THE PRICE OF THE SPIRIT-FILLED LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-12-74 7:30 p.m.
I am most encouraged in the faith to see this many people come on Wednesday to get a seat for our prayer service tonight. As many of you know, last Sunday night here at the church we had a big thundering explosion. The boiler blew up. And there were swarms of police cars, officers, fire engines, sirens, bells. And the next day I met a fellow on the street down here, and he said, “I’m surprised at what some preachers do to get an attendance.”
And I thought of that county seat pastor who stood watching his church burn down, and the town infidel, who never would come, the pastor saw standing by his side. And the preacher turned to him and said, “Well, at last you have come to church.” And the infidel said, “Yes, this is the first time the thing has ever been on fire.”
My assignment is The Price of the Spirit-filled Life, The Price of Power. It is the intention of God that we be endued with the Spirit of the Lord. That is the promise: “You wait until ye be endued, enduō, clothed with power from on high” [Luke 24:49]. And they waited and prayed for the promise of the Spirit.
We are commanded to be filled by the Spirit. Ephesians 5:18, an imperative, “Be ye filled with the Spirit, plerousthe, be ye filled with the Spirit.” It is the intention of God that the Spirit-filled power of Pentecost be repeated again and again and again. As John wrote in the third chapter, “For the Lord giveth not the Spirit by measure” [John 3:34].
There is a Jerusalem Pentecost. There is another one, a Samaritan Pentecost. There is a Caesarean Pentecost. There is an Antiochian Pentecost. There is an Ephesian Pentecost. It is God’s intention that the Spirit life and power of Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4], be repeated down through the ages. God does not begin a mighty work then end it in inconsequentials. God does not lay the foundation for a great cathedral and then build on it a doghouse. He intends for us to do those greater works that He promised when He returned to heaven [John 14:12].
Now the price of that Pentecostal power is twofold. One: you wait, you tarry [Luke 24:49]. Look to heaven, look to God, in quiet intercession, and commitment, and confession. The Lord breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” [John 20:22], lambanō, an aorist imperative, “Take the Holy Spirit.” They prayed and when they were ready to take, the Holy Paraclete came [Acts 1:1-4]; waiting upon God [Luke 24:49].
I read of a mission in Africa that had come to absolute vacuity and sterility, powerlessness. And to emphasize their abysmal failure and discouragement, the tribal chief who had professed the faith came before the mission and said, “I hereby renounce the Lord and the Christian faith, for I’m miserable and unhappy.” The whole mission stopped. The doctor stopped his doctoring, and the nurse stopped her nursing, and the preacher stopped his preaching, and the teacher stopped his teaching, and they began to cry unto God. And while they were crying and lamenting, and bowing, and confessing, the Holy Spirit came down in infilling power, and even the tribal chief came back and said, “God has called me to preach”; waiting upon the Lord [Psalm 27:14; Isaiah 40:31]; praying, looking up to heaven.
Second: the price of power is an open, stated acknowledgement, confession, before God that I cannot do this by myself. I must have divine help and divine enablement. “They prayed,” in the fourth chapter of Acts, “saying, Lord, behold their threatenings: now grant unto us boldness to speak the word” [Acts 4:29-30]. Then the next verse, “And the place was shaken where they were gathered together; and they were filled with the Spirit, and [they] spake the word with boldness” [Acts 4:31].
As it was in the days of Jehoshaphat, “O God we have no power against this great host that cometh out against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee” [2 Chronicles 20:12]. Now in the next verse, “And Judah stood before God, with their wives, with their children, and with their little ones” [2 Chronicles 20:13]. There has never been a great work for God done without the enablement and the endowment of the Holy Spirit of power. To be a child of God is not enough.
Elisha was a child of God before Elijah met him. And as Elijah said to Elisha, “God hath sent me from Gilgal to Bethel, you stay here,” “No,” said Elisha [2 Kings 2:2]. Then Elijah said to Elisha, “God hath sent me to Jericho. You stay here.” “No,” said Elisha [2 Kings 2:4]. Then Elijah said to Elisha, “God hath sent me across the waters of the Jordan, you stay here.” And Elisha said, “No, my lord” [2 Kings 2:6]. Then as they walked along together, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask, what shall I do for thee?” And Elisha said, “I pray that I may have a double portion of thy spirit to fall upon me” [2 Kings 2:9].
Before he was prepared for his prophetic office, he had to be baptized with the Holy Spirit from above. And as they walked on together, there appeared a chariot of fire, horsemen of fire, and Elijah went up to heaven by a whirlwind. And the mantle of Elijah fell, and Elisha picked it up and said, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” And he smote the waters, and they parted hither and thither; and he went over in the same power that he and Elijah had crossed over before [2 Kings 2: 11-14]. It is the enduement that is necessary first for the prophetic office!
The apostles were Christians before Pentecost. They were trained and taught. But before they were ready for the great apostolic ministry that God had assigned them, first they must be infilled by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4].
Our Lord was a holy child. He lived a perfect youthful life. He lived spotlessly in manhood. But before the Lord Himself was prepared for His messianic ministry, first He must be baptized by the Holy Spirit in the Jordan [Matthew 3:16].
