May 28th, 1972 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-28-72 7:30 p.m.
If you have got the nerve, why, let us turn to the Bible; the Gospel of John, chapter 16 and the first twelve verses, John chapter 16 and the first twelve verses. And if on the radio you are sharing the hour with us, turn to the passage and read it out loud together. John 16:1-12, all of us here reading, sharing the Bible, and on the radio, getting your Bible and reading it out loud together. The text will be the twelfth verse, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now” [John 16:12]; Progressive Revelation, the gradual disclosure of God. Now let us read the whole passage, John 16:1-12:
These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended.
They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.
And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor Me.
But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you.
But now I go My way to Him that sent Me; and none of you asked Me, Whither goest Thou?
But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart.
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.
And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
Of sin, because they believe not on Me;
Of righteousness, because I go to My Father, and ye see Me no more;
Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.
Last Sunday night we closed with the eleventh verse, and tonight we begin with the twelfth, Progressive Revelation, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now” [John 16:12].
The principle of progressive revelation––without which I do not think you can understand the Bible at all––the principle of progressive revelation is this: not that God changes, the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament, the same unchanging God yesterday, and today, and forever [Hebrews 13:8]; but, because of the nature of man, ignorant, obstreperous, incorrigible, sinful, fallen, selfish, God could not disclose Himself all at one time. The man could not bear it. So the Lord gave the revelation piece at a time, little at a time.
You find that illustrated in so many places in the Bible. For example, the first chapter of Hebrews begins, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken to us by His Son … in divers manners, in sundry times” [Hebrews 1:1-2], in pieces, in parts, and at different times. God spoke. God revealed Himself. He did not do it all at one time because the man was not able to bear it. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now” [John 16:12].
Now look here again. In the thirteenth chapter of John, where the Lord is washing the disciples’ feet in preparation for the Lord’s Supper, He came to Simon Peter, and Simon Peter said,
Lord, dost Thou wash my feet? No, no, You will not wash my feet. Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. What I am doing you do not understand now, but thou shalt know hereafter.
When I read a text like that, I think what Simon Peter did not know. It was not revealed to him. He had no idea of the church. He had no idea of its Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20]. He had no idea of its orders of ministry, no idea of the humility that should attend the servant, the undershepherd of Christ. So the Lord says, “What I am doing now, washing your feet, you do not understand, but you will understand” [John 13:7]; progressive revelation.
Finally, Simon Peter who was so proud, who said, “All of these other disciples may deny You, but I will not deny You,” when the Lord said, “Before the cock crow twice, midnight, at the dawn in the morning, before the dawn will come, thou shalt deny Me thrice” [Mark 14:29-30]; Simon Peter, who was so self-assured and so vocal in it, became one of the humblest men among the servants of Christ. So much so, that he wrote in the fifth chapter of his first epistle:
The elders which are among you, the pastors which are among you, I exhort, who also am an elder, a pastor, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ . . .
Feed, shepherd the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly … Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being an example to the flock.
And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away . . .
Yea, all of you, be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time:
Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you.
[1 Peter 5:1-7]
Isn’t that a remarkable passage to come from Simon Peter? “You do not know what I am doing now, washing your feet,” says the Lord, “but you will know hereafter” [John 13:7]. And in that after day, he writes, “Be subject one to another, be clothed with humility, humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God” [1 Peter 5:5-6]. He didn’t know the lesson, but he learned it. It was not revealed to him at first, but progressively it came into his heart and life.
Now the whole Bible is just like that. God reveals Himself. He increasingly does. He increasingly did. Look at this Sermon on the Mount. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill . . . but I say unto you, Whosoever is angry with his brother . . . is in danger of the judgment of God” [Matthew 5:21-22]. Not just the physical act of murder, but the impulse of bitterness and hatred that lies back of it, Jesus says, is murder.
Look again, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: I say unto you, That whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” [Matthew 5:27-28]; the progress of the revelation, rising to a spiritual reality, even above the animality and the carnality of conjugal relationship.
Look again, “Ye hath heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also [Matthew 5:38-39]. Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him two, go with him twain” [Matthew 5:41]. It drives them crazy. Oh, the elevation of the self disclosure of God progressively, as God’s people are able to receive it!
