THE REALITY OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-28-69 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, if you are not fortunate enough to be here with this throng in the auditorium of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, you are sharing our morning services. And we are glad to have you unfortunates who cannot be here in the church itself, to look at it on television, and to listen to it on the radio.
How I am impressed and how thankful I am for this glorious choir. It gets larger Sunday by Sunday by Sunday. Up there, back here, pretty soon all the way around out there, oh, I praise God for the way they sing! I made a discovery just now. I have been a singing around here unappreciated for twenty-five years, and I have discovered what’s the matter. I need a cello to accompany me. And that will do it. Tell you, if it would help me sing as beautifully as that boy we fetched up here in this church, I would be ready to sing all the time.
Now the sermon is entitled The Reality of God. We are, these present Sundays, preaching through the Book of Ephesians. And last Sunday the message was on the first verse, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are in Dallas.” You have it there, “in Ephesus” [Ephesians 1:1], but the letter is an encyclical. It is addressed to all of the churches. In the last verses of Paul’s epistle to the church at Colosse, he says, “Now you also read the letter that I have written to Laodicea” [Colossians 4:16]. Well, you don’t have any letter in the Bible here to the Laodiceans. The reason is, this is the letter to Laodicea. When Paul wrote it, there were several copies made of that original manuscript, and he left blank. In some of the most ancient manuscripts it is still blank, and they filled in the name of the church.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God to the saints which are in Colosse, they had a manuscript. To the saints which are in Laodicea, they had a manuscript. To the saints which are in Hierapolis, and they had a manuscript. To the saints which are in Ephesus, and that’s the manuscript that was preserved in the Holy Word of God. But the letter is to all the churches, to all the saints, to God’s people of all time and to us.
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the saints which are in Dallas, and to the faithful in the Lord Jesus, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be God” [Ephesians 1:1-3]. That’s what we sang about in the anthem just now, blessed be God, praise be to God, “and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ” [Ephesians 1:1-3]. And this is my message of the morning.
Now when you pick up the letter of Paul to the church, you move yourself into a different world. For we live in a secular, and materialistic society and one that increasingly finds no place for God in life, in work, and in play. But in this world to which we’re introduced by Paul, it starts off with God. And the same way he starts off, he closes the epistle, “Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ” [Ephesians 1:2]. And he closes it, “Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” [Ephesians 6:23].
So the secular, material, skeptical world says to us, “We don’t need God. And we don’t have any place for faith. And as for ethics and morality, if you have the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule (even if they’d be that charitable) it’s not needed. It’s not necessary. All you need is maybe the Golden Rule” [Matthew 7:12]. Well, of course, that [Matthew 7:12] comes from the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], and the Sermon on the Mount is senseless without God. And morality finally fragments and frays without God. There is motive back of righteousness, ethic, morality, and that motive is not found in men because men change.
And they’re unstable and they vary, but morality, and ethics, and righteousness, and goodness, is ever the same, for it is grounded in the character of Almighty God. Right, morality, truth is not what man says it is, but it is what God is. And God never changes [Hebrews 13:8]. And what is right yesterday is right today and right forever. There is no such thing except in perversions; there’s no such thing as situation ethics, that “Under these circumstances, this is right for me now.” No such thing as that, for right, righteousness, morality, truth is grounded in the character of Almighty God. And without Him, we have nothing but dust and sand, ropes made out of sand in our hands.
Now the cynical world will say that faith is a matter of gullibility; it’s a hangover superstition that dragged from our evolutionary rise, from our animal ancestors. Faith. And the concomitant and the corollary is also either expressed or implied. There is a contradiction between science and faith; and to have science is not to have faith, for science is diametrically opposite of faith. That’s what the cynic says, the materialist says, the secularist says. Why, my friend, all science is capable of is to observe. That’s all that it is. It just observes and writes down what it sees but there is no explanation in science for anything, not even the littlest, simplest, plainest things. They cannot explain. They just observe. The scientist just sees and writes down what he sees. But there’s no possibility of explanation. It lies beyond him.
I hold in my hand that blessed Book. I turn it loose. Why did it go that way? Why does it go this way? Nobody knows nor will anybody ever know. The simplest things in life are inexplicable. You just observe them. That’s science. That moon up there, in which we’re so interested, plant an American flag on it right now. The great Pacific Ocean will move, the entire ocean.
Think of the power to move that ocean. Down there in Panama I walked along the beach, and those tides in Panama are sometimes twenty and thirty feet high. The bends in the continents they say cause it. And the whole Pacific Ocean is moved in the tide that rises, and moves on the other side, as the tide recesses here, and rises there.
