Things I Surely Know
January 5th, 1975 @ 10:50 AM
THINGS THAT I SURELY KNOW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-5-75 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, we invite you and are blessed by your listening and watching this service in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing a specially prepared message entitled Things That I Surely Know. As a background text, I read from the nineteenth chapter of Job:
For I know—I know—that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand in 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 . . .
That sounds like great conviction, doesn’t it? “For I know that my Redeemer liveth” [Job 19:25]; Things That I Surely Know.
There are many things that we cannot know. As our Lord was to ascend back into heaven, the apostles asked Him: “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And the Lord replied: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath kept in His own hand” [Acts 1:6-7].
There are things that we cannot know. When the Lord was asked the time of His return to the earth [Matthew 24:3], He replied: “The Son of Man does not know. The angels in heaven do not know. Only the Father knows” [Matthew 24:36].
There are things we cannot know. The apostle Paul in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians said: “Now we see through a glass, darkly” [1 Corinthians 13:12]. Many of the great outlines are but dimly shadowed before our eyes. Some things we cannot know. God has kept them to Himself [Revelation 10:4]. But there are some things that we can know.
In the Book of Deuteronomy Moses wrote, “The secret things belong to God in heaven: but the things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever” [Deuteronomy 29:29]. There are some things that God has revealed to us—things that we can surely know. The whole spirit and tenor of the Bible is like that, one of great certainty and assurance.
For example, in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John, those critics who were demeaning and belittling the blind man for his faith in Christ—[he] replied, “Whether He be a sinner or not, I do not know: but one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” [John 9:25].
There are many of our people whose favorite verse is Romans 8:28: “For we know that all things work together for good to them who love God.” The greatest chapter possibly in revelation is the resurrection chapter, the fifteenth of 1 Corinthians. It closes like this: “Therefore, my brethren beloved, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; forasmuch as ye know, ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” [1 Corinthians 15:58]. And all of us are moved by the conviction of the apostle, when in 2 Timothy 1:12 he writes: “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.”
Things that I surely know. Number one: I know that the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, are the Word and the revelation of God. As the apostle wrote to his son in the ministry Timothy, in [2 Timothy 3:16]: “All Scripture—every Scripture—is theopneustos, God breathed”—inspired of the Lord. “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]. This I know, that the Bible, the Holy Scriptures are the Word and the revelation of God. It is through these Holy Scriptures that I come to know God.
Outside of a self-revelation of Himself, I could never know Him. I can look at the firmament forever and see in the sidereal spheres and the Milky Way that whoever made it was all-powerful, omnipotent, but what is His name? Who is He and what is He like? I could never know. I can look at a beautiful sunset or a glorious rainbow and surmise that whoever created them loved things beautiful, but what is His name, and what is He like? I could never know. I can look on the inside of my heart and find a moral sensitivity within me. And I could surmise that whoever made me is sensitive to right and wrong, but who did it? What was He like? What is His name? I could never know. It is only through a self-disclosure of the Almighty God that I could ever know Him.
It is likewise in the revelation of Jesus Christ in these holy pages that I could ever come to know Jesus, our Lord and our Savior. In secular history, there is one sentence in Suetonius, there is one sentence in Tacitus, early Roman historians, concerning Christ. The sentence is incidentally said describing the burning of Rome by Nero. The historians had to describe the Christians on whom Nero blamed the burning of the city, and that meant a sentence describing Christ. Outside of a possible interpolation, in Josephus, the Jewish historian, there is no reference to Christ in human history. I know of our Lord only through the pages of this Holy Book. But here I see Him in all His glory and wonder and beauty.
Erasmus wrote in the preface to his Greek New Testament, the first ever published in 1516, called the Textus Receptus, the basis of the version called King James—in his preface he wrote these words, I quote: “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 eyes.” Outside of these holy pages, I could never know God, and I could never know Christ our Savior. I know that the Holy Scriptures are the inspired Word of God [2 Timothy 3:16]. They bring me to the only assurance of salvation that I could ever know or ever possess.
I was converted, saved as a lad, a little boy ten years old, in the little white crackerbox of a church house in which we worshiped in a tiny town. The evangelist stayed in our home and talked to me each night about the Lord. At a weekday morning service, I happened to be seated in a pew back of my mother. When the evangelist gave the invitation my mother turned and with tears asked, “Son, today, will you take Jesus, receive the Lord Jesus as your Savior?” And with tears I replied, “Yes, Mother, I will.” I could hardly see the preacher as I walked down the aisle for the tears.
