Things I Surely Know
January 5th, 1975 @ 8:15 AM
THINGS I SURELY KNOW
Dr. W.A. Criswell
1-5-75 8:15 a.m.
And we welcome you who share this hour on radio. You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Things I Surely Know. It is a message I have been asked to prepare and to deliver at this hour. Needless to say, it has been one of the most salubrious, and solicitous, and blessed, of all of the experiences I have ever known in homiletics, in preparation, and now in delivery of the sermon. My only problem lies in the multitude of the things that crowd upon my heart, things I would like to say, hours of them, maybe days of them, things that I surely know. But in the confines and constrictions of this present moment, I have tried to sum up, in a brief message, the whole conviction and assurance of my soul.
As a background text, the old patriarch Job avowed:
For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
And though through my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold.
There are many things that we cannot know; they are hid from our eyes. In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, just before our Lord ascended into heaven, the apostles asked Him, “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” [Acts 1:6]. And the Lord replied, “It is not for you to know the times and the seasons, which the Father hath kept in His own hand” [Acts 1:7]. Things that are hid from our eyes; when they asked Him about His return to the earth, the Lord said, I do not know, the angels of heaven do not know, it is known but to our heavenly Father [Matthew 24:36].
There are many things we do not know. The apostle Paul avowed in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 13:12], “Now we see through a glass, darkly.” There are so many things that are just dimly outlined to us. In the tenth chapter of the Revelation, when the apostle John began to write the words of the voices of the seven thunders, the Lord said to him, “Write them not. Seal them up, the words of the voices of the seven thunders” [Revelation 10:4]. We do not know what they said. The words are taken from our hearing, and the revelation blinded to our eyes.
But there are some things that we do know. In Deuteronomy 29:29 it is written, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God: but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever.” And the avowal of those certainties is found throughout the Word of the Lord. For example, in the ninth chapter of the Book of John, a man who had been healed by the blessed Jesus [John 9:1-7], and who was castigated because of his steadfast loyalty to the Son of God, answered to those who were criticizing his faith, “Whether the Lord Jesus is a sinner or not, I do not know: but one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I can see” [John 9:25].
There are many of you whose favorite verse would be, “For we know that all things work together for good to them who love God” [Romans 8:28]. The great and climactic chapter on the resurrection, the fifteenth of 1 Corinthians, closes with this verse, “Wherefore, my brethren beloved, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” [1 Corinthians 15:58].
One of the finest texts of assurance in all Scripture is in 2 Timothy 1:12; “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” The spirit of the Holy Scriptures is ever that; it is a certain note; it is the sound of a trumpet; it is a deep conviction; it is a vast, and heavenly, and eternal assurance.
So of the things that I know, first: I know that Holy Scriptures are the Word and the revelation of God. Paul avowed it in 2 Timothy 3:17:
All Scripture—every Scripture—
is inspired of God—theopneustos—God breathed,
and is profitable for doctrine, for correction, for instruction…
That the man of God may be mature, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; Preach the word.
[2 Timothy 4:1-2]
These Holy Scriptures are the words of the revelation of God. It is through them that I come to know God. I could know Him in no other way than through His own self-revelation. I could look at the firmament forever, the starry spheres, the Milky Way, and I might surmise that whoever made them was omnipotent, all-powerful. I could look at a sunset or a rainbow, and I might conclude that whoever created this marvelous world loved things beautiful. I could look on the inside of my heart and surmise that whoever created me was someone who was morally sensitive, to know the difference between right and wrong.
But who is He? What is His name? What is He like? I could never know apart from a self-disclosure of the Almighty God; and that disclosure I find in this holy and heavenly Book. It is through the Holy Scriptures that I come to know Jesus, our Lord and our Savior.
There is one sentence in Suetonius, and one sentence in Tacitus, in all of the secular literature of the Greco-Roman empire in the day when Christ lived, and in the century to which He belonged, there is one sentence referring to Jesus the Christ. That sentence was written incidentally in telling the story of Nero’s burning of Rome. He laid it at the door of the Christians, and that demanded a sentence from Suetonius and Tacitus—Roman historians—regarding who those Christians were.