The apostle Paul, Saul, was saved on the road to Damascus [Acts 9:1-18]. But before he is prepared for his great Gentile ministry, first Ananias must be sent to him, who laid his hands upon the head of Saul and said, “Brother Saul … God hath sent me, that thou might receive thy sight, and that thou might be filled with the Holy Spirit” [Acts 9:17]. To study is not enough. To be converted is not enough. To be a Christian is not enough. First, before we are able to serve God in might and in power, we must be infilled with the Holy Spirit of God [Ephesians 5:18].
And that is the note that is missing in so many of the pulpits of modern America. Not that we are not intellectual enough, academic enough, taught enough, nice enough, well mannered enough, gracious enough, nice looking enough, everything else enough; it is just that we do not have the infilling, the endowment, of the saving power of God from above. You see, the modern pulpit in most of these churches lacks unction, lacks conviction, lacks authority, lacks power.
I heard some men talking about their preachers. One of them said, “My preacher is so effete and effeminate and sissy that upon a day when I brought a friend to hear him preach, my friend shook hands with him after the service and asked him what was his maiden name.”
And another one of those men said, “You know, my preacher is like a fellow who swallowed an egg. He was afraid to bend, afraid it’d break; afraid to sit down, afraid it would hatch.” And another one said, “You know, my preacher is like a man who swallowed a doorknob. He doesn’t know where to turn.” And somebody defined modern preaching as being “a nice mannered man speaking to a mild-mannered congregation on how to be more mild-mannered.”
The accouterments and the embellishments of the modern pulpit are to be intellectual, academic. And as I look at it, it seems to me it is increasingly pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-academic, afraid to preach the plain, simple gospel of Christ, and afraid of the leadership and the power of the Holy Spirit of God. And the preaching is for the most part without meaning. The people ask one another, “What did the preacher say?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“Well what did he mean?”
“I don’t know. It went over our heads.”
I one time heard of Walter Johnson, called “the Big Train,” the pitcher of the Washington Senators, now the Texas Rangers, and they were playing the New York Yankees. And the Big Train Walter Johnson was mowing down those Yankees one after another. And when the game apparently was lost and nothing bad could come of what the manager did, he turned to one of his rookies and said, “Do you believe you can go out there and hit that ball?” And the rookie said, “I’d like to try.”
So he went out there with his bat over his shoulder and the Big Train Walter Johnson wound up and let that ball loose like a blue blaze! And the umpire cried, “Strike one!” And Walter Johnson wound up and threw that ball, and it blew smoke! And the umpire hollered, “Strike two!” And Walter Johnson, the Big Train, wound up and let that ball go down like grease lightning, and the umpire hollered, “Strike three!” and that rookie hadn’t even moved his bat off of his shoulder. At the third strike he turned around to the umpire and said, “Ump, I didn’t even see that ball! Did you?” And the umpire replied, “No, I didn’t see it either.” And the rookie said, “Well, ump, it just sounded a little high to me.”
So many of our sermons are like that. They’re up there somewhere. The preacher is groping somewhere. He’s trying to use big words somehow. He’s impressing the congregation with academic excellence, or intellectual apperception, but the people are down here, “What’s he saying? What does he mean? When does he thunder in judgment? When does he tremble before the Lord?”
I remember Henry David Thoreau, who went out to Walden Pond, and he wrote a sentence. And this was it, “I had rather sit on a pumpkin listening to the chickadeedees, than to sit in Boston on a cushion seat, listening to those dry deedees.”
Paul was an intellectual. He was a graduate of the Greek University in Tarsus. He was a graduate of the Gamalielan School of Theology in Jerusalem [Acts 22:3]. He could speak and be perfectly at home before the highest court of the Athenians in Athens. He could quote from Greek poets [Acts 17:18]. But how did he preach? What did he say? In the second chapter of the first Corinthian letter, he tells us. This is it:
My brethren, when I came to you, I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the oracles of God.
For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God!
[1 Corinthians 2:1-5]
That’s the way to preach!
In 1947, Mrs. Criswell and I visited Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. We came early, actually found there a little handful of people; I counted them, a hundred twenty-five. And as we sat there in the congregation, waiting for the service to begin, there were two old men back of us who began to talk, and talking out loud, we could hear what they said.
The old man said to the ancient man, he said, “Did you ever hear Spurgeon preach?” And the ancient man said, “Heh? What did you say?” And the old man said, “I said, did you ever hear Spurgeon preach?” And the ancient man replied, “Oh yes, many times. He was my pastor.” And the old man said, “Well, how did he preach? How was he?” And the ancient man said, “Heh? What was that?” And the old man said, “I said, how did he preach? What was it like?” And the ancient man replied, “Oh,” he said, “Oh,” he said, “the best way for me to answer is to compare him with our present pastor and the preachers I hear.” He said, “It seems to me that my pastor, whom I love,” and he said, “it seems to me that the preachers that I hear, they just talk, they just kind of lecture. But,” he said, “when Spurgeon stood up to preach,” he said, “man, there was fire in it!”
