The Power of Personal Testimony
March 23rd, 1969 @ 8:15 AM
THE POWER OF PERSONAL TESTIMONY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-23-69 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, as I say, whether you believe it or not, you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Power of Personal Testimony. These days are dedicated to our Crusade of the Americas. We have been getting ready for them for weeks and now for almost months. And we are coming to the very heart of that dedicated ministry.
This coming Monday, as Mel Carter said, is the fiftieth anniversary of our Palace Theater services. And in keeping with it, preaching on the great mountain peaks of the Bible, Mount Moriah, Mount Carmel, Mount Olivet, Mount Calvary, the great mountain peaks of the Bible, and then Easter, then after a weeks preparation, our services here every night in the church.
And the sermon this morning is in keeping with that dedicated effort to bring our city to the feet of our Lord. Now if you will turn in your Bible with me, you can easily follow the message. It is in the third chapter of Acts, the Book of Acts, Acts chapter 3, the third chapter of the Book of Acts:
Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.
And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;
Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.
And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.
And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.
Held out his hand, he was his right handed. He held out his right hand. “Now how, pastor, do you know that he was right-handed?” Well, you wait a minute. I will tell you exactly how I know he was right-handed. He held out his right hand expecting to receive an alms.
Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: a far better gift. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
Well, had you been lame all your life, had you been born lame and had never walked in your life, if a stranger came by and said, “Get up and walk” would you walk? No. Nor did he. But he held out that right hand extended expecting to receive an alms. “And Peter took him by the right hand, and raised him up, just lifted him up” [Acts 3:7]. You will find many, this is just one out of many, you’ll find many references in the Bible that will give you a good idea of the stature of Simon Peter. He must have been an enormous man. It took six of the disciples to pull up to the shore the net of fishes in the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John [John 21:8], then the Book says Simon Peter went down by himself and pulled up what those six men were struggling with [John 21:11]. He must have been a tremendous man. And when they wrote that novel, The Big Fisherman, they entitled correct.
And he took him by the right hand, and literally lifted him up, raised him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered . . . into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
Now I tell you that is one of the most unusual ways to go to church I ever read of in my life, “And he entered . . . into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God” [Acts 3:8]. He didn’t crawl in like some of us, like we were going to our execution or something. That guy came walking and leaping and praising God. Just imagine it. “And all the people saw him. . .” [Acts 3:9]. No wonder they did. If we had a few like that come around the church, you would have a whole lot of folks going around here looking at us. “Look at those kooks down there at the First Baptist Church, walking, and leaping, and praising God.” Why, I can’t even get you to sound the high sounding cymbals, much less walk, and leap, and praise the Lord. Just preaching to you what is in the good Book. Now I don’t invent these things. I’m just looking at it.
And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered . . . into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
And all the people saw him walking and praising God.
Why, it was hallelujah every step of the way. It was just glory, glory all over the place.
And they knew that it was he which sat for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple: and they all came and in wonder and amazement . . .
And as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John.
That is the reason he was able to go through all of those gyrations. He was like the man on a flying trapeze. He had John by one hand and Simon Peter by the other hand, and he was just turning flip flops all over the place, praising God. Oh dear! Can you imagine it?
And so as he held Peter and John, all the people came together in the porch called Solomon’s, greatly wondering.
And when Peter saw it, he answered . . .
And he drew in the net [John 21:11].
Now our Bible is divided into verses and chapters, but it was not written that way. That was just our convenience in finding some things. It was hundreds and hundreds of years, about a thousand four hundred years before our Bible was divided into chapters and verses. Now it’s a shame that they put a chapter heading right in the middle of this story, right in the middle of it, chapter 4, so you don’t get the point. But you look at it. This story ends at verse 4 in chapter 4, go right on down, don’t look at that chapter heading.
And I want you to see what happened when that fellow got through leaping and praising God and Simon Peter drew in the net. “And the number of the men who believed was five thousand” [Acts 4:4]! Now, there are two words there that you can translate for men. One is anthrōpoi, and that just means everybody, folks, men, women, children, families, people, just everybody, anthrōpoi. But there is a Greek word for men, men in distinction from women and children, men. And that’s andrōn. And that’s what that is here.
And when that fellow got through shouting and leaping and praising God, there were five thousand andrōn, men who were turned to the faith [Acts 4:4]. Now I am just a-looking. I am just seeing what’s in the Book. When Simon Peter got through preaching at Pentecost [Acts 2:14-40], it says, and there were added unto the church that day about three thousand souls, men, women, children, when he got through preaching, three thousand souls [Acts 2:41]. I turn the page, and when this man got through leaping and praising God [Acts 3:9], the story ends; there were five thousand andrōn who were turned to the Lord [Acts 4:4].