Now here’s a long discussion of progressive revelation:
The Pharisees came to Him, tempting Him, trying Him, saying, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for any cause?
And He answered and said, Have you not read, that He who made them male and female did so from the beginning,
And said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh?
Therefore they are no longer two, but one. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Then they asked Him, Then why did Moses give command to write a bill of divorcement and put her away?
And He said, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so.
God made one man for one woman. From the beginning, happy is that man and happy is that woman who find one another in God. But this thing of putting her away, “because of the hardness of your hearts” [Matthew 19:8], back there, the multiplicity of wives, polygamy, was allowed because they were not spiritually mature to receive, to accept, to follow the full revelation of God. There has never been an exception to that but that it has brought tragic sorrow to the house and to the home.
When Sarah said to Abraham, “Here is Hagar, take her, and raise a son by her,” Abraham hearkened to the voice of Sarah; and Ishmael and the Arab nation was born [Genesis 16:1-4, 15]. And to this day there is no more insoluble problem in human history than the children and seed of Isaac and Jacob and the children and the seed of Ishmael. “Take Hagar,” Sarah said. God never intended that, for Abraham belonged to Sarah, and Sarah belonged to Abraham, and they two belonged to each other. They were one flesh; not Hagar!
Think of the sorrow that came to Jacob, when Laban deceived him. He worked for seven years for Rachel whom he loved, and he got Leah whom he did not love. And he worked seven other years for Rachel [Genesis 29:16-30]. And the sorrow that came into the life of Jacob; the son of Rachel was Joseph, and his brethren the sons of Leah, sold him to the Ishmaelites, into slavery, and he was auctioned on a block in Egypt—the sorrow of it [Genesis 37:26-36; 39:1].
Think of the sorrow in the home of Elkanah, for Peninnah daily castigated, and ridiculed, and belittled, and mocked Hannah because God had shut up her womb [1 Samuel 1:5-7]. Elkanah said to Hannah, “Am I not better to thee than ten sons? But Hannah was grieved nonetheless, and she wept and cried before the Lord” [1 Samuel 1:8, 10].
And the ultimate of that awful institution is found in the life of Solomon. Seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines [1 Kings 11:3]; did the Lord intend that? No! From the beginning it was one man for one woman, and one woman for one man. And they two in God were to be one flesh! [Matthew 19:4-6]. The progressiveness of the revelation, and of the life; “For the hardness of their hearts, God allowed it” [Matthew 19:7-8]. But the ideal, the full self disclosure of God is in this Christian conception, which was true, our Lord said, in the beginning, they two forever one.
Once again, the progress of the revelation, the self disclosure of God; in the sermon that the apostle Paul delivered on Mars’ Hill––and I don’t think there’s a greater thrill that can come to any child of Christ than to stand on Mars’ Hill and read that message––there before the Areopagus, the highest court of the Athenian people, he has described their gods and goddesses and then speaks of the true God [Acts 17:22-29], then makes the appeal. “The times of this ignorance God winked at,” that’s the translation here of hupereidon. Hupereidon literally means, “overlooked, overlooked,” exactly, “overlooked, hupereidon. “The times of this ignorance God overlooked,’ God winked at, but now, ‘but now commandeth all men every where to turn, to repent, to believe!” [Acts 17:30].
When a man doesn’t know, there is a mercy in God. There’s a sympathy. There’s an understanding. I’m not able to enter into the darkness of the heathen who dies with no knowledge of Christ. That’s not my assignment. I just know that the Judge of all the earth will do right. I just know that there’s great understanding and sympathy in Christ. He is not our enemy. He is our Friend. He did not come to condemn the world; He came to save the world [John 3:17]. He did not come to bring darkness, but light [John 1:4]. And I cannot enter into it. All I know is that the Scriptures say that I have the responsibility to help, at least to preach the gospel to every creature [Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8].