I began my ministry as a preacher and a pastor when I was seventeen years old, and for ten years I preached under tabernacles and under arbors out in the country. We had, in those long ago days, grove prayer meetings before the revival hour. The men would meet under a clump of trees, the women usually in the tabernacle, and there their testimonies were given and their prayers were prayed. Those testimonies were marvelous and wonderful to behold.
For example, one of the men said, “You see that spot right there? After I had been under the burden of my sins for years, a great ball of fire came down from heaven and burst over my head and struck me blind to the ground.” Then he described when he rose from the earth, the burden of his sin was gone. And then he described how beautiful was the world: its trees, its birds, and even the mules with which he was plowing out in the field.
After I listened to marvelous testimonies and experiences like that, I came to the firm conclusion that I had never been saved. I had never found the Lord. I was not born again; I was not a Christian. And for years, I lived through the saddest experience that any young minister could know. On Sunday morning, I would stand in the presence of my little country congregation and try to preach the Word of the Lord, and then every night get down by the side of my bed and confess to God, “I haven’t been saved; I haven’t been born again. I’m not a Christian. I haven’t seen a ball of fire; I haven’t seen an angel; not even a light from heaven has appeared unto me!”
In those days, I was reading and studying the Word of God, and I read some unusual things in the revelation. For example, in 2 Corinthians chapter 11, I read where Satan transformed himself into an angel of light [2 Corinthians 11:14]. And I read in the Apocalypse, chapter 13, that the false prophet sends fire down from heaven to deceive them that live on the earth [Revelation 13:13-14].
And then it came to my heart like a light in my soul: some of these days I shall stand before the great judgment bar of Almighty God [Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:1], and when the saints go marching in and I assay to join their number, the Lord shall stop me and say, “By what right, and by what prerogative do you enter My beautiful city and walk on My golden streets?” [Revelation 21:21]. And I reply, “Lord, I know I have been saved. I know I am a Christian. I saw a ball of fire burst over my head and strike me to the ground.” And Satan laughs, “Ah, ha ha ha! Listen to him, 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?
And when I stand before the great judgment bar of Almighty God, and the saints of the Lord are marching in and I propose to join their number, and the Lord stops me and says, “By what right, by what prerogative do you enter My beautiful city and mingle with My sainted redeemed?” [1 Peter 1:18-19]. And I reply “Lord, I know I’m a Christian. I know I’m born again. I know I’m saved. I saw an angel from heaven.” And Satan laughs, “Ah, ha ha ha! Listen to him. He saw an angel from heaven! I was that angel; I transformed myself into that angel, just to deceive him” [2 Corinthians 11:14]. What could I do? And what could I say?
Someday, when I stand before the judgment bar of Almighty God [Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:1], and the saints are marching 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], and walk on My golden streets?” [Revelation 21:21], I shall say, “Lord God, in the days of the long ago when I was a ten-year-old boy, they were having a revival meeting in the little white crackerbox of a church house in our little town where I grew up. And the evangelist stayed in our home and talked to me about the Lord every night. And on a weekday morning seated back of my mother, she asked me, ‘Son, today, will you take the Lord. Will you trust Jesus as your Savior?’ And I said, ‘I would.’ And Lord, I am just depending upon You to keep Your Word, for You have it written here in the Holy Scriptures. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But to as many as received Him, to them gave He the right—the prerogative, the power—to become the children of God, even to them that trust, that believe in His name” [John 1:11-12]. And Lord, the best a ten-year-old boy could do, I trusted Thee as my Savior, and now I am just depending upon Thee to keep Thy Word and Thy promise.”
And then I dare Satan to scoff and to laugh at the Word of God. My salvation is not a matter between me and Satan, for I am no match for him. But my salvation is a matter between God and His Word, whether or not He will keep His promise. And I know that the promises of God in Christ Jesus are everlastingly Yea, and Amen [2 Corinthians 1:20]. My salvation and its assurance is based upon the Word of God. And the power in which we preach God’s message is found in the Word. As Jeremiah says, “Is not My Word as a fire? saith the Lord; and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” [Jeremiah 23:29].
I don’t invent the message. I am just a voice and an echo, and I deliver the message from the mouth of the Lord. As Amos said, when Amaziah, the prelate of the king’s court sought to send him back to Tekoa where he came from, Amos the country prophet replied, “Sir, it is true that I am no prophet, neither am I the son of a prophet; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit: but the Lord God took me from following the herd and said, Go, prophesy unto My people Israel” [Amos 7:14-15]. “The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?” [Amos 3:8]
Consider the power of the preached Word. My predecessor, the far-famed George W. Truett, stood in this very pulpit for forty-seven years proclaiming this Word of the Lord. It has been now, more than thirty years that I have stood in the same place proclaiming the same message. Seventy-seven years have we stood here preaching this blessed Book. And through the years, and the years, and the years, and the years, the throngs have crowded into this sanctuary. What if I were standing here preaching Shakespeare? What if I were standing here preaching Dante? What if I were standing here preaching Homer? What if I were standing here preaching text from chemistry, or biology, or economics, or history? In no time at all, the place would be sterile and vacant and empty. But as the years pass and multiply, the people come, and they come back, and they come back. Why? Because the Spirit of the living God is in the Word of the Lord. I know that I know that this Bible is the inspired Word of the living God [2 Timothy 3:16].
