The Greatest of the Promises
October 31st, 1976 @ 10:50 AM
THE GREATEST OF THE PROMISES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-31-76 10:30 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Greatest of the Promises. Last Sunday morning, we began preaching through the Book of Acts, the fifth book in the New Testament. And the message last Sunday morning was on the first verse: “Of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach” [Acts 1:1]. The message today is from the fourth verse, and I read it: “And Jesus, being assembled together with them, with the apostles, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the Promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me” [Acts 1:4]. The Greatest of the Promises: “But to wait for the Promise of the Father.”
In all of the Bible, in all the Holy Scriptures, there are two continuing and tremendous prophecies. Number one: there is a Savior who is coming. That is a refrain like the repetition of a theme in a great symphony, that is a theme heard throughout the Bible. There is Someone who is coming. After the Fall [Genesis 3:1-6] in the third chapter of Genesis, “The Seed of the woman shall bruise Satan’s head” [Genesis 3:15]. In the forty-ninth chapter of Genesis, the tenth verse, “A lawgiver shall not depart from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be” [Genesis 49:10]. Nor would I have time to repeat the glorious prophecies in Isaiah. “A virgin shall be with child, and shall call the name of that virgin-born Son Immanuel, with us is God” [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23]. Or Isaiah 9:6, “For unto us a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given . . . and His name shall be called Wonderful.” There is Someone who is coming. “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely, surely I come quickly”; and the benedictory closing of the Apocalypse and the New Covenant, “Even so, come, blessed Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20]. The first promise: there is a Savior who is coming.
The second great promise throughout the Word of the Lord is this: there is to be an outpouring of the Spirit of God—such as you read in the second chapter of Joel: “And in those days, saith the Lord, I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” [Joel 2:28]. And it is of that the Savior speaks when He said, “Wait for the Promise of the Father” [Acts 1:4].
Why does He use that word and call the outpouring of the Spirit the “Promise of the Father”? We read aloud together in this last chapter of Luke the Word of the Lord, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you: but tarry in Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” [Luke 24:49]. He constantly refers to the outpouring as the “Promise of the Father.” When we read the Gospel of John, it is very apparent why He uses that descriptive word. John 14:16, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth…But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things” [John 14:26]. Then again, “But when the Comforter, the paraklētos”—para, “alongside,” para, “parallel,” para, “alongside”; kaleō, “call”; “the one called alongside.” In many of the versions of the Bible they will use that Greek word because it is untranslatable in English. It is a tremendous word, and there’s no English word counterpart, congruent, that holds the meaning. “When the Paraclete, the paraklētos,” the Advocate, the Intercessor, the Helper, the Comforter, the Strengthener, the Consoler, “when He is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me” [John 15:26]. I learn therefore that the outpouring of the Spirit is an ascension gift: it is something that must have happened up there in heaven before the foundation of the world. When the Lord offered Himself to die for our sins [Hebrews 10:4-14], the Lord promised the Son that He would give Him an ascension gift after the atonement [Romans 5:11], after the suffering of the cross [Matthew 27:32-50], after the burial [Matthew 27:57-60] and the resurrection [Matthew 28:5-7], and after His return to heaven [Acts 1:9-10]. He had the promise of the Father to pour out upon the world the fullness of His presence and of His Spirit [Luke 24:49]. And this is the Promise of the Father.
Someone said, “Out of all of the more than three thousand promises in the Bible, there is only one that is called ‘the Promise of the Father’.” Why is that so signally emphasized in the Word of the Lord? I think we can find an obvious answer; the Promise of the Father, the ascension gift of our Lord [Luke 24:49; John 14:26], what He did for us when He ascended into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], in pouring out the fullness of His Spirit, first, for our strengthening and for our comfort [John 14:18]. The Lord said to His apostles when He went away, “I will not leave you orphanous, orphans; I will not leave you orphans”—in the King James Version translated here, “comfortless”—”I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” [John 14:18]. How does He come to us? This is the context of the verse: “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, Paraclete, that He may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth [John 14:16-17] . . . I will not leave you orphans, comfortless: I will come to you” [John 14:18]. He comes to us in the presence of His Spirit.
Again, He said in John 16, “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 Paraclete, the Comforter, will not come; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you” [John 16:6-7]. God’s presence is with us. Jesus is with us in His Spirit; and He is present to strengthen us, to encourage us [John 14:18].