Outside of that, there is no reference to Jesus our Lord in secular history; maybe one exception, a suspected paragraph in the Jewish historian Josephus. How could I ever come to know our Lord? I could never know Him outside of the Holy and inspired Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16]. But here I am presented to Him, and I see Him as only God’s inspired words could present Him.
Erasmus, the great Greek scholar, wrote in the preface to his Greek New Testament, the first that was ever published in 1516, called the Textus Receptus—the basic text of the King James Version of the Holy Scriptures—he wrote in his preface these words: “These holy pages will summon up the living image of His mind. They will give you Christ Himself talking, healing, dying, rising, the whole Christ in a word. They will give Him to you in an intimacy so close that He would be less visible to you if He stood before your very eyes.”
When we study the Book we study God. When we study the book we study Christ. When we love the Book we come to love God. And when we love the Book we come to love Christ. God is revealed and the Savior is made known in these holy pages.
Not only do I know that the Bible is the Word, inspired of the living God [2 Timothy 3:16], because of the self-disclosure of God in His pages and the presentation of Christ in its paragraphs, but I also know that through the Holy Scriptures I have assurance of eternal salvation [John 3:16, 10:27-30].
I was converted as a boy when I was ten years old. In a revival meeting, the evangelist staying at our home—every night after the service, drinking a glass of buttermilk my mother had churned and prepared for him, and as he sat at the kitchen table drinking that glass of buttermilk—I would be seated by his side, and he talked to me about the Lord.
At a morning service, I happened to be seated back of my mother. When the preacher made his appeal, she turned to me and said, “Son, today, would you give your heart to Jesus? Would you receive Him as your Savior?” I said, “Mother, yes, today I will take the Lord as my Savior.” I walked down the aisle; could hardly see the preacher for the tears.
I began my ministry as a pastor and preacher when I was seventeen years old, and for ten years I was out in the country—in open country churches preaching under tabernacles, under arbors—and in small villages. In those long ago days they had, before the revival services, grove prayer meetings; the men would meet under a clump trees somewhere for a testimony and prayer meeting, and the women would usually meet under the tabernacle. As I listened to those testimonies in those grove prayer meetings, I was overwhelmed by the marvelous, miraculous experiences of those who were saved. For example, one of the men said, and this is just typical, “Do you see that spot right there? After years of burden under the load of my sin, I was standing there and a great ball of fire descended from heaven and burst over my head. It struck me blind to the ground, and when I arose from the earth my burden of sin was gone.” And then in his testimony he described how the trees looked, and how the birds sang, and how the mules looked that he was plowing with in the field.
After listening to those marvelous testimonies, I came to the firm conclusion that I had never been saved; I wasn’t born again; I wasn’t a child of God. I had never seen a ball of fire. I had never seen an angel from heaven. I had never seen a light burst over my head. And I went through, for years, the tragic and sad experience of, on Sundays, standing before my little country congregations trying to preach the Word of the Lord, and getting down every night by the side of my bed, and crying before God in heaven to save me. I wasn’t a Christian. I wasn’t born again, “O God, may a ball of fire burst over my head! Somehow, may I see a vision of an angel from heaven. Lord, let a light shine upon me!”
In those days of sadness and agony, I was studying the Word of the Lord, and I found remarkable things in the pages. For example, in 2 Corinthians chapter 11, I read that Satan himself turns himself into an angel of light to deceive the brethren [2 Corinthians 11:14]. I read in the thirteenth chapter of the Revelation that the false prophet sends fire down from heaven to deceive them that are upon the earth [Revelation 13:13-14].