I know, again, I know that God rules and overrules and ever rules over the lives and destinies of men and of nations. As the psalmist, 62, says, “Once have I heard it, and twice has God spoken it, power belongeth unto the Lord” [Psalm 62:11]. Whether we live, or whether we die, lies in the imponderables of Almighty God. In His sovereign and elective grace men may lift themselves up, but it is God who has the final and fatal and ultimate word [Psalm 62:11].
Do you remember the famous sonnet by Shelley called, “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 destiny lies in the hands of Almighty God. It is in His sovereign grace that we live or we die. And the moral judgments of God determine our destiny here and forever. In the fifth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy, here are the Ten Commandments [Deuteronomy 5:8-21], and here is the famous Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord thy God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and body” [Deuteronomy 6:4-5]. And in the middle, between the Ten Commandments and the Shema, is this heart-cry of the great lawgiver: O, that there were such a heart in them, that they would keep My words and obey My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children for ever!” [Deuteronomy 5:29]. The judgments, the moral judgments of Almighty God are universally applicable. There is no escape from them, and we live or we die in those imponderables of the judgments of Almighty God.
It is not of men or of nations; it is of Him who elects and decrees and who judges us in the scales of His balance. This is true in every area of human life. God judges; God moves; God sees; and God decides. In the great battles of the world: Sennacherib, with his vast Assyrian host shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem as a man would hold a bird in a cage. But Isaiah the prophet was sent of the Lord God to Hezekiah saying, “In returning and in rest, in quiet and in confidence be your strength, for the battle is Mine” [Isaiah 30:15; 2 Chronicles 20:15]. And that night an angel passed over the Assyrian host and the next morning one hundred eighty-five thousand of his troops were dead, lifeless corpses [Isaiah 37:36]. The issue lies in the hands of Almighty God.
Great, imperious Spain said, “We shall rule the earth, and strike the fleets of England from the seas.” But that night a wind came and blew the Spanish Armada away. God said it shall be English and not Spanish.
In one of the traumatic stories of human history, bathed in tears and blood for us whose forefathers lived in the South—my mother’s father was a doctor in the Confederate Army—one of the sad chapters of all human story: Robert E. Lee said, after the decisive battle of Gettysburg, “Had I had Stonewall Jackson, I would have won it.” Stonewall Jackson was killed by his own troops, accidentally shot in the back. It is God who decides.
It seemed to me, in the days when I was called as pastor of this church in the midst of the Second World War, that Hitler and Stalin were winning the world. England was prostrate, and the continent of Europe lay before Hitler like a doormat. Liberty and hope and life were obliterated from the face of the earth. And in those days, God sent a fog over Dunkirk and the English army escaped across the channel. And in those days, the announcement was made in America, “When D-day comes, you receive the word, all of the people gather in prayer in the houses of the Lord.” It came to us about two o’clock in the morning, and when I went to the church at Muskogee—one built like this, with a horseshoe balcony all the way round—it was jammed and filled with people at two o’clock in the morning. People bowed on their faces before God, asking God to give victory to our Allied troops. The issue belongs in the hands of the Almighty. Whether we live or whether we die is in His sovereign hands.
Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
[“Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling]
Whether we live or die as a people and as a nation lies in the imponderables of Almighty God. This I know. The judgments, the moral judgments of God are universally applicable. There is no exception and there is no escape. He judges, and He rules, and He decides.
In 1 AD, when the Lord was born, who were the greatest of the earth? Why, the whole civilized world would have said Caesar. And those in Judea would have said Herod. Who would have said, this tiny Babe born in a stable, lying in a manger, the Child of a humble, Jewish peasant girl? [Luke 2:10-16]. In 64 AD, who would have said was the greater: Nero, the Caesar of the Roman Empire, or a hated, despised apostle named Paul, who is awaiting execution in the Mamertine dungeon? Today we name our children for Paul, and our dogs for Nero. God judges. It lies in the hands of Almighty God. There is no escape and no exception to the moral judgments of the Almighty.