Now you say well, that is peculiar, and unique, and singular, and unusual. Oh no! That’s just the normal and the natural and the usual in the program of God.
Now I want to show you. We haven’t got time to stay here all day and look at everything, but we can look at one other thing. Turn with me to the fifth chapter of the Book of Mark. Turn with me to the fifth chapter of the Book of Mark. Now this story is about our Lord on the eastern side, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. And it is the story of that wild man who was possessed. And he said his name was Legion. When Jesus asked him what his name was, he said, “My name is Legion. I am filled with filthy and dirty and evil spirits” [Mark 5:9].
Lest somebody think, well, that was a long time ago; listen, I have seen ten thousand men in the city of Dallas that are filled with evil spirits, all kinds of vile, ugly, iniquitous passions and movements and darkness of life and deed just as this man here. He was filled with filthy, and evil, and dirty, and blasphemous spirits [Mark 5:9]. Well, the story continues, when Jesus cast them out they wanted to go into the swine feeding there, and they ran headlong into the sea and were drowned [Mark 5:10-13]. And when the people in the city saw that they had lost money by the presence of this unusual stranger, they went to Him and begged Jesus to get out of their town and to get out of their country and to leave their coasts [Mark 5:14-17].
Well, you say, that’s peculiar; think of asking the Lord to leave. Why, that’s not peculiar at all. You have that in the city of Dallas all day and all night. These liquor dealers don’t want Jesus around; it would cost them money. If you’ve got all of these teenagers and young people to give their hearts to Jesus, what would the liquor industry do? For they can’t exist unless they teach our young people to drink.
Think of all the pimps and the procurers that operate the white slavery rings of prostitution. How would they exist if they weren’t able to entice our American girls to give themselves to the dark, ugly traffic that curses life and destroys those young people? They don’t want Jesus around. It would ruin them.
Think of all these dope peddlers and pushers. What would they do if they didn’t encourage and entice and hook our young people into those disastrous practices? They would go out of business. They have to depend upon the enlistment of our young people or they wouldn’t exist, they couldn’t exist. And they don’t want Jesus around. It hurts their business. Same way with the gambler. Same way with a thousand others who are filled with these dark, evil spirits.
Well, when the thing happened here, that’s in human nature, there is nothing peculiar I am reading in the Book. When they saw they lost their pigs, it never occurred to them to thank God for the marvelous saving of this man here. They lost money in Jesus so they asked Him to leave [Mark 5:17]. And that’s not unusual when the Lord left; He never stays where He is not invited. He won’t come into your heart and life if you don’t want Him. So He left. And when He left, that man named Legion came up to Him and said, “I do not want to stay here. I do not want to stay here. I want to go with You. I want to be with You” [Mark 5:18].
And the Lord Jesus said, “No, no, no. You go back there to Decapolis,” to Gadara, all the rest all those nine Greek cities that made up the ten, the Decapolis, “you go back and you tell your friends and the folks at home how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and had compassion on thee” [Mark 5:19]. “And he departed and began to publish in Decapolis,” in the whole country, the league of those ten Greek cities; “he began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel” [Mark 5:20].
All right, now turn the page. Turn to chapter 8. The reason you don’t see this in the Bible is because it isn’t marked; it isn’t said. Now look at chapter 8. It doesn’t say here in this place—and that’s the reason we miss it, it doesn’t say here that Jesus is in Gadara again, that He is over there in Decapolis again, that He is on the other side of the Sea of Galilee again, but He is. “And in those days”—look how it starts: “In those days the multitude being very great,” out there in that desert country, where the country of Decapolis was located, “the multitude being very great” [Mark 8:1]. And then follows the story of the Lord’s feeding of the four thousand [Mark 8:2-9]. Well, where did those multitudes come from? That is the exact place where the Lord was standing when the people came out of the city, all of them came out, and begged Him to leave their coast [Mark 5:17]. “Get out please. Don’t stay here. Leave.”
But now He comes to that same place, and that same spot, and that same town, and that same country, and He is surrounded by multitudes of people, multitudes of them, multitudes pressing Him on every side [Mark 8:1-2]. Where did they come from? Why, bless your heart, when that fellow got through witnessing and testifying what Jesus had done for him [Mark 5:20], when the Lord came back the whole country was eager to see Him and to welcome Him and to press close to Him. And they were so enamored with Him and so open to His message that they wouldn’t leave to eat. Out there in the desert place they just stayed and stayed, and finally Jesus in compassion fed them lest they faint by the way [Mark 8:1-9].