I cannot enter, therefore, into the judgment of the heathen who shall stand someday before God; but I do know this. The Bible says it, that the times of our not knowing, God overlooks, He understands, He sympathizes. And when a man stands in the presence of God at the great assize, in the great final judgment, there will be understanding and sympathy and mercy on the part of our great and heavenly Creator. “The time of this ignorance, God hupereidon, He overlooked; but now, now commandeth all men everywhere to turn!” [Acts 17:30]. We’re to believe. We’re to accept. We are to trust [Acts 16:31]; and that is God’s call for us tonight.
I’m not a heathen. I am a citizen in an enlightened nation. I’m not benighted in darkness. I live in a cultured and educated country. I am not without the light of the knowledge of the grace of God in Christ. I know it, and you do too. Therefore, when I stand before God by you, I have no excuse; for the light of the knowledge of the glory of God has reached down to my heart [2 Corinthians 4:6]. I have seen it. I have seen it in your face. I have seen it in the face of my mother and father. I have seen it in the face of my pastor as a boy. I have seen it in the congregation where I pastored, little churches, this church.
I know the glory and the heavenliness. I know the victory and the joy, the assurance that comes from God in Christ Jesus [John 10:28-29]. And knowing that, seeing that, I am called to faith, and commitment, and assurance in Christ [Hebrews 10:21-25]. And that’s your appeal. You know that too. You see that too. And God called you just as He has called me. The time of our not knowing, the time of our ignorance, God overlooks. He forgives [Acts 17:30]. But now in my introduction to Christ, I have the great mandate from heaven to answer with my life! [Acts 17:31]. And therein lies the infinite blessing that comes to those who know, and accept, and believe, and receive the gospel of the grace of the Son of God [Mark 1:15].
What a marvelous thing to believe in Jesus. What a marvelous, glorious thing to become a Christian, to belong to the household of faith, to be numbered with the people of the Lord, to see the years multiply, and to face the future in the blessing of God! In the hour of our death, in the eternity that is to come, believing in Christ, trusting in the Lord, this is the ultimate of God’s self disclosure and God’s revelation: that we should know His Son, whom to know aright is life everlasting [1 John 5:13]. “God, who at sundry times and in divers places spake unto our fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son” [Hebrews 1:1-2]; and this is the ultimate, final, consummating, self disclosure and self-revelation of God [Colossians 2:9].
Come. Believe. Accept it. Be saved. As the Scriptures say, “Look and live” [John 3:14-16; Numbers 21:8-9]. “Wash and be clean” [2 Kings 5:10-13; Revelation 7:14]. “Believe and be saved” [Acts 16:30-31]. Will you? With us, will you? In the balcony round, you; on the lower floor, you; a family, a couple, or just somebody you, in a moment when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, to accept the graciousness and the goodness of God, come, come, and welcome. There is joy. There is gladness. There is victory. There’s hope and assurance. There’s everything of glory and of heaven in the faith of Christ. Come, come. Come. And, “Pastor, here I come. I decide for Jesus. I’m coming. I’ve decided to put my life in the hands of God’s hands, and I’m coming. I’m going to join myself with the people of the Lord, and here I am. I’m marching with you to glory, I’m on the highway of holiness, and heavenliness, and happiness. I’m coming!” On the first note of that first stanza, come. There’s a stairway at the back and at the front and on either side, and there’s time and to spare, come. Make the decision now. Do it now. Make the decision now in your heart, and when you stand up in a moment, when we sing, stand up walking down that stairway, or into that aisle and down to the front. “Here I am, preacher, here I come,” while we stand and while we sing.
I. Principle of progressive revelation
A. Not that God
changes, but because of the ignorant, sinful nature of man
B. God gave the
revelation a piece at a time (Hebrews 1:1-2)
1. Not all at
once because man not able to bear it (John 16:12)
II. Principle illustrated in the Bible
A. Simon Peter (John
13:6-7, Mark 14:29-30, 1 Peter 5:1-7)
B. Sermon on the Mount
(Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 38-41)
C. Concerning marriage
and divorce (Matthew 19:3-8)
1. Sarah and
Hagar (Genesis 16:1-3)
2. Jacob, Leah,
3. Hannah and
Peninnah (1 Samuel 1:8-10)
wives and concubines
III. There is mercy in God
A. Paul’s sermon on
Mars’ hill (Acts 17:30)