Taking Hold of God’s Ableness
December 13th, 1970 @ 8:15 AM
TAKING HOLD OF GOD’S ABLENESS
W. A. Criswell
12-13-70 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us the praise and preaching service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Taking Hold of the Ableness and Willingness of Almighty God. In our preaching through the Book of Ephesians these last several Sundays, we have been speaking of the incomparable prayer of the apostle in the third chapter of Ephesians. And after the marvelous petitions [Ephesians 3:14-19], he closes with this doxology, “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think . . . unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” [Ephesians 3:20-21]. And the text, “Now unto Him, unto God, who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20], and the title, Taking Hold of The Ableness and Willingness of Almighty God.
Not as though we had to wrest these gifts from His reluctant hands, but they are ours. This God has done for us, and we receive it. It is a gift. It is of grace. And I have four things out of forty things; I have four things that I have chosen to receive as gifts from the gracious, willing, loving hands of our Lord, our exceeding abundantly able God.
First: the gift of forgiveness of sins. How do we appear before the Lord? How could we talk to God? How can we commune or antecede or ask in prayer, we who are so sinful and guilty? “Who can ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who can stand in His holy presence? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart” [Psalm 24:3-4]. But my life is not perfect and clean. And my heart is not pure. How could I deign to appear before the Lord and come into His holy presence? How can I pray, much less, someday enter into heaven? For God hath said in His Holy Word that nothing shall enter in that shall defile the place [Revelation 21:27]. How can I enter in laden with sin?
If heaven were perfect, the minute I got there, it would be imperfect. People sometimes say they are looking for the perfect church. Well, I would say to him, “Don’t you join it, for the minute you got in it, it wouldn’t be perfect anymore.” And the sorrow and tragedy about human life; entering into heaven, sinners. The nearer we get to God, the more conscious of sin we become. The farther away you are from God, the better idea you have of yourself. If you want to have a marvelous opinion of your own righteousness, get just as far away from God as you can. The nearer you get to God, the nearer you approach the throne, the increasingly weight of feeling of guilt and lack overwhelms you.
All of us can sympathize with Isaiah in the sixth chapter of his prophecy, when he saw the Lord high and lifted up, a vision there where he was calling on His name in the temple [Isaiah 6:1]. And the first reaction of Isaiah was, “Woe is me! I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips, and mine eyes have seen the Lord of hosts” [Isaiah 6:5]. When you get close to God that is the way you feel.
Simon Peter out there in life fishing, nothing to disturb the spiritual equilibrium of his soul, he was just doing fine. But when he felt himself in the presence of Jesus the Lord, he just, I presume, suddenly, instantly felt the unworth, the depravity, the guilt, the sin of his life. And he fell down at the feet of the Lord and said, “Lord, depart from me. I am a sinful man. I am not worthy to stand in Your presence” [Luke 5:8]. How could we ever stand in the presence of God? How could we ever see the face of the Lord? How could we ever walk into heaven? How can we ever live as children in the sight of Him who is high and holy and removed from sin? [Isaiah 57:15]. Lord, can You do that, make me worthy? Can You wash the stain of sin out of my life? [Isaiah 1:18]. Can You, Lord, fit and prepare me for an audience with the great God of glory?
And that is the doxology of the apostle. He is able to do above all that we even ask or think [Ephesians 3:20]. He can. The church cannot. The ordinances cannot. Our own impotent hands and feeble efforts cannot. But the able God can! He can cleanse and wash and fit us for the presence and the company and the fellowship of the holy God in glory. He can do it, “And the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin” [1 John 1:7], all of it, sins of omission, sins of commission, sins of the prodigal son that are carnal, sins of the elder brother that most of us are guilty of, of the spirit [Luke 15:11-32]. God can cleanse us and wash us from all sin and make us pure and white as though we had never sinned [Psalm 51:7].
It was my holy privilege as a boy to go to church. I went to church all of my life. I asked my mother, “Mother, when did I first go to church?” And she said, “When you were a month old.” And I have been going to church since I was a month old. And as I would sit there and listen to the pastors in the little tiny church, they would so oft times try to illustrate how the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin. And those things they said made indelible impressions upon my boy’s heart.
