Passing Through Deep Waters

Isaiah

Passing Through Deep Waters

February 8th, 1976 @ 8:15 AM

Isaiah 43:2

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
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PASSING THROUGH DEEP WATERS

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Isaiah 43:2

2-8-76     8:15 a.m.

All of you who are sharing our service on the radio of the city of Dallas, this is the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Passing Through Deep Waters

 In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to chapter 43, and the sermon is an expounding of the first few verses.  They read like this: 

 

Now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine.

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior . . .  Fear not: for I am with thee . . . Every one that is called by My name I have created for My glory.

[Isaiah 43:1-3, 5, 7]

 

The address, of course, is to Israel.  “Thus saith the Lord God that created thee, O Jacob; He that formed thee, O Israel” [Isaiah 43:1].  And the Lord has promised to this distressed and persecuted people that when they pass through the floods, they will not overflow; and through the fire, they will not burn or consume [Isaiah 43:2]

I would think that in such imagery we have the story of Israel all through the days of their pilgrimage in this earth.  By figure, when they came to the Red Sea, God parted the waters [Exodus 14:21-22].  When they came to the overflowing of the Jordan, God made it possible for them to find a way through, to pass through [Joshua 3:14-17].  I would think that, by figure, in the burning bush we have the story of these hunted and hounded and persecuted people [Exodus 3:1-22].  And I would think that in the story of the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace we have a picture of the trials of the people of God through these ages [Daniel 3:8-30].  

The promise is first to Israel.  He calls them by name, and He says that they will never be destroyed; they’ll be here until Jesus comes again [Matthew 24:34].  The Jew is a part of the elective purpose and program of Almighty God, and persecution will not waste them, and the fire will not destroy them, and the floods will not overwhelm them [Isaiah 43:2], and in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul, by inspiration, writes of the day of their ultimate conversion and glory [Romans 11:25-33]

But the promise also is to all of God’s children.  However you break up the family of God into smaller units and smaller units and smaller units, the form of the promise never varies.  It is always the same: whether God addresses a nation as His people, Israel; or whether the Lord addresses His churches as in the Revelation, Smyrna [Revelation 2:8-11], of whom we read just now; or whether the Lord is addressing a little group or a family or two or finally one, the promise of God always is the same; it never varies.

It’s like these crystalline formations that you see in an emerald or a topaz or an aquamarine or an amethyst.  All of them follow a designated and distinct crystalline, atomic pattern.  And when the thing is formed it is made according to that pattern, such as a rectangle, a rhomboid, or a hexagonal rhomboid, or an octagonal rhomboid.  And when you break it, every piece of it will break into that same hexagonal or heptagonal or octagonal rhomboid.  And when you hit it again, every little piece will find itself in that same form. And when you smash it to its ultimate powdered flatness, every piece of it will be atomically arranged according to that pattern by which God made it crystallize.  It is always the same however you break it up.

It is thus with the promises of God.  However small the group, however large, however broken up, the form of the promise is always the same.  It never varies.  So this wonderful promise made to the people of the Lord through all time and all ages also descends to us; it is made to us.  First, we look at the frightful and fearful but faithful revelation of God to us who are in this spiritual pilgrimage.  “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” [Isaiah 43:2].  Not if, but when.  “When you go through the water” and “when you go through the flood” and “when you go through the fire” and “when you go through the flame,” God, in these words, announces to us that if you are in a spiritual pilgrimage, you are in trial and in tribulation.

I would have thought, I would have imagined that in the first verse when God addresses Jacob, “I am the One that created thee” and “Israel, Fear not: I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by name; thou art Mine” [Isaiah 43:1], I would have supposed that, from the address to these heavenly ones, that they thereby would be exempt from trial and from trouble and from tribulation.  It is a wonderful thing that God says to these heavenly and elected people that belong to Him [Isaiah 43:1].  But as I read the second verse, “When thou passest through the waters” and “when thou walkest through the fire” [Isaiah 43:2], then I see that these who are the nearest to God are nearest the fire.  There is a saying of the Lord that is not recorded in the Bible.  There is a saying of the Lord Jesus, “He that is near Me is near the fire.”  And the Lord Himself said, this recorded in the Book of John, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” [John 16:33].  Because one is a disciple of Christ, a fellow pilgrim in this earthly journey, does not mean that he is exempt from all of the trials and fires and floods of this life.  Job was the best man in the world, God said so, and the Bible said so! [Job 1:8, 2:3].  But Job was the most tried of all the saints of the Lord.  

