were true and could be established. But I’ve always felt through the years and the years, that true apostolic succession is not that somebody laid his hands on somebody whose hands had been laid on somebody, whose head had been ordained by somebody, clear on back to the Lord Jesus. I’ve never felt that there were orders in the church like that: that apostolic succession lay in hands laid on the head of a man, who laid his hand upon the head of a man who laid his hands upon the head of a man. Nor have I felt, nor have I been convinced in my heart that true baptism was somebody who had been baptized by somebody that had been baptized by somebody who’d been baptized clear back to John the Baptist. But to me, true apostolic succession lies in this: that the Word of God was obeyed by somebody, anybody, anywhere! And anywhere in the earth that there is a man, or a people, or a congregation who will listen to the Word of God and obey it, that obedience is true apostolic succession. And a man stands in that true successive service and obedience to Christ when he listens to God’s Word and obeys it.
Now when they organized that congregation into an acceptable and cooperating and loved fellow Baptist church, I like it. It was born in the Word, it was in obedience to the Word, and it was baptized by the Word, and as such is in true Christian and apostolic succession. We are like Christ only in the sense that we are obedient to Him, and this church is in Christian apostolic succession only in the sense that we are like that church in the Bible, and obey it such as the congregations did here in the Book of Acts [Acts 17:11].
Now the power of the Word of God in reaching people and in molding and forming life is nothing short of a miracle! What God’s Word is able to do, what it can bring to pass in the lives of a people: “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed [Acts 19:20].
Far away in the interior, in the northern part of that country, which is in the heart of a vast jungle, far away and removed, there lived an old patriarch with his very large family and his vast plantation. And as the days passed and the years multiplied, the old gentleman grew old and his wife by his side, and his wife died.
So far away and so removed, the death that entered the family and the death of the old patriarch’s wife brought unceasing sorrow to the hearts of the people who lived in that great complex. Somebody somewhere had picked up a New Testament and had brought it to that home, and it had lain there in some forgotten place on some dusty shelf for years and years and years, unread, unnoticed, unknown. But when that sorrow came and the wife of the old patriarch died, somebody found that New Testament and began to read it to the family. And as the old patriarch listened to it and as his large family listened to it, and as the people who worked on those vast plantations listened to it, God blessed the message to their hearts, and the old patriarch gave himself to Jesus. And the great group around him, the large group that worked with him on those vast acres, opened their hearts, and the Lord blessed His Word. Now when they read the Book it says that we are to be baptized [Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:38]. So the old patriarch said to his people, “We must find a minister and a church, and we must be baptized.”
So in a far distant place there was a church that they had been told of. So they made their way, all of them, to that church and appeared before the minister and said, “We have found the Lord, and it says in God’s Book that we are to be baptized, and we are all here ready to be baptized” [Acts 2:38]. So the minister got him a bowl, got him a dish of water and brought it out and said, “We shall now have the baptismal service.”
And the old patriarch said, “You are going to what?”
“We are going to have a baptismal service.”
And the old patriarch said, “In a bowl, in a dish?”
“Why yes,” said the minister, “We are going to have a baptismal service in a bowl, in a dish.”
The old patriarch said, “In a bowl, in a dish? It says here in God’s Book that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the river! [Matthew 3:13-16; Mark 1:9-11]. And it says here in God’s Book that when that Ethiopian eunuch pulled the chariot to a standstill, they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him [Acts 8:38]. And you are going to take us into a dish and baptize us in a bowl?”
Well, the minister didn’t have aught to say. So the old patriarch gathered all of his family, and all of those that worked on the plantation, about him and went back to his home, not knowing where to turn or what to do.
Now in those days, in those days word came to the old patriarch that in Belo Horizonte there was a missionary who taught the true word of God and who followed in obedience the true message of Jesus. So the old patriarch, because it was so far, far, far away couldn’t take his family, nor himself—and he sent an emissary to Belo Horizonte and found one of our missionaries and laid before him what had happened in that plantation so far away. And the missionary, accompanied the man, and after days and days and days of journey, finally came worn out and tired at the old patriarch’s home. Well, the missionary said that, “I got there at night, late in the evening. But the old patriarch was looking for us and had all of his family and his workers together.” And he said, “Though I was tired and so weary I could hardly stand, I spoke to them out of God’s Book for an hour and a half. And when I had spoken an hour and a half, I said it is enough now. We will rest for the night, and we will begin again in the morning.”