One of them one time said that it is like a girl who dreamed that in heaven she looked at the Book of Life, and there were written all the things of her inward self. And the book was covered with sin and wrong imaginations and dark words. It was not pretty at all. And our lives are very much like that. Actually, inwardly, we are not beautiful and pure and pretty people. We are sinful people. Well, she saw that written on the book, and looking up, she asked God how it is she could be in heaven. And then there was a vision of the blood of Christ dropping down from the cross, and the drops fell on that page of her life and washed it clean and white.
Well, another illustration I remember that a pastor used when I was a boy. There was a little fellow standing by his father in London watching the British soldiers go by. And they were Redcoats. And the little boy looking at the soldiers said to his daddy, “What beautiful white uniforms they have. What beautiful white coats they have.”
And the father said, “Son, those coats are not white. They are red.”
“No,” said the boy. “I can see them. They are white, pure white.”
Well, the father was so astonished, he got down there where the boy was looking, and the father had not realized around the window was a red glass border. And the little boy was looking at the red coats of the soldiers through that red pane of glass, that strip of glass. And as you know, when you look at anything red through something red, it looks perfectly white. So they said, the pastor did when I was a boy, that is the way God looks at our sins. We who have come for refuge and forgiveness to Jesus are covered by the blood of the cross, and when God looks at our sins, He looks at them through the blood, and we are perfectly white [Revelation 7:14].
Well, all of those things had spiritual implications for my heart, but as I study it for myself and look at it for myself, I think of it in these terms, how God forgives our sins. One: it is as though we were redeemed from slavery, sold into slavery and somebody redeems us, buys us back. That’s one way. Here’s another way; as though we were in prison for debt and couldn’t pay it, and a great friend comes and pays the debt for us and opens the gates of the prison and sets the captives free. Here is another; as though we were diseased and leprous, and He cleanses us and makes us whole and well again, washed as Naaman, washed and clean [2 Kings 5:1-14]. And here is another one; as though we were dead, dead in trespasses and in sins, and God quickens us, He raises us from the dead [Ephesians 2:1-6].
Oh, there are so many imageries like that in the Bible that seek, that attempt to describe what the blood of Christ, the atoning grace of Christ, does for us. God forgives our sins in the atoning mercy of Jesus. He died for us that we might live [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And God remembers our sins no more [Jeremiah 31:34]. He puts them behind His back [Isaiah 38:17]. He buries them in the depths of the sea [Micah 7:19]. He blots them out like a cloud [Isaiah 44:22]. And you know, when I come before the Lord and I mention to the Lord that sin back there, the Lord says, “Why, I do not know what you are talking about. What sin back there?”
“Lord, don’t You remember? Don’t You know? That sin that I did. Don’t You know?” The Lord says, “No. I do not know. What are you talking about? I have blotted it out. I have forgotten it. It is buried. It is no more.” That is what God does for us. We are cleansed. We are washed in the blood of the Crucified One [Revelation 1:5]. And I am to take as a gift from God’s able hands this forgiveness of my sins.
All right, a second one: “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20]—Lord, strength and comfort in sorrow; Lord, this gift from Thy able and omnipotent hand.
Up the street from us in Muskogee lived a fine banker. They had an only son, fifteen years old. The boy was swimming at the Point of the Pines in the Cookson Hills, on the Illinois River that runs through eastern Oklahoma, and the boy was drowned, and the father buried his only son away. He brooded over that sorrow. It broke his spirit. He took his own life. Oh, how sad!
I opened the paper here in Dallas several months ago. There were two men living here in Dallas. They were neighbors. And upon a day, the little girl of this man was playing in the driveway. And when the other man drove his car out, backed his car out, he ran over that little girl and killed her. And the days passed, and while this man was seated at a restaurant here in Dallas, his neighbor and his friend came in and with a long butcher knife plunged it to the hilt in the man’s back. Do you remember reading that just a few months ago? Oh, sorrow does such things to people!
Sir Harry Lauder said when his only boy was killed in the war, Sir Harry Lauder said, “I could do three things. One, I could drown my sorrow in drink. Two, I could drown my sorrow in the grave; I could take my own life. Three, I could turn to God.” And the great, world-famed Scot singer and comedian, said, “I turn to God.” Oh, how infinitely better!
Sorrow will always do one of two things. It will warp your mind; it will embitter your soul; it will destroy your life, or else, it will bring you closer to God. “Lord, in trial and in sorrow, could You give me that gift, Master, that it bind my heart and life with golden chains to the altar of the Almighty? Please Lord, let it not embitter me or warp my soul, but bring me closer and nearer to Thee.”