The Lord God said to Simon Peter, “When you are old you shall stretch forth your hands, and they will carry you where you do not want to go” [John 21:18], signifying by what death, that is, he should die by the stretching out of His hands; that is, He should die by crucifixion.  Then the passage says, “This spake the Lord, signifying by what death”—suffering in crucifixion—“he should glorify God” [John 21:19].  The Lord chose Simon Peter to be the spokesman of the apostles [Matthew 16:13-20; Luke 22:32], and he was and is, but he suffered greatly.

When the Lord called Saul of Tarsus and made him, converted him [Acts 9:3-17], into Paul the apostle [Acts 13:9], in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts the Lord says, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” [Acts 9:16].  To be near God is to be near the flood and the fire and the flame [Isaiah 43:2].  Nor are we able to escape that inevitable outline for our pilgrimage.  Education does some things for us, and we’re grateful.  And science has helped us, and medicine and pharmacy have comforted us, but they don’t keep us from the trials of our lives.  Nor can a man buy an obviation with wealth or with money.  You can’t build a house so massive, the walls so thick, that the trial doesn’t go through.  Nor can you find any redress or any escape in any of the ways that affluence or money can buy.  This is a passage that all of us must go through.  There is no bridge over it; there is no tunnel [under] it; there is no ferry beyond it.  We go through the fire, we go through the water, and we go through the raging torrent [Isaiah 43:2]

Would you also notice that there are many kinds of trials and troubles that face us in our life.  He multiplies it when thou passest through the waters, and then through the rivers, and then through the fire, and then through the flame.  There are waters that chill our bones, there are fires that burn and scorch, and there are many different kinds, and all of us face these many different trials and troubles. 

Then the Lord says a comforting and a marvelous word:

 

When you go through the water, and when you go through the river, and when you walk through the fire, and when the flame kindles upon you; fear not, for I am with thee.  I have called thee by thy name, and thou art Mine.

 [Isaiah 43:2, 1].

 

            This is a marvelous and a wonderful thing.  For it says, “When thou passest through the water, through the flood, through the raging torrent, through the seas, through the flames, and through the fire; I will be with thee.”  Therefore there shall be no roaring sea, nor any overwhelming tide that can separate us from God.  “I will be with thee” [Isaiah 43:1-2] 

There is no more glorious passage in the Bible than in those verses that close the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans:

 

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor powers, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[Romans 8:38-39]

 

There are no floods, and there are no fires, and there are no rivers, and there are no seas that can separate us from God.  God does not withdraw from us when we find ourselves weak, or helpless, or poor, or sick, or distressed, or tried, or cast down.  The nearer God is to us chances are it is found in a time of great need and of heavy seas and torrential troubles. 

The text does not say, “When you walk a primrose path I’ll be with thee, and when the flowers bloom along the pathway I will be with thee, and when your way is carpeted like beautiful green grass I will be with thee.”  But the text does say, “When you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the fire, and when you pass through the flood, and when you pass through the flame, I will be with thee” [Isaiah 43:2].

I don’t think a man who lives in ease and in luxury ever really knows God.  It’s in the time of the fury, and of the flame, and of the fire, and of the flood that a man senses really the help and the presence of Almighty God. 

Will you notice another thing in this text, “When thou passest through the waters, and through the rivers, and through the fire, and through the flame”; through!  The pilgrim doesn’t come to the edge of the cold and swollen and chilling stream, he goes through; and God goes through with him: “When thou passest through, I will be with thee” [Isaiah 43:2].

And many times I hear people say, “The twenty-third Psalm comforts me because it says, ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me.’  And the signs of Thy presence, ‘they comfort me: the rod and the staff’” [Psalm 23:4].  When thou passest through, not in or before, but through, God is with us [Isaiah 43:2]

There’s no more thrilling story in literature and there’s no more meaningful story in the Holy Word of God than the story of the three Hebrew children, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, in the fiery furnace, heated seven times hotter.  And when they came, looked into the burning flame, the fire had done nothing but loosed the bonds of those three Hebrews.  And God, a fourth, walked with them in the burning fury of the furnace [Daniel 3:19-25]

What did the fire do?  Nothing but break their bonds.  And that’s what the fire does for us in the tribulations and the trials of our lives.  The trials, and the temptations, and the troubles, and the tribulations do nothing but free us from the bonds of this life.  That is, our bodies do not carry our souls, but our souls carry our bodies.  We are free when God leads us through the fiery trial.