And then it came to me one day, in my heart and in my soul, when I stand at the great judgment bar of Almighty God [Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:1], and the saints are entering in and I assay to join their number, and the Lord stops me and says, “By what right and by what prerogative do you enter My beautiful city and walk on My golden streets?” [Revelation 21:21]. And I say, “Lord, I know I have been saved. I saw a ball of fire burst over my head. I know I am a Christian!” And Satan laughs, “Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha! He saw a ball of fire? I sent that ball of fire just to deceive him!” And he drags my soul down to hell; what could I say, and what could I do?
Or when I stand before the great judgment bar of Almighty God [Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:11], and the saints of the Lord are entering in and I propose to join their number and the Lord God stops me and says, “By what prerogative and by what right do you enter My beautiful city and mingle with My redeemed?” [1 Peter 1:18-19]. And I say, “Lord, I know I am saved, I know I am a Christian. I know I have been born again. I saw an angel from heaven!” And Satan laughs, “Ha, ha, ha, ha! He saw an angel from heaven? I was that angel. I transformed myself into an angel of light just to deceive him” [2 Corinthians 11:14]. What could I do, and what could I say, and he drags my soul down to hell.
In that great assize, when I stand before the judgment bar of Almighty God [Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:1], and the saints of the Lord are entering in, and I assay to join their number, and the Lord stops me and says, “By what right and by what prerogative do you enter My beautiful city [Revelation 21:10, 21], and mingle with My sainted redeemed?” [1 Peter 1:18-19]. You know what I shall say? This is what I shall say:
Dear Lord, when I was a boy ten years of age, they were holding a revival
meeting in the little white crackerbox church house in our little town, and the evangelist stayed in our home. And every night after church, mother gave him a glass of home churned buttermilk, and as he drank the milk, he talked to me about the Lord. On a weekday service morning, I happened to be seated back of my dear old mother. And with tears, she turned to me and said, ‘Son, today, will you take Jesus, trust Him as your Savior?’ And I said, ‘Mother, today, I will take the Lord and trust Him as my Savior.’ And I went forward and gave the preacher my hand and my heart in trust to Thee. And dear Lord, all I am doing is depending upon You to keep Your word. For You said in the first chapter of John, look at it Lord, verse 11; ‘He came unto His own, and His own received Him not’ [John 1:11], but, verse 12, ‘But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right—the prerogative, the privilege, the power—to become the children of God, even to them that believe, that trust in His name’ [John 1:12]. And Lord, I am just depending upon You to keep Your word.
Then I dare Satan to scoff, and to laugh, and to sneer, and to scorn! For my salvation is not between me and him. I’m no match for him. But my salvation is a matter between the Lord and these who would accuse me and destroy me, and “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” [2 Timothy 1:12].
And now, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if I were to see an angel from heaven, or if I were to see a ball of fire break over my head, it would never occur to me to connect it with my salvation. I would thank God for the vision, if it ever came; I would praise His name for the marvelous revelation, if I ever saw it. But it would never occur to me that it was a part of my experience of conversion. I am saved by trusting the blessed Jesus, that He will keep His word forever and forever.
I know that the Bible is the inspired Word of God [2 Timothy 3:16]. Not only is it a divine self-revelation of the Almighty, and not only is it the presentation of the blessed Jesus, and not only is it the assurance of my salvation, it is the power of the preaching in the pulpit. As Jeremiah said, chapter 23, “Is not My word like as a fire?” saith the Lord; “and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?’” [Jeremiah 23:29].
I do not invent the message; I just deliver it from the mouth of the Lord. As Amos says to Amaziah, when Amaziah tried to send him back to the country place in Tekoa where he came from, Amos the prophet said:
It is true that I am no prophet, neither am I the son of a prophet; I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit:
And the Lord God took me from following the herd, and said, Go, prophesy unto My people Israel.