The pull of the moon, what is that? You just observe it, that’s all. You don’t explain it. Like water; it is an universal law in physics, when a thing gets colder, it contracts. And as it gets colder, it contracts.
And the opposite, when you fire it up, when you heat it, it expands, and it expands, and it expands, until finally, you can take water and contain it, build a fire under it, and it will drive a powerful engine, the power of just that expansion of water.
But look as it gets colder, and colder, and condenses, and contracts, and it comes to thirty-two degrees, and then for some unknown and explicable reason, it expands, when it’s supposed to contract. That makes possible the great currents of the ocean that we don’t have time to explain.
You just look at it. You don’t explain. Science does not explain. Science has no answers. It just observes and writes down what it sees. Where are the answers? The answers lie in God. Is there purpose in life? Why was I born? Is there a meaning to existence? Where did I come from? What am I? Where is my eternal destiny and home?
These things lie in God. What is inexplicable to my mind is this: why men who are skeptical will say, “This is a reality, a piece of brick or a dust or a rock. That’s a reality. And a star is a reality. And the world in which I stand is a reality.” But faith to them is not a reality.
When, to me, faith is as great and as tremendous, and as moving a reality as any other observable phenomenon in human life. Yet they read God out. It’s a different world, isn’t it? The world in which we’re introduced in Christ, and the world of the materialistic skeptic, or the skeptical materialistic.
Well, that’s the way he starts, and that’s the way we want to start. This is the way he lives and concludes; this is the way we want to live and conclude, in God. Grace, peace from God our Father, and from Jesus our Lord [Ephesians 1:2]. Blessed be God. Blessed be God [Ephesians 1:3]. Praises be to God. How great Thou art.
“O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder” [from “How Great Thou Art,” Stuart H. Hine, 1931]. That old hymn has seized the imagination of the Christian world today. I am beginning to hear it sung in these last few years at memorial funeral services for our people. Almighty God, how great Thou art! Isaiah says, “He measures the waters of the earth, the vast oceans and seas in the hollow of His hand” [Isaiah 40:12]. Isaiah says that the earth itself is like the fine dust in His scales [Isaiah 40:12]. Paul says, “His ways are past finding out and that His wisdom is unfathomable” [Romans 11:33].
In 1879, Sidney Lanier wrote in the “Marshes of Glynn,”
As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod,
Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God:
I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies
In the freedom of all the space ‘twixt the marsh and the skies:
By so many roots as the marsh-grass sends down into the sod,
I will heartily lay me a-hold on the greatness of God.
“Blessed be God” [Ephesians 1:3]. But how can I bless God? As Hebrews 7:7 avows, “Without contradiction the less is blessed by the greater.” And God is so great, I am so small. How could I bless God? For when God blesses us, He bestows benefits upon us. He pours out of His abounding grace and love and gifts, and He enriches our souls and our lives, but how can I bless God? I cannot add to His perfection. I cannot add to His blessedness.
He said in the Psalm, “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee, for the earth is Mine and the fullness thereof [Psalm 50:12]. And the gold and the silver are Mine [Haggai 2:8]. And the cattle on a thousand hills” [Psalm 50:10]. How can I bless God?
I can do it in three ways. One: I can bless God by my praises, and prayers, and words, and deeds of gratitude, and thanksgiving, and appreciation.
One hundred three Psalm:
Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies.
Bless the Lord and forget not all His benefits [Psalm 103:2].
I can bless God in thanksgiving and gratitude. Remembering the gracious hands from whence my blessings come.
I can bless God in phileō love. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord thy God is one God: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” [Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 22:37].
And Jesus repeated it in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Matthew, for the first commandment He says is this, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God” [Matthew 22:37]. I can bless God in phileō love, my Father in heaven [Matthew 6:9]. How great, but still and yet, my Father in heaven.
In my reading for this sermon, I came across a story of the Earl of Asquith who was the prime minister of Great Britain in the early years of this century. He was a noble man, a great man, an appreciated man, a man who was highly honored, received many citations and plaudits in the course of his illustrious political career. Upon a day, a servant was recounting to his little girl the greatness of her father. And he spoke of his citations and the honors bestowed upon him, how great he was. And the little wide-eyed girl broke in and said, “But, oh, sir, is he still my father?” So great, so mighty, but still our Father who art in heaven. And I can bless God through phileō love, loving God.
Third: I can bless God in my service and ministry and compassionate remembrance of God’s people, God’s children. “Inasmuch, He said, As ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me” [Matthew 25:40]. I can bless God in my love and friendship for His people, Israel. I can bless God in love and compassionate service and ministry to these for whom Christ died.
We must hasten. “Blessed be God our Father and blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ” [Ephesians 1:3]. Blessed be Christ our Lord.