Now that is the power of personal testimony. Isn’t that something? Isn’t that something? We are all of us moved by the dramatic and the big and the showy, but actually our finest work is done personally, heart to heart, mouth to mouth, soul to soul, face to face. And isn’t that according to the Book? In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation it says, “And they overcame him,” that old dragon, that old serpent, the devil: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb,” the atoning sacrifice of Christ “and by the word of their testimony” [Revelation 12:11].
You fathers and mothers, and the devil is in the house and in the home, and the devil is in the children, and you are despairing: father and mother, personally, personally testify to the grace and love of Jesus [Psalm 78:1-7], to that child, personally. God does something when you do it. And the kingdom of Satan, if you want to knock down the fortress and the balustrades of the devil, of the evil one, just knock at the door with a personal testimony [2 Corinthians 10:4-5].
And pastor: standing here in this pulpit, I do not decry or deprecate this holy office and this sacred place; but pastor, let me whisper something in your ear. With all of the dramatic and all of the vast interests that accompanies, like an addendum is added to this preaching over the radio, and preaching on this television, and preaching to these throngs that come to the First Baptist Church; pastor, let me whisper something in your ear. If you really, if you would really get people to Jesus, talk to them. Talk to them.
Every Saturday night before I go to bed I will call five or six or seven families or people. And practically everybody you see coming down this aisle will be people I have talked to. We had several come at the 8:15 service; every one of them I have talked to. Pastor, let me whisper something in your ear: how great it is, how thrilling, dramatic, to stand and to preach. If God has ever put that in your soul you’ll never get away from it. It’s something you can’t drown. God has called you to preach. But pastor, if you want to win people, talk to them personally. For every one you will win in a sermon, you will win a hundred personally.
This last week I ran into a story that I had heard many times in these years past. It concerns Dr. Cortland Myers, the far-famed and eloquent pastor of the Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston where Mel came from. Cortland Myers was in a social group in the church, and there was a young man there. And Dr. Myers, the pastor, asked him if he was a Christian.
He said, “No.” No, he was not a Christian.
So, the pastor asked him, “Well, do you go to church?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Where do you go to church?”
“I come here to Tremont Temple.”
“Oh,” said the pastor, “you come here to Tremont Temple. How long have you come to Tremont Temple?”
He said, “I have been coming here every Sunday for seven years.”
And Cortland Myers said, “You have been attending church here and listening to me preach for seven years, and you are not a Christian?”
And the young man said, “Yes, for seven years. And I’m not saved, I’m not a Christian.”
And Cortland Myers took the young man to his study and talked to him, and in five minutes he had the boy in the kingdom.
Now, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. I am not decrying, much less desecrating this sacred place. To stand in God’s house, in God’s place, to deliver God’s message is something beyond any other reward in the earth. When Truett and those men say they wouldn’t trade their place to be king of England or president of the United States, I can understand. I wouldn’t either; it would have no interest to me whatsoever. I’d rather be right here. But pastor, there’s something for your ear to hear: if you want to win people, talk to them, talk to them, talk to them, face to face, heart to heart. It is astonishing how God blesses the testimony, the power of personal testimony.
Now, for just a moment I want us to follow through the great stream of the Christian faith. Suppose we were in an airplane and looking down, say, over the Amazon jungle, and you can see that river, or the Mississippi. Suppose you were over the United States and you looked down; it is so easy to follow the meandering course of that great river. You can’t tell an elevation when you are high up. It could be low or high, you can’t see it. But anything like a river is very, very sharply delineated. Now, that same thing; you can follow the course of the Christian religion by this key: personal testimony.
Well, let’s start. The Christian faith began in the passage that you read this morning in the first chapter of John. It began with a personal testimony. John the Baptist standing on the banks of the Jordan River, and Jesus of Nazareth passed by. And John witnessed and said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” [John 1:36] and pointed Him out. “Behold the Lamb of God,” and pointed them to Him. “The Lamb of God, look at Him.” Pointed to Him, and there were two men who heard John the Baptist say that, heard his testimony. One was Andrew and one was John, the beloved disciple, and they went and spent that day with the Lord [John 1:35-40]. When John wrote that he was about one hundred years old. There had been two generations passed since that day, and yet according to the Bible, John remembered the exact hour when he saw the Lord and looked on Him and spent the day with Him. It was ten o’clock in the morning [John 1: 39].