“The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken, who can but prophesy?” [Amos 3:8]
For forty-seven years my predecessor, the far-famed Dr. George W. Truett, stood in this very pulpit preaching this Book. And for over thirty years have I stood in the same sacred place proclaiming the Word of the Lord; seventy-seven years and the people come, and they come, and they come, and they come. What if I stood here preaching Shakespeare, or Dante, or Homer? What if I stood here speaking from text books in chemistry, or biology, or economics, or history? What brings people here year after year, year after year, all the days of their lives? And they still come! They come to hear the Word of the Lord, the inspired, incomparable, theopneustos, “God breathed,” Word of the Lord [2 Timothy 3:16].
This I know, that the Bible contains the revelation, the self-disclosure, the marvelous image and presence of our Lord and Savior, my hope and my assurance of life now, and in the world that is yet to come.
One other thing do I know: I know that God rules, and overrules, and ever rules in the lives and destinies of men and of nations. As the psalmist in , says, “Once hath God spoken; and twice have I heard it; that power belongeth unto the Lord” [Psalm 62:11].
It is God’s imponderables that pronounce the final sentence, whether I live or whether I die; it lies in the inscrutable sovereignty of Almighty God. And men may lift themselves up, but it is God who speaks the final verdict. Do you remember the famous sonnet of Shelley entitled, “Ozymandias”?
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half-sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
. . .
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
[“Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelley]
The mills of the gods may grind slow, but they grind exceeding fine, and whether a nation lives or dies, or whether we live or die, lies in the inscrutable sovereignty and the imponderables of Almighty God. And the moral judgments of God are universally applicable; there is no escaping them; they are found in the field and in the day of battle.
Sennacherib with his vast Assyrian hosts surrounded Jerusalem, and shut up Hezekiah as in a vise. But Isaiah the prophet was sent to Hezekiah saying to him, “In returning and in rest…in quietness and in confidence be your strength” [Isaiah 30:15]; for the battle is Mine” [2 Chronicles 20:15]. God will put a hook in his nose, and he will go back in destruction in the way that he came [Isaiah 37:29]. And that night the angel of the Lord passed over the vast army of Assyria, and they counted one hundred eighty-five thousand dead corpses the next morning [Isaiah 37:36]. The battle is in the hands of God.
When the Spanish Armada came against England, a wind blew it away; God said it will be English and not Spanish. One of the most traumatic of all of the battles in human history was between brothers at Gettysburg. And when it was over, and the Union was safe, Robert E. Lee said, “Had I had Stonewall Jackson, I would not have lost the battle.” His own troops had killed Stonewall Jackson, shooting him in the back accidentally. The preservation of the Union, which is such a traumatic episode in the life of the South, but God overruled. Dunkirk: a fog shrouded the seaport while the English army crossed the channel. D-day: the announcement had been made when news comes that our troops have assailed the bastion of Hitler on the continent, it will be the sign for all of God’s people to gather in churches in prayer.
It was about two o’clock in the morning in Muskogee where I was pastor that the word came: the troops had hit the beaches of Normandy. When I went down to the church it was filled—a church built like this with a horseshoe balcony all around it—it was filled—and in prayer, God gave our allies victory. The battle lies in the hands of Almighty God.
Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp—and strength, and might—of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
[“Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling, 1865]
Whether we live or die lies in the hands of Almighty God. His moral judgments are applicable in every area of life. In historical perspective, in 1 AD: who was the great and famous of the earth? Was it not a Caesar? Was it not a Herod? But who looked with any thought of historical succession or fame upon a Child born in a stable? [Luke 2:10-16]. In 64 AD, who was great? Was it Nero or was it Paul? We name our children for Paul; our dogs for Nero.
It is God, who in His moral judgments defines, confines, and outlines the destiny of the world. It is seen in all literature; there is no obscene, pornographic, or salacious literature that abides, that lives. There is much of it in the Greek language, and in those ancient languages; it lies untranslated, buried. The human race has never kept alive a sordid, and evil, salacious, obscene, pornographic piece of literature.