What is God like? The Holy Scriptures say that “No man could see God’s face and live” [Exodus 33:20]. What is God like? To look upon the presence and the glory of God would be like looking into the blazing sun, it blinds our eyes. The twelfth chapter of Hebrews concludes with this verse, “For our God is a consuming fire” [Hebrews 12:29]. And up into the earlier verses in that chapter it describes the mount, Mount Sinai that burned with fire, and then quotes from the Old Testament: ”And even Moses said, “I do exceedingly fear and quake” [Hebrews 12:21, Deuteronomy 9:19]. Who can look at God?
On the road to Damascus, and I’ve traveled down that road, and in someplace, and I’ve been by that place, in someplace on that road nearing Damascus, I have been there at the midday of the burning Syrian sun, and at midday above the brightness of the glory of that shining orb, appeared the Lord. And so bright, so iridescent, it blinded Paul’s eyes, and they led him by the hand into Damascus, blind [Acts 22:6-11]. The glory of God.
Who can gaze upon God? It’s like gazing upon the sun that blinds. Then how are we to know God? We know God in His self-revelation in Christ. This is God [John 14:9, Colossians 2:9]. This is the love of God [John 3:16], the mercy of God [Titus 3:5]. This is the atoning grace of God [Ephesians 2:8]. What is God like? This is God. Look at Jesus [John 14:8-9]. “He is Immanuel, God with us” [Matthew 1:21-23].
Now He is One with God [John 10:30], yet there are two [John 1:1]. All of the works of God are mysteries. That is the signature of the presence of God. If God has been there, it will be mustērion, it will be mystery. It is unfathomable and inexplicable to us. If God has done it, it is mystery.
Everything that God has done is mysterious, inexplicable, unfathomable, unknowable, unreachable. You cannot see to the end of it, nor can you grasp the inner meaning of it. If God is there, if His hand has been present, His signature is mystery.
And the hand that flung this universe into space, that made the world on which we walk [Isaiah 45:12], is the same hand that wrote the Book that reveals God to us [2 Timothy 3:16]. And it is mystery. We cannot understand it, comprehend it. We can’t put the infinitude of God in our circumscribed and finite minds. We cannot. He is too great, and too big, and too mighty, and too beyond us. So when I read in the Book, the revelation of God, I see in the Book the same mystery that I see in the world of God’s creation. I cannot understand it. God is One, baptizing them in the name of, singular, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [Matthew 28:19].
We know God as Father. We know God as Son. We know God in our hearts as the Holy Spirit, yet the three are one. In a mystery I cannot enter into, no man can grasp. When Jesus was in the days of His flesh, he leaned on the promises of God. He trusted in God [1 Peter 2:23]. His enemies said so. So great an impression did His trust in God make on them when He died on the cross, they flung Him to His knees. He trusted in God. He prayed to God His Father [Matthew 27:46].
In the institution of the Lord’s Supper at the Passover, they sang the psallo, the praises of glory to God, before they left the upper room [Matthew 26:30]. In Gethsemane, He bowed in agony, praying to the Father [Luke 22:41-44]. When He was crucified on the cross He cried, “My God, lama, why, sabachthani, hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Matthew 27:46].
When He died, He bowed His head and said, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” [Luke 23:46]. When He was raised from the dead, He said to Mary Magdalene, “Touch Me not.” The old relationship in the days of My flesh is passed. “For I am here only because I have not ascended to the Father” [John 20:17]. And yet, the two are one.
In the tenth chapter of John, “I and My Father are One” [John 10:30]. In the fourteenth chapter of John, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” [John 14:8-9]. Would you like to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. For if you know Jesus, you know God the Father. And if you love Jesus, you love God the Father. And if you sit at the feet of Jesus, you sit at the feet of God. And if you follow Jesus, you follow Lord God. What an unfathomable mystery! He was a man. “The Word was made flesh” [John 1:14], yet He was God.
One of the things, if you ever studied church history, those old Christology controversies that raced through Christendom for the first three centuries, those ancients had no trouble with the deity of Christ. There was no argument about the deity of Christ, but they were forever in controversy over the humanity of Christ. They could not believe in the humanity of Christ. They all believed in the deity of the Lord. Today our philosophical world has turned exactly around.
Nobody has any trouble today with the humanity of Jesus. Good man, like Socrates; fine man, like Plato; learned man, like Aristotle; all accept Jesus in human manner; but today, we have that trouble with His deity. How could a man who lived and died be God? And yet He is.
The great climactic conclusion to the Fourth Gospel is the cry of doubting Thomas, “My Lord and my God” [John 20:28]. And there’s no sweeter or finer verse in the Bible than what Paul wrote in Titus 2:13, “Looking for, looking for that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Whom are we looking for from heaven? We are looking for God. It is God who is coming down. It is God who shall recreate this fallen earth. It is God our Savior whom we shall adore and worship in His coming, and in the unfolding ages of all the eternities to come [Philippians 2:10].