Well, Andrew went to his brother Simon and said, “Come and see.” And John went to his brother James and said, “Come and see” [John 1:40-42]. And the next day the Lord saw Philip and called him [John 1:43-44], and Philip found Nathanael and said to Nathanael, “Nathanael, come and see” [John 1:45-46]. And that was the beginning, the source, the mouth of the great Christian stream in personal witnessing; “Look, come and see” [John 1:36-46]. And it followed that course.
As the story progresses Jesus talked to Nicodemus by night [John 3:1-2]. Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, and as such it was beneath his dignity to be found talking to this despised Nazarene. So he did it at night, and the Lord talking to Nicodemus at night delivered the greatest sermon on the new birth you have ever heard [John 3:1-21]. And following the Lord, you will find Him talking to a Samaritan woman, a despised Samaritan woman [John 4:7-26]. And follow the stream, and you will find the Lord Jesus talking to Zaccheus [Luke 19:1-5]. I can imagine; “Where did the Lord know my name?” And He stands there at the foot of the tree and says, “Zaccheus, come down” [Luke 19:1-5]. “Knows me by name,” that despised little tax collector up there in the top of that tree. “Come down.” And the Lord said, “Today salvation has come to this house” [Luke 19:9].
Why, bless you, that’s the Lord. There never was a sermon preached on spiritual worship to rival the one that Jesus preached to an audience of one, that despised Samaritan woman [John 4:7-26].
Show you how men get away from the spirit of Christ. I read the announcement of a minister, a pastor of a church, who said there will be no more evening services in the church; no more evening services, and he gave the reason. “It is not worth my while to prepare a sermon for an audience of less than a hundred.” So he called off his evening services, and closed the church and turned out the lights. It wasn’t worth his while to prepare a sermon for an audience of less than a hundred.
Jesus wasn’t that way. He had an audience of one, and He preached to Nicodemus the sermon on new birth [John 3:1-21]. And He had an audience of one, and He preached the greatest message on spiritual worship the world has ever heard to a despised Samaritan outcast woman [John 4:7-26]. And He had an audience of one when He called Zaccheus down from the tree [Luke 19:1-6], and won him to the Lord. “Salvation has come to this house today” [Luke 19:9]. Why, bless your heart, if anybody will listen, that’s a wonderful audience to preach to. If anybody will listen, one is a fine audience.
I haven’t time to talk about the deacon Philip. In the midst of a revival meeting in Samaria [Acts 8:5-26], and the angel of the Lord said to him, “Arise and go down to the desert, down to Gaza” [Acts 8:26]. Here stands that deacon Philip by the side of the road, leaving a tremendous revival in Samaria, and out there in that desert by himself. Down the road came the dust of a chariot. And inside the chariot was the chancellor of the exchequer of Ethiopia. There was the secretary of the treasury of Ethiopia [Acts 8:27]. And in Jerusalem somewhere he had found a scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he was reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah [Acts 8:28]. “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him: and with His stripes we are healed” [Isaiah 53:5-8].
That Ethiopian treasurer read those words and said, “I just wonder of whom is He talking? Who is it that was wounded because of our sins? And who is it through whom we have peace in His chastisement and suffering?” [Isaiah 53:5]. That’s when the Spirit said to the deacon, “You join yourself to that chariot,” an audience of one, just one [Acts 8:29-35].
And I haven’t time to describe the incomparable ministry of the apostle Paul in the Roman province of Asia when he turned all Asia to the Lord [Acts 19:10]. The seven churches in the Book of the Revelation [Revelation 2:1-3:22], were founded in that great revival Christian appeal of the apostle Paul in the city of Ephesus [Acts 19:1-10]. And he said, “Remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not day and night with tears to warn every one from house to house, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:31, 20-21].
Following the great stream of the Christian faith. Aren’t you glad that God is like that? What if God thought of us in terms of oceans full and buckets full and masses of us? And the Lord looks down from heaven and He just sees the great mass of humanity, and somebody little like me, lost, unknown, unnamed, lost in the millions and the throngs and the masses. Aren’t you glad God is not like that? But when He looks down from heaven, He doesn’t see just masses of humanity. He sees you. He knows your name. He knows your name [John 10:3]. He says, “I know the numbers of the hairs in your head” [Matthew 10:30]. That’s God.
Sometimes when I preach at these evangelistic conferences to my fellow pastors, I say to them, “You know, if I could describe the Christian religion as being any one thing above any other thing, I would call it the religion of the one lost sheep, and the one lost coin, and the one lost boy [Luke 15:3-32], and the one fallen sparrow” [Matthew 10:29]. That’s what I would call it. Not one falls to the ground that the eye of the heavenly Father didn’t follow it down [Matthew 10:29]. Not one sheep out in the wilderness but that the Lord’s love and compassionate care follows it [Luke 15:3-7]. Not one prodigal boy away from home and away from God but that the love of the Lord reaches out to him [Luke 15:11-32]. That’s the Christian faith.