It is so in the field of entertainment. Think of the cheap, vile, blasphemous, filthy- mouthed entertainers and compare them with a Jack Benny, who was buried last week; the highest paid television movie star, twenty-two thousand five hundred dollars a week. There was never anything in Jack Benny’s program but that was fine and nice, and any member of the household could see it. But compare an X-rated movie with Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The moral judgments of God are applicable in every area of human life. I know that He judges the lives and the destinies of men and of nations.
And that brings to my heart the last and concluding avowal of the almightiness of the Almighty God. The future and the kingdoms of this earth belong to our Lord Jesus Christ [Revelation 11:15]. He ascended the cross as one would ascend a throne. And He shall rule, from that cross, the whole world and the universe in love and in compassionate sympathy.
This is the song and the theme of the Apocalypse, “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood . . . unto Him be glory and dominion for ever and for ever”[Revelation 1:5-6]. And in the fifth chapter of the Apocalypse:
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive riches, and glory, and power, and dominion . . . Who hath redeemed us from our sins out of every nation, and language, and tongue under the heavens and has made us kings and priests unto the Lord our God.
[Revelation 5:12, 9-10]
The kingdom belongs to Jesus, and as long as Christ shall reign, we shall reign with Him [Revelation 11:15]. “On this rock” of the deity of Christ, said our Lord to Simon Peter in Matthew 16. “On this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not,” katischuō, “shall not be able to hold it down” [Matthew 16:18], the gates of Hades, the gates of death. All other relationships we make in life are dissolved in death; all of them, except the relationship we make in Jesus Christ, and upon that, the gates of death have no effect. The relationships we form in Christ are forever and forever.
I made a journey—only time I have ever done so—back to my old pastorate to see one of my godly deacons, who was dying. When our visit was done he said to me, “Pastor, I will see you in heaven.” And I replied, “I will see you in heaven.” And when I walked to the door of the home, I paused and looked back, and he held his feeble hand and pointed upward; without saying a word, I raised my hand and pointed upward and closed the door.
My father loved to go to singing conventions. He would buy those books with shaped notes and sing those songs, beating out the time by the hour and the hour. In the last book that he bought, he sang for me his last song, beating out the time, singing it with shaped notes, and handed the book to me. You know the song that he sang:
I’ll meet you in the morning by the bright river side,
When all sorrow has drifted away.
I’ll be standing at the portals with the gates open wide
At the close of life’s long, dreary day.
I’ll meet you in the morning in the sweet by and by,
And exchange the old cross for a crown.
There’ll be no disappointments and nobody shall die
In that land when life’s sun goeth down.
[adapted from “I’ll Meet You in the Morning,” Albert E. Brumley]
The relationships we form in Christ are forever and forever and forever. Some of us here, some of us there, we are all one body in Jesus; some of us in this earthly pilgrimage yet, some of us have crossed over to the other side. We are still one church, in one faith, in one communion, in one love, in one hope, in one heavenly commitment; some of them there, some of us here; this I know.
Our time is so far spent, and I apologize for it. But these are just some of the things that I know in the goodness, and mercy, and revelation of our Lord. Because of the brevity of time, somebody you to give himself to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], a family you to come into the fellowship of the church, or for the answer of your life to an invitation the Holy Spirit would press upon your heart, in a moment when we stand to sing, on the first note of the first stanza, come. There is time and to spare for you. If you are in the topmost balcony, seated in that topmost chair, on the first note of the first stanza answer with your life, “I’m coming today. I’m coming now, and here I am. I have made the decision in my heart, and here I come.” Bless you; angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
THINGS THAT I SURELY KNOW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Things I cannot know, Acts 1:6-7, 1 Corinthians 13:12, Deuteronomy 29:29
II. Things I can know, Romans 8:28, John 9:25, 1 Corinthians 15:58
III. The Bible is the revelation of God
1. His self disclosure is the only way I can know Him
2. It’s the only way I can know Jesus
3. Assurance of salvation
IV. God rules, over-rules and ever rules on lives and destinies of nations
V. The judgments of God are inescapable
VI. The ultimate verdict belongs to Jesus Christ