Think of it. “Blessed be God and blessed be the Lord our Savior, Jesus Christ, and who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies, in Christ” [Ephesians 1:3]. We, this isn’t something going, it isn’t a future, who hath blessed us now! Now, if you are in Christ, you are in the heavenlies, and you are blessed with all spiritual blessings [Ephesians 1:3].
You are, right now in the Lord, in Christ. Oh, how rich we are! And how encouraged we ought to be, and how up always a Christian ought to be. Why, if a first-century apostle or a first-century Christian were to see you today and found you discouraged and down and blue, pessimistic, covered with melancholy, down, he wouldn’t understand. But you point out to him the cross; “Oh, the death, the suffering, the blood, the agony, the cross; oh,” he would say, “That’s our sign of triumph and conquest and victory.”
Like the little girl who came into the church, brought by her father for the first time, and there was a cross on the wall, and she said, “Daddy, look, there’s a plus sign up there on the wall.” That’s it. A plus sign. A plus sign.
God has given us in Christ, all of the riches of glory. Yes. It’s better to have a new heart than a new coat. It’s better to sit at the table of the Lord than the banquets of the most festive boards the world ever provided. You are richer being an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Christ, than were you the son, and the scion of the richest man in the earth.
You have all of the answers in Christ, all of them. “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part . . . And now we look through a glass darkly” [1 Corinthians 13:8-9, 12].
All things to the human mind are so shaded, and so fuzzy, so unclear in outline, and finality. But in Christ, we have all of the answers now and ultimately, forever in Him. “Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ” [Ephesians 1:3]. You’re up there. You’re up there. And you’re to be up there, not down there, but in the heavenlies, up in Christ. And our life ought to be that way. We ought to be that way. Whether we suffer, whether we’re sick, whether we’re in agony, whether we’re discouraged because of others, whatever, the Christian is to be up singing songs in the night.
He is to be happy in the Lord. He is to bless God. He is to praise Jesus. I don’t know these things because I have never experienced them, but I have read Christian psychologists who avow that the martyrs felt no pain when they were burned at the stake because of the exaltation, because of the glory in their dying for Jesus.
Like Cranmer who was burned at the stake in Oxford put forth his right hand and held it in the flame and so it burned to a crisp. Think of that. And feel no pain. They were so exalted in the Lord. Like Paul and Silas, beat, thrust in an inner dungeon [Acts 16:23-24], but at midnight singing praises to God [Acts 16:25]. That’s what it is to be in Christ. It’s to be in the heavenlies, blessed with all the blessings of God [Ephesians 1:3].
Well, our time is gone. We want to sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, give himself to Jesus, would you come and stand by me? “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children. We’re all coming today.” Or a couple, or a one somebody you, in the balcony round, there’s a stairwell at the front and at the back, and on either side. And there’s time to spare. If you’re in that farthest seat, come.
The throng on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Today we are decided, we are giving our hearts to the Lord and we are coming” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or, “We’ve already been saved and we’ve already been baptized [Matthew 28:19]. We’re putting our lives in the fellowship of this precious church” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. As the Spirit shall lead the way, as His voice shall woo and invite, answer with your life. Come now. Make it now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE REALITY OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Notice how Paul begins his letter (Ephesians 1:1-3)
B. Notice how Paul closes his letter (Ephesians 6:23-24)
C. He begins and ends with GodII. The world of materialism and skepticism so different
A. Don’t need faith, just the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount
1. Ethics and morality ground in character of Almighty God
B. Faith and science contradictory
1. Science does not explain; only observes
2. Faith a moving realityIII. Blessed be God
A. How great is our God (Isaiah 40:12, Romans 11:33)
B. How can I bless God?(Hebrews 7:7, Psalm 50:10, 12)
1. By my praises, prayers and gratitude(Psalm 103:1-4)
2. In my love(Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37-39)
3. In my service, ministry, remembrance of God’s people (Matthew 25:45)IV. Blessed be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
A. No man could see God’s face and live(Exodus 33:20)
1. Like looking into the blazing sun(Hebrews 12:29, Acts 9:3, 8)
B. We know God in His self-revelation in Christ
C. Signature of God is mystery
1. Great mystery – Christ is one with God, yet they are two(Matthew 27:46, Luke 23:46, John 20:16-17, John 10:30, 14:9)
D. Jesus is both God and Man(John 1:14, John 20:28, Titus 2:13)V. Blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies
A. If you are in Christ, you are in the heavenlies