You sang a moment ago:

 

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,

My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;

The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design

Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

[from “How Firm a Foundation,” Dr. John Rippon]

 

And God has an elected purpose, holy and pure and heavenly, in His leading His children through the flood and the flame and the fire.  God wants us to reign with Him in His kingdom, and we cannot reign if we do not suffer.  “If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him” [2 Timothy 2:12].

There’s no victory without a conflict and a battle.  And if we wear the crown in heaven above, we must bear the cross in earth beneath. 

 

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

[Isaiah 43:2]

 

And then we have the marvelous, infinitely tender promises of God doubly to assure us of His presence, His help, His comfort and strength: “For I am the Lord, Lord Jehovah, Yahweh.  I am the Lord, thy God, the Holy One of Israel” [Isaiah 43:3].  That is, He would not lie to us, nor deceive us; “thy Savior.”  And look how He addresses us: “I am He that created thee, I am He that redeemed thee” [Isaiah 43:1], and at what a price; we are doubly God’s.  “I have called thee by thy name” [Isaiah 43:1].  He knows all about us.  Every hair on our head is numbered [Matthew 10:30].  He knows us.  He calls His sheep by name [John 10:3]; we’re not blanks, and we’re not numbers, and we’re not digits, and we’re not bucketsful or oceans full in the sight of God.  We are somebody.  You and you and you; God knows you and calls you by your name, and He says, “You are Mine” [Isaiah 43:1].  “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of Mine eye,” He says [Zechariah 2:8].  “Thou art Mine” [Isaiah 43:1]; precious in His sight [1 John 3:1]

Then He gives us the marvelous promise.  Look.  “When you walk through the flood, the raging torrent in the river, they shall not overflow thee” [Isaiah 43:2].  God has a surveillance; He watches from above all the things that beset us and assail us.  And there are no trials, and there are no fires, and there are no floods that could ever ultimately destroy you.

 

Is there any heart discouraged as it journeys on its way? 

Does there seem to be more darkness than there is of sunny day?

O, it’s hard to learn the lesson, as we pass beneath the rod,

That the sunshine and the shadow serve alike the will of God!

But there comes a word of promise, like the promise of the bow—

That, however deep the waters, they shall never overflow.

 

When the flesh is worn and weary, and the spirit is depressed,

And temptations sweep upon it like a storm on ocean’s breast,

There’s a haven ever open for the tempest-driven bird;

There’s shelter for the tempted in the promise of the Word;

For the standard of the spirit shall be raised against the foe,

And, however deep the waters, they shall never overflow.

 

When a sorrow comes upon you that no other soul can share,

And the burden seems too heavy for the human heart to bear,

There is One whose grace can comfort, if you’ll give Him an abode.

There’s a burden-bearer ready, if you’ll trust Him with your load.

For the precious promise reaches to the depths of human woe,

That, however deep the waters, they shall never overflow.

 

When the sands of life are ebbing and I near the Jordan’s shore,

When I see its waters rising, and I hear its billows roar,

I will reach my hand to Jesus; in His bosom I shall hide.

It will only be a moment ‘til I reach the other side.

It is then the fullest meaning of the promise I shall know—

“When thou passest through the waters,” they shall never overflow.

[“When Thou Passest Through the Waters,” S.C. Kirk]

 

Look, if God were to lose just one of the souls that have trusted in Jesus, if God were to fail just one, you know what would happen?  From the depths of hell, some blaspheming fiend would look up and say: “Haha!  Haha!  Thou so-called Redeemer in heaven, here is a soul that was redeemed by the blood of the Crucified One! [1 Peter 1:18-19]. Here is the soul that trusted in Jesus!  And look at him; he’s damned!  He’s burned and consumed by the fire, and he’s drowned in the flood.  Hahahaha!  Thou so-called Redeemer, You are not able to redeem this one who trusted in Thee.”

If God looses just one soul, just one soul that trust in Jesus, the whole foundations of heaven are ruptured, are cracked, are dismantled; the whole sovereignty of God is challenged; the whole universe falls into ruins!  Just one. 

And if that one is I, if I’m that one, if God does not hold my hand and save me, the whole universe collapses in disorder and into chaos. 