And the old patriarch said, “No, no, no, no, continue, continue.” So the missionary continued for another hour. And finally exhausted he said, “I must rest, I must rest, and we will begin again in the morning.” So he said he dismissed himself. Now the house, he said, was built on a great, large, square plan. And in the center was that courtyard where he was speaking to the family. And his room was next, went off of the courtyard. And he was escorted to his room there and shut the door, and he said that he was so weary and so tired that he didn’t have the strength to take off his clothes. He said, “I was completely exhausted.”
So he laid down across the bed, just to rest for awhile, then take off his clothes and retire for the night. But he said he was so exhausted that when he lay across the bed he immediately fell asleep and was asleep for several hours.
Well, when he awakened in the middle of the night, he noticed a light under his door. And he thought, “Well, that was strange.” So he got up and opened the door. And what he saw out there was that old patriarch and the entire family and all those who worked on the plantation were sitting there listening to one of the members of the family read that New Testament. After the hours had passed, they were still there listening to the reading of God’s Word.
So the missionary said, “I walked out and I began again where I had left off two and a half hours, where I had left off after two and a half hours, I began again.” And he said, “We stayed there all the rest of the night as I opened God’s Word and as I taught them out of God’s Book.” Then he said, “The sun rose in the morning, and in the morning I went down to the river, and I baptized the old patriarch and his family and forty-two others.”
Why, when I hear things like that I just want to say, “O God, amen!” O Lord, hallelujah! O God, bless His name! Isn’t that a marvelous thing, a wonderful thing? “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed” [Acts 19:20].
Sometimes some of the funniest. . .Well, I forgot a handkerchief. . .I’ll say, have you got one? Sometimes some of the strangest things happen about that Book. I ran into an instance where the Bible had been translated into the tongue of this tribe. This is way down there in the jungles. So, after they had read God’s Book and had found the Lord, why, they decided they ought to have a church. Now these are not Baptist people who had translated the Word of God for them. And they did not baptize as we do. But they felt they ought to have a church. It says in God’s Book that the people were organized in the churches and God blessed the church [Acts 2:46-47]. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25], so they felt they ought to have a church.
Well, they all gathered together in their place where they were meeting and formally agreed they were going to have a church. Well, immediately, the question came up, “How are we going to baptize,” because the people who had brought them the Scriptures and had translated it for them did not baptize as it says here in the Book. They sprinkled with a thimble, or a cup, or a bowl, or dish, or something like that, maybe out of a tulip or out of a rosebud.
Well, they had to decide how they were going to do. So, so, they had their convocation of all of their brethren, and the men stood up to talk about and to discuss how they were going to organize their church and how they were going to baptize. So finally the leading elder in the church stood up, and this is the announcement that he made. “Well,” he said, “we’ll just decide it like this. You can be baptized any way you want to be baptized. We are going to have a church here, and any way you want to be baptized you can be baptized, and we will all be members of the church.”
“Now,” he said, “this is what we will do. All of you who want a little water sprinkled on the top of your head, you stay here. But all of you who want to be baptized as Jesus was baptized [Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11], I’ll meet you on the banks of the river.” And that’s the way they settled it.
Well, I thought that elder, whoever he was, surely had a penetrating sensitivity to the Word of God. When you read the Book, if you want to be baptized as Jesus was baptized [Matthew 3:13-17], if you want to be baptized as John the Baptist baptized [Matthew 3:5-6], if you want to be baptized as Paul baptized [Acts 9:17-18], if you want to be baptized as all of the disciples of the Lord baptized [John 4:2], if you want to be in a true apostolic succession, then I’ll meet you at the edge of the water, and we will go down into the water together, and we will be buried with the Lord in the likeness of His death, and raised with the Lord in the likeness of His glorious resurrection [Romans 6:3-5].
I was I don’t know how many years into my ministry before I ever baptized in a baptistery. For the years and the years, I used to stand out in the middle of the river—or if we didn’t have a river, in the middle of a pond—and stand there with an open Bible and preach out of God’s Word, to accept the Lord and to follow Him in obedient baptism; and then come back up to the banks of the river, or of the pond, and make an appeal, and open the doors of the church; and time after time after time have I seen people come forward, accept the Lord right there on the banks of the river, and be baptized immediately.