That’s what we need. There needs to be a something other in it. There needs to be a presence in it. There needs to be a moving in it. There needs to be an outreach in it. There needs to be a convicting power in it. There needs to be a drawing in it, a moving in it. And without it, it is sound and cymbal.
I have a quote that I copied out of Spurgeon. Quote: “Let the preacher always confess before he preaches that he relies upon the Holy Spirit. Let him burn his manuscript and depend upon the Holy Spirit.” Isn’t that a remarkable thing? I am surprised at how so many of our ministers strive after the presentation of a message that is supposedly faultless in all of its parts and delivery—not minds on the people and their needs, but on how he is doing.
I nearly fell out of this pulpit one time when a layman stood here and said, “I had rather hear a man stand in the pulpit and say, ‘I seen,’ if he’s seen something, than to hear him say, ‘I have seen,’ if he hadn’t seen anything!” Let the preacher always confess before he preaches that he relies upon the Holy Spirit. Let him burn his manuscript and depend upon the Holy Spirit. Now if the Spirit does not come to help him, let him be still, just stop, and let the people go home and pray that the Spirit will help him next Sunday.
I have often thought after reading that from Spurgeon, what would happen if, as I stood here in this pulpit, I were to announce to the people, “My people, the Spirit of prophecy has forsaken me. We shall have the benediction, and let’s all go home and pray that the Spirit of prophecy shall fall upon me next Lord’s Day.” I’ve often wondered what would happen. I have a prognostication. I would say that when I stood in this pulpit the next Sunday, you couldn’t get near the house if for no other reason than the people coming just to see what had happened to the preacher—preaching in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power and not in the wisdom of men.
As you can see, we have a prayer rail, an altar rail, around this pulpit. I only have one objection to it. When we began we were going to build a mourner’s bench. I only have one objection to it, and that is its beauty. It looks like a decoration. But we use it. We begin our services on our knees. And our pulpit ministry bows before God in every prayer, looking to heaven.
I have asked, and nobody yet has done it; I have asked for money to put kneelers in those pews. You see, we thought that it was too Catholic to have a cross on top of the church, so we took off the crosses when Paul himself said, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Galatians 6:14]; that’s our symbol, a cross. But we took them off. “It’s too Catholic.” And we took out the altar rail, “It’s too Catholic.” And we took out the kneeling rail, “That’s too Catholic.” Oh, there’s not anything that our people need more than to bow before the Lord; as a congregation, as a people, to kneel, to intercede, to pray, to confess! And maybe sometimes it might happen, we’d get to praying, and confessing, and interceding, and there wouldn’t even be time for the preacher to preach. Wouldn’t that be a service you’d like to share? We need the presence of God.
Now as I say, we don’t have kneelers in the church. And I’m not asking our women to kneel. If it’s inconvenient for you, if you’re pressed between those pews, I’m not asking our women to kneel. I am asking our preachers to kneel. And if there are laymen here who would share that prayer with us, then humbly asking you to kneel. If you’re pressed in the pew, come out in the aisle; upstairs, downstairs. And before God, let’s tell the Lord, “I’m not able. I can’t do it, but God can. And here I am, God’s instrument for that use,” as we kneel, and as we pray.
Our Lord in heaven, the pattern of Pentecost is our pattern today. There is a promise from God awaiting; wait for it [Luke 24:49]. Pray for it. Then when you are ready, take it, for the Spirit is already given [John 14:26, 15:26]. The outpouring in the Jerusalem Pentecost is forever [Acts 2:1-35]. Take, take. And our Lord, we confess to Thee, acknowledge, state, openly, unashamedly, there’s no ableness in us. I cannot do it. But God can! The Holy Spirit can bear the wings of the appeal to the hearts of the listener. The Holy Spirit can convict. He can bring souls to Jesus [John 16:7-15]. O precious Savior, this preacher in this pulpit who kneels before Thee, my yokefellows in this ministry, the preachers and the pastors of these churches who kneel by my side, our denominational statesmen who guide us in the great cooperative mission effort for the reaching of the world, and our laymen who kneel with us in this appeal, and the great host of Priscillas and Marys who stand by our sides, who pray with us, O Lord, out of this evangelistic conference may there flow those dedications and commitments that God can use—nothing of us, everything of Thee. Not doing it in the power and strength of the flesh, but in the power and strength of the Lord. So bless, dear God, under the Holy Spirit, our guiding the church over which God hath made us undershepherd, leading our deacons, leading our teachers, leading our people. And as we pray for this church to have its greatest year in soulwinning, baptizing the converts God gives us, the growth in the Sunday school, teaching the Word of the Lord, the growth of our people in heart and spirit and understanding God’s Book, in doing God’s will, Lord as we pray God shall do it here in this church. Master, may it be the joy of those who look at all the churches, to see the hand of God moving among our pastors. O Lord, do it in triumph, in glory, in grace, and in power, to the saving of the lost, to the exaltation and honor of our living Lord, in whose Spirit and in whose name we pray. Amen.
Now we may be seated and Dr. Freeman will close our conference. Please do not leave the auditorium; just be seated for a moment.