Yesterday afternoon, I was in the airport in St. Louis coming back home from a week’s preaching mission in St. Louis. And I met a lovely Christian lady who with her husband belonged to our church. He is a pilot, and he is now with another airline stationed in St. Louis. And she said, “My husband has already gone down to Dallas, and I am coming down.” She said, “We are going to visit a deacon in your church who himself is a pilot and who lost a boy killed in Vietnam. We are coming down to see them and to encourage them and to comfort them.”
And I said to her, I said, “You are going to find what you already know. You are going to find great Christian strength and comfort and encouragement for your own heart when you come.” Oh, such marvelous Christian people.
The pastor with whom I have been this last week in St. Louis, they have such a sweet precious daughter. And the little child was born deaf. Why, now married and with a home and living close to her father, she is married to a splendid young man who also is deaf. They can talk to you. They lip read, and they can talk to you. And they have teletype machines that they are working with to all of the other deaf. And they use the telephone, and they call one another. And the teletype writes the call on the other end of the line and then writes the response on this end of the line. And that is the most triumphant couple that you could imagine. They are glorious Christians. And they are happy in the Lord. And God has given them two little children, hearing children. And the whole circle of the family has a glow, has an aura. It is just like being blessed, like the hands of the priest on your head. O Master, that we might have that gift, turning our sorrows and all of our discouragements into praise and glory honoring God—Lord, for that gift.
“Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20], the gift of sweetness and kindness and dearness in old age. O Lord, that we might not be bitter when we grow old. That is one of the commonest developments that I see in the weakness of human life, as we grow older we grow cynical and critical and bitter.
Oh, this visit I made. Oh. Oh. It was in my first pastorate out of the seminary in Oklahoma. And when I knocked at the door, there came a woman to the door who looked terrible; her face, everything about her exuded darkness, and unhappiness, and misery, and bitterness. I said, “I am the pastor of the church.”
“Well, what are you here for?”
“Well,” I said, “I have come to visit you.”
“Well, there is no need for that.”
“Well,” I said, “I believe in the Lord, and I wanted to pray with you.”
She said, “I don’t believe in God.” And she cursed His name. As I visited with her, her husband had died, and she was blind, and her children had all left her. And from the time of their coming to Oklahoma, she had had one succession of sorrows and heartaches after another. And now in her age she had grown unbelievably bitter and vindictive. She said, “Would you like to hear some of my poetry?”
I said, “Oh, yes.”
So she quoted me some of her poetry. And one of them made such an impression upon me as I listened to her bitterly say it, that when I left and went out in the car, I took a pencil and wrote it down. I wrote it down word for word, so deep an impression did she make in that poem. Listen to it:
I hate Oklahoma,
Not the land of my native birth,
But a land by all the gods
That be a scourge on the face of the earth.
I hate Oklahoma.
I hate Oklahoma
Where the centipede crawls in your bed at night,
And the rattlesnake lifts its fangs to bite.
Where the lizard and the scorpion play on the sly
And the loathsome vulture sails high in the sky.
Where water and food are in eternal lack,
And a man’s best friend sticks a dagger in your back.
I hate Oklahoma.
I worked with her, prayed with her, went to see her in her blindness and in her age and in her impenetrable bitterness. When she died, I buried her. One daughter-in-law came to the service. I held that service with an audience of one. That daughter-in-law came from somewhere. But did you know when they looked through the cheap, sorry effects she had left behind, there was a note? And it said, “The only thing of value I possess is the rug on the living room floor, and I want to give it to the church.” So I took it and put it in the Primary department for the youth.
O Lord, what trouble and sorrow in age can do for you. Lord, I want to be lifted up. I want to grow old gracefully. I want to magnify the Lord in my life. I want to be on the upside, the glory side, the heaven side. Lord, not that dark seamy and downside. And I ask God for that gift, that I can remember how it is to smile, and to love, and to praise God. I love that song of that old Negro preacher,
When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me.
When the world is tossing me
Like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water,
Stand by me.
In trials and tribulations,
Stand by me.
When the hosts of hell assail
And my strength begins to fail,
Thou who never lost a battle,
Stand by me.
In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me.
When I do the best I can
And my friends misunderstand,
Thou who knowest all about me,
Stand by me.
When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me.
When my life becomes a burden,
And I’m nearing chilly Jordan,
Oh, Thou Lily of the Valley,
Stand by me.