There is no literature that lives, there is no piece of literature that lives that is obscene or pornographic or salacious. Back there in the days of the Greeks and the Romans, it lies in its filth, buried today untranslated. It will never be translated. There has never been a piece of literature that has had immortality that is vile and blasphemous and evil. Why? Nor are there any great dramatic plays; nor are there any great films that live that are filthy and dirty and obscene. There is not—there never will be an X-rated movie that will live, but Tolstoy’s War and Peace will abide as long as men seek to find lessons in history by the motion picture screen. There is no such thing as giving immortality to what is filthy and dirty. In these days of TV, there are some stars, so-called, who are dirty in their language and filthy in their lives, and their shows have to be censored. They are cheap, they are temporary, they are mortal, and will soon pass.
Last week there was buried the greatest star of them all, Jack Benny, had the highest salary: twenty-two thousand, five hundred dollars a week. There was never a show, there was never an act, there was never a drama in which Jack Benny took part but that was clean and wholesome and fine. And when he was buried, he was buried amid the plaudits and the praise of Hollywood, of television, of radio, of the political leaders of America, from the president on down to the humblest viewer and listener. That is God! He rules, and He reigns, and His moral judgments are universally applicable. This I know.
And following the destiny of God’s sovereign purpose in history, this I know: the ultimate verdict belongs to the Lord Christ. He shall yet and someday be Lord and Ruler of the whole earth, and God’s whole vast creation [Revelation 11:15]. He ascended His cross as a man would ascend a throne, and from the cross He shall rule the whole world in compassionate and shepherdly love. This is the theme of the Apocalypse: “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood . . . to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever” [Revelation 1:5-6]. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” [Revelation 5:12], who “hast redeemed us unto God out of every tribe and family under the sun, to receive riches, and glory, and honor, and dominion, and power for ever and for ever” [Revelation 5:9-10].
“The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and for ever” [Revelation 11:15]. The verdict of history lies in the gracious nail-pierced hands of the Son of God who died for us on the cross [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And because He lives, we shall live also [John 14:19]. We are identified with Him, we are His body. He said to Simon Peter in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew: “On this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not katischuō, shall not be able to hold it down” [Matthew 16:18]. The gates of Hades are the gates of death. Death dissolves every relationship that we make in life, except the relationship we make in Jesus our Lord. That abides forever. Death cannot sever it or separate it. We are joined to our Lord in heaven and in earth, or whether here or whether there, there is no difference. We are with Him. If He lives, we shall live [John 14:19]. If He reigns, we shall reign [2 Timothy 2:12].
[The] only time I have ever gone back to a former pastorate with such a mission, one of my deacons lay dying in Muskogee and I went to visit him. And after our visit, he said, “Pastor, I’ll see you in heaven.” I replied, “Good deacon, I’ll meet you in glory.” I went to the door to leave, and before I closed the door, I turned and looked at him. He pointed up with his hand. I pointed up silently with mine, and shut the door.
My father loved to go to singing conventions. He would buy those books with shaped notes. And he would sing them, beating out the time by the hour and the hour. The last book he bought, he turned to a page and sang it to me, beating the time and placed the book in my hands. This was many, many years ago; my father has been gone many years. This is the song that he sang for me following those shaped notes and beating out the time with his hand—
I’ll meet you in the morning by the bright river side
When all sorrow has drifted away
I’ll be standing at the portal when 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 will be no disappointment and nobody shall die
In that land when life’s sun goeth down.
[“I’ll Meet You in the Morning,” A. E. Brumley]
Whether he is there or I am here, we are one in the Lord. Some of us there, some of us here, we’re ever one in Him. Death does not sever or destroy that relationship. One Lord, there and here. One faith, there and here. One song of praise, there and here. One love, there and here. One hope, there and here. It is just the same. Our Lord is ours, here and there. And the vicissitudes of fortune and time, the wasting away of years, the decay and dying of the body make no difference. We are always one in the Lord. The victory and the triumph belong to Him; this I know.
Oh, what a blessedness and a preciousness to live and to die in the faith of the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], to wait for His coming [Titus 2:13]—ready, prepared with faces turned heavenward, our redemption drawing nigh [Luke 21:28], and to give yourself to a faith like that [Ephesians 2:8], to come into the fellowship of the communion of a church like this; as the Spirit of God shall press the appeal upon your heart, would you come and stand by me? “Pastor, today, I make the decision and I am coming.” If you are in that topmost balcony and the last seat, there is time and to spare. Coming down one of these stairways, walking down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” Make the decision now in your heart, and when you stand up in a moment, stand up walking down that stairway, or coming down that aisle. May angels attend you in the way while you come; while we stand and while we sing.