And incidentally, there are a lot of us, that’s right; and incidentally, it’s a big church, that’s right; and incidentally, there’re a lot of folks that belong to it, that’s right. But particularly and especially it’s you, and it’s your family, and it is I and the circle of my family, and it is we and all of us who love one another. That’s God.
Well, let me skip down to the conclusion. We’re talking about the power of personal testimony; how God blesses it, how it never fails, how it never falls to the ground. Out of many, many, many pages in the life of the pastor, let me take one.
Some while ago our church sponsored and and we poured our very lives into a coliseum crusade. It was held in the big field house on the Southern Methodist University campus. And one night when the preacher had done his message, the evangelist had done his message and had made his appeal, I was standing down at the front shaking hands with the people that God had given us. And while I was down there at the front, there was a young man in our church who brought to me a little girl. She was maybe ten or twelve years of age. And when he brought her to me he said, “Pastor, I have no idea who this girl is. I never saw her before. But she said to me that she wanted me to go with her down to the front. She wanted me to take her to you. So I brought her down here, but I don’t know why. I don’t know who she is. I never saw her before.”
That was very unusual. I began then to talk to that little girl. You know what I found out? This is what that child told me. In front of her were two young men. One of them, a member of our church, he had brought his friend to the crusade. And while the invitation was being pressed and the people were singing the invitation hymn, the young man who belonged to our church turned to his friend and talked to him about Jesus and tried to persuade him to accept the Lord, to give his heart to the Lord, to take the Lord as his Savior and to do it there. And the young man refused. The boy’s friend would not respond. But while they were there in front of this child, and the young man in our church pleading with his friend to accept the Lord, the little girl heard him. And she accepted the Lord. She opened her heart to the appeal of the young fellow there in front of her. And that was when she turned to the young man standing by her side and said, “Sir, would you take me down to the front? Would you go with me to the preacher?”
You know, I had no opportunity to find out who that young fellow was, talking to his friend. I had no way to find out. It was lost in the crowd at the benediction. But I also know something else for sure; I would say without peradventure, that young man that night thought he failed, utterly failed, talking to his friend about the Lord, and his friend didn’t accept it. And he went from that service and back to his house saying to himself, “I have just utterly failed. I’ve just failed. I did my best. I prayed, and I asked, and I invited, and he didn’t respond. I have just failed.”
I wish I could find that young fellow and tell him God’s Book says no word of the Lord ever falls to the ground [Isaiah 55:11]. “My word shall not return unto Me void; it shall accomplish that for which I have purposed it” [Isaiah 55:11]. And as he stood and testified and made appeal, his friend turned him down. But unknown to him, back of him was this little girl, and hearing him plead for the Lord, she opened her heart and accepted Christ as her Savior. It never fails. It never fails. God’s word never fails.
So we’re like those who, as the Scriptures say, “going forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed” [Psalm 126:6], or another translation, “carrying a leaking basket.” Isn’t that something? What do you think of that? Going forth and weeping, carrying a leaking basket. And the idea of the picture is, as you go along and the basket leaks, the seed falls out. And in God’s day and in God’s time, he shall come rejoicing bearing God’s sheaves with him [Psalm 126:6]. Isn’t that an amazing thing?
When we get to heaven you are going to find people there that were won to Jesus by you, and you never knew it. You are going to find folks there that were introduced to the Lord, and you did it, and you had no idea of it. I am meeting that all over this earth everywhere I go. “I found the Lord in a service. I found the Lord in a meeting. I gave my life to Jesus.” And they point to something that I have absolutely forgotten about, if I ever knew it. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, carrying a leaking basket, and the seed falling out, and God gathering the sheaves in some harvest day. [Psalm 126:5-6].
Don’t we have that invitation hymn?
Sowing in the morning, sowing in the evenings,
Sowing seeds of kindness, in the dewy eve,
[Bring in the Sheaves,” by Knowles Shaw, 1874]
By and by the harvest; “we shall come rejoicing.” We’re going to sing that song, and while we sing it, a family you to come this morning, make it now. A couple you, one somebody you [Romans 10:9-10], or you for whom we’ve prayed, for you to whom we’ve made invitation, on the first note of that first stanza, into that aisle and down to the front, come [Romans 10:9-10]. Make it now. Do it now. In the balcony round, there is a stairway to the front and the back and on either side, come. Make the decision now, this moment, and when we stand up to sing, stand up coming, and angels will attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.