 

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with you; and through the floods, they will not overwhelm you: and when thou walkest through the fires, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

[Isaiah 43:2]

 

Precious in the sight of God are the least of His saints and the death of his saints [Psalm 116:15]

And that means that when we come to the last and final dividing river, the swollen Jordan, that cold stream of death that separates us from the world that is yet to come, that means that God says He will part the waters for us, and He will go with us, that we might be assured of a safe welcome on the other side. 

In my reading this week, studying for this sermon, I came across a wonderful man of whom I had somehow never heard.  His name is Sir John Franklin.  He was one of the greatest sailors of the British Navy; lived, oh, one hundred fifty years ago.  I did not know it; he’s the one that discovered the Northwest Passage—that there was a waterway, a sea, that would connect the Atlantic and the Pacific, the Northwest Passage that sailors had sought for centuries.  He discovered it.

He was a great man of God, a tremendous disciple of Jesus.  For example, in the maps in his day, when you look at them, there’d be one or two continents missing.  And on those unknown continents, and on those unknown territories, and those uncharted seas—I’ve seen these maps—there would be written there, “Dragons be here,” and, “Demons be here,” and, “Savages who worship devils be here.”  

Being a great sailor, he also had a map of the world at that time, and he wrote on his map on uncharted territories, “God be here,” and on uncharted seas, “God is here.”  In the last expedition he had come from the Pacific as far as he could, and then on this last expedition from England, set out from the Atlantic to find the completion of that Northwest Passage, and he never came back.  He had two ships, one hundred and nine men, and they disappeared. 

And it’s hard for us to realize today: the whole world, the whole world was enthralled with the expeditions to find what happened to Sir John Franklin.  His wife was an affluent and wealthy woman, and she spent her fortune with expedition after expedition, trying to find what happened to her illustrious and gifted husband.  Eventually, the day came, and there was nothing left but his bones and his books.  All of them had perished in those dark, frozen wastes of the North.  The saturated and frozen volumes of his books had one of them that especially seemed to be near to him and dear to him.  Toward the end of that battered copy he had turned down the leaf and he’d marked a passage, and I read it:

 

Are you not afraid to die? 

No. 

No?  Why does the uncertainty of another state give you no concern? 

Because God has said to me, “Fear not: when thou passest through the water, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” 

 

And there as though his frozen finger pointed to it was this text of hope and promise [Isaiah 43:2].

They asked Alfred, Lord Tennyson to compose the inscription on the beautiful monument to him in Westminster Abbey, and this is what Lord, Alfred Tennyson wrote, and it is inscribed there on his monument in the Abbey:  “Not here: the White North hath thy bones; and thou heroic sailor-soul art passing on thine happier voyage now towards no earthy pole.”

And in the after years, at the age of eighty-three, in 1875, Lady Franklin died.  And Dean Stanley, one of the great ecclesiastics of all time, Dean Stanley of Westminster Abbey added a postscript to Lord Tennyson’s inscription, and these are the words, “Lady Franklin, who after long waiting and sending many in search of him, herself departed to seek and to find him in the realms of light.”

That is the Christian faith.  I’ll not be afraid, for the overflowing rivers are for the vast and raging seas, for Thou art with me.  Nor will I be aghast or intimidated by the grim visage of death.  For it now is but the dividing of the Jordan, the separating of the flood, that we might enter into the glorious realms of light.

 

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the floods, they shall not overwhelm thee: and when thou walkest through the fires, they shall not burn thee; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

[Isaiah 43:2]

 

For we are precious in His sight, and He has chosen us and elected us to share with Him the glories of His kingdom [Luke 12:32].  Isn’t that what our souls long for?  God and the presence of God—beyond treasure, beyond fame or success, beyond all the rewards of this world, isn’t it the wise and the best who choose Him? 

And that is our appeal to your heart this morning.  “I take God as my Keeper and Savior, and this day I decide for Him and I’m coming.”  “I’m trusting the Lord as my Savior, pastor, and here I am” [Ephesians 2:8].  “I’m coming to be baptized in His name and into the fellowship of His people, and here I stand.”  Or “I’m putting my life and the life of our family and home in the circle of this dear church, and here we all come.”  “Count me among those who look to Jesus.  I want to be numbered among God’s redeemed [1 Peter 1:18-19], and put my name with those who walk in the pilgrim way.  I’m coming.”  Do it now, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand answering with your life: “Here I come, pastor, and here I am.”  Do it now, make it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.