Why, that’s one of the greatest testimonies to Christ in this earth. One time when I stood out in the middle of a river and preached, then came back up to the bank and made the open appeal, there came down to the river bank and to me, giving me their hand, the whole family of a group of people, large group of people who inhabited, who lived in a whole valley, a whole hollow, and they were baptized right there, right then. I baptized them there in the river. They didn’t come prepared. They had no other clothes; didn’t need it, just following the Lord out of the fullness of the joy of their souls. I like that. That’s the way John the Baptist preached; standing on the banks of the river or in the river, preaching the Word of God and baptizing his converts there on the spot [Matthew 3:1-6].
That’s the way we try to do today, though we are hedged about by so many cultural embellishments. But to preach the Word, and to call men to faith and repentance, and to baptize them upon that confession of faith is doing exactly what it says here in the Book [Acts 2:38].
And though I have been through this for one and forty years, I have never yet seen anyone anywhere who, having followed the way of the Lord down through the waters of the Jordan and up to the glory of Christ—I have never found anyone yet who ever did it but that had a fullness of heart and spirit in their souls, having loved God enough to be baptized.
Have you been baptized like it says in the Book? [Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:38]. Have you accepted the Lord as your Savior? [Acts 16:30-31; Ephesians 2:8; Romans 10:9-10]. Have you been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him in the likeness of His glorious resurrection? [Romans 6:3-5]. There is not much we can do for God. He said, “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee. The cattle on a thousand hills are Mine [Psalm 50:12, 10]. The gold and the silver is Mine” [Haggai 2:8]. There is not much we can do for God, but we can do that. The Lord mandates my baptism. The Lord commands it. And I may not be able to do much for Jesus, but I can do that. I can be baptized. I can follow Him in obedience to His Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20], and I can be baptized. And I ought to be. And when I am, I am happy in my heart. Every time I read God’s Book there is a fullness in my soul. I have followed Thee, Lord, just as You said in the Word.
And every time I read the passages of Scripture that liken our glorious salvation to a death with Christ and to a resurrection with our Lord [Romans 6:3-5], every time I read it in the Book, I have a fullness of heart and feeling and gratitude to God. The Lord has blessed me, and He has been with me, for I have followed Him in obedience to that Great Commission and that holy commandment [Matthew 28:19-20].
Have you done that? Have you given your heart to Jesus? Have you accepted Him as your Savior? [Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9]. Do you look to Him to wash your sins away? [Revelation 1:5]. Then as Ananias said to the apostle Paul, “Why tarriest thou? Arise, be baptized, and wash thy sins away, calling on the name of the Lord” [Acts 22:16]; a sign, a figure, a dramatic presentation of what the blood of Christ has done for us, washing our sins away [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5], calling upon His name. And the dramatic avowal of that commitment and that faith in the Lord is our baptism, washing our sins away; a figure, a picture of the cleansing of God in our souls [1 Peter 3:21], and dead to the world and raised to a new life in Him [Colossians 2:12].
Have you accepted the Lord as your Savior? Have you been baptized in obedience to His command? [Matthew 28:19-20]. May I make appeal to your heart tonight? Do it. Do it. As John the Baptist stood on the banks of the Jordan and called for repentance and faith and baptized those who came [Matthew 3:5-6], as Jesus received those who trusted in Him and had them baptized, buried and raised [John 4:2], and as the apostles baptized those who accepted the Lord as their Savior [Acts 8:36-37], do it tonight.
“Here I come, and here I am. I give my heart to Jesus, and in obedience to His command, I want to be baptized, and I want to belong to the fellowship of God’s saints in this dear church.” Come. Come. In a moment we shall sing our song of appeal, and while we sing it, a family to come, a couple to come, a child to come, a youth to come, as God shall bless His Word, as God shall make the appeal, as God shall speak to your heart, come tonight. Make it tonight. Do it tonight. Just as God has written here in His Word, obediently, yieldedly, surrenderedly, come. Come. In the balcony round, on this lower floor, down to the front: “Here I am, pastor, I make it now. I give you my hand, I give my heart to God, and I want to be baptized, just as the Lord has said in His Word” [Matthew 28:19-20]. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. Do it now, and God bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.