[“Stand by Me,” Charles A. Tindley, 1905]
Lord, can You do that? He is able above all that we ask or think [Ephesians 3:20].
I have chosen one other, the forgiveness of sin, strength and comfort in sorrow, sweetness in old age, I have chosen one other: Lord, as the end of all life, all of it, I know somewhere, someday, I shall fall into the grave unless the Lord comes in my lifetime. Master, could it be that the ableness of God could give us a resurrection from the dead?
It seems impossible, doesn’t it, these frames that turn back to dust? That God could give us a resurrection from the dead, that these very bodies could live again, glorified, immortalized; Lord, could You do that? Death is such a horrible enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26], and for life, in all of its beauty and sweet meaning, to descend just to that. This is the goal of all life. It seems so horribly, terribly anticlimactic, such a curse. Lord, could You turn it into victory and into triumph? Could You Lord? Could You?
And that is the doxology. “Now unto Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or could even think” [Ephesians 3:20], a resurrection from among the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. Think of it. Think of it. This is just God’s way for His people, birth and life and death. And I’m not to be afraid, or to be timorous, or to be reluctant. This is God’s entrance into glory. This is the gate of pearl, of suffering, into heaven [Revelation 21:21]. This is the road of the resurrection. As long as I am in this mortal body, I cannot see God’s face. As long as I am in this house of clay and sin, I cannot walk those golden streets [Revelation 21:21]. God must immortalize me. He must glorify me. I must plant this body down that it might be resurrected in glory. And that is what God does.
Behold, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
But I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we, we shall all be changed.
[1 Corinthians 15:50-52]
O Lord, what a victory! What praise, what glory, what triumph! No wonder those old forefathers of ours used to sing:
My latest sun is sinking fast,
My race is nearly run.
My strongest trials now are past,
My triumph is begun.
Oh, come angel band,
Come and around me stand.
Oh, bear me away on your snowy wings
To my immortal home.
[“My Latest Sun is Sinking Fast,” Jefferson Hascall, 1860]
What a glory! Not here, we are strangers and pilgrims here. Our home is in heaven [Hebrews 11:10, 13, 16]. “Unto Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, unto Him be glory in the church,” [Ephesians 3:20-21]. Sing it, say it, pray it, feel it, give your heart and life to it. “Unto Him be glory in the church, world without end. Amen. Amen” [Ephesians 3:21]. Well, I am so glad I am a Christian, I don’t know how to say it. So glad I know the Lord, I just like to sing, and pray, and praise His name all day long.
Well, we have to sing our hymn of appeal. Our time is gone. And while we sing it, opening wide the doors of God’s kingdom and God’s church for you to enter in, this morning, a family you, a couple you, or a one somebody you, coming to the Lord, coming into fellowship of His church, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, come; make the decision now. And in a moment when we stand, stand up coming, walking down one of these stairwells. If you are in the balcony round or in that aisle on the lower floor, “Here I come, pastor, I make the decision now.” We shall look for you, while we stand and while we sing.
HOLD OF THE ABLENESS AND WILLINGNESS OF GOD
I. Forgiveness of sins
A. Prayer, appearance
before God(Psalm 24:3-4)
B. Heaven – nothing
enters that defiles(Isaiah 6:5, Luke 5:8)
C. God can cleanse us
and make us pure(1 John 1:7)
1. As a boy,
listening to preacher illustrate that
D. God sees the
atonement of Christ sufficient for our sins
fromslavery(1 Peter 1:18)
2. Debt is paid
3. Healing and
cleansing of disease(2 Kings 5:10-14)
4. Dead, now
the blood of Christ does for us(Jeremiah 31:34,
Isaiah 38:17, Micah 7:19, Isaiah 44:22)
II. Strength and comfort in sorrow
A. Muskogee banker
B. Dallas neighbors –
daughter killed; one man killed the other
C. Sir Harry Lauder
D. Sorrow will either
embitter the soul or bring you closer to God
1. Deacon in our
church who lost a boy in Vietnam
2. Deaf couple
and their family
III. Sweetness and kindness in age
A. That we not grow
bitter and cynical as we grow older
1. Woman I
visited with my first pastorate out of seminary
a. Her bitter poetry
2. Hymn, “Stand by Me”
IV. Triumph in death
A. Resurrection from
among the dead(1 Corinthians 15:50-52)
1. Hymn, “My
Latest Sun is Sinking Fast”