I see that in so many areas of the Christian witness, in my reading, and in my observation and experience. I read one time a missionary had been seized by cannibals, bound in a thatched hut; and outside a big fire roaring, heating a great cauldron in which to boil him and eat him. In the night, while the fire was roaring and the water was getting hotter, he was able to undo his bonds, and through the thatched hut escaped, and hid up in the top of a tall jungle tree. When the natives, the cannibals, found that he’d escaped, they lit torches and were searching everywhere through the forest for him. Any moment they could have found him, but he was up there in the top of that tree. And in speaking of it, the missionary said, “I never felt the presence of God so close, so dear, so blessedly real as I did that day and that night in the top of that tree, without knowing that any moment maybe they would find me.” He said, “I wish I could go back to that hour and be up there in the top of that tree again, if I could just experience the ecstatic closeness of the presence of God as I did then.”
Or take again; I was in Hong Kong, China, with Dr. M. T. Rankin, now in heaven, but then the executive secretary of our Foreign Mission Board. We were in a little car on the back side of the island. And as we drove along he pointed to a place, and he said, “In that place I was incarcerated in a concentration camp all through the years of the Second World War. When the Japanese came and seized Hong Kong, I was arrested and interned in that camp.” He said, “When I was marched into the concentration camp with a Japanese soldier on one side of me and a Japanese soldier on the other side of me,” he said, “I had no idea what lay before. Starvation, disease, almost certain death, but,” he said, “I never had the sense of the presence of God with me as I did that day when I was marched into the camp with a Japanese soldier on either side of me.”
“I will be with you,” He said, “to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. “I will not leave you orphanous, comfortless, orphans: I will be with you” [John 14:18].
In reading the life of David Livingstone, he had an unusual thing that I found in the lives of some of you. When a decision was to be made, David Livingstone would always take his Bible and put it on end like that, on edge like that, and then pray, and then let it open where it would. Then the first verse that he read was God’s answer to his prayer. That’s something of faith; but he had that kind of faith. Well, in the story of his life, he was going down the Zambezi River—first white man ever to go down that great river; discovered, you remember, the Victoria Falls, the greatest spectacle, I think, of the water world. Well anyway, as he was going down, discovering length and breadth of the Zambezi, when he came to a certain place, the friendly natives there said, “You must proceed no further, for there are cannibals down the river, and you cannot escape with your life if you go on.” David Livingstone took it to the Lord in prayer. After he laid it before God, placed his Bible on edge, then let it fall open, and looked at the verse. And the verse that he saw was Matthew 28:19-20, “And, lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the age.” David Livingstone said, “Arise, let us go.”
That’s the promise of the Father. That’s the Spirit of Jesus with us, to comfort us, to strengthen us, to help us, to stand by us, the paraklētos, God’s Advocate and Intercessor [John 14:26].
The promise of the Father is for power. The third chapter of the [second] Corinthian letter is a magnificent contrast from the pen of the apostle Paul between what he calls the “ministration of the Spirit” and the “ministration of the letter” [2 Corinthians 3:6-11]. He calls the ministration of the Spirit “life,” the quickening power of God. And he calls the ministration of the letter “death” [2 Corinthians 3:6]. What he means by that is this: that the letter of the law, just the cold print of the word is without quickening power. Then he speaks of the glory of the ministration of the Spirit: if God is in it, it has ableness and power to save us.
It’s exactly like a man: separate the spirit from him and he’s a corpse, he’s a cadaver, he’s dead. So with the Word of the Lord: it is a cold, dead letter until it is quickened by the power of the presence of God in it [2 Corinthians 3:6]. Like Ezekiel’s wheels, and the wheels in the wheels, they were lifted up by the Spirit of God that lived and moved in the wheels [Ezekiel 1:19-21]. So it is the Spirit of God that takes the Word and makes it powerful to the convicting of our sins, to the saving of our souls, to the regeneration of our lives [John 16:8-15]. This is the promise of the Father [Luke 24:49]: in the ministry of the Word, that His Spirit work with us [John 14:17]; and in the mediation of the grace of our Lord, that He saves us [Titus 3:5]. It is a work of the Spirit of God.
- It is the Spirit that convicts us [John 16:8].
- It is the Spirit that regenerates us [John 3:6-7].
- It is the Spirit that sanctifies and cleanses us [2 Thessalonians 2:13].
- It is the Spirit that enables us to do God’s work of the earth [1 Corinthians 2:13].
- It is the Spirit that glorifies us, that shall raise us from the dead [Romans 8:11].
- It was the Holy Spirit that raised our Lord from among the dead [Romans 1:4].
- It is the same Holy Spirit that shall call us to life from the dust of the ground [Romans 8:11].
And for us to attempt the work of God without the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit of God is to be futile and sterile and vain in our efforts.
A man can pray; but he’s saying words unless the Spirit maketh intercession for him with groanings which cannot be uttered [Romans 8:26]. A man can preach; but he can preach without power, without the Spirit helping him and enabling him. A choir can sing; but they can also sing without unction and without the presence of God. That’s why it is so vitally important for the choir to pray, as well as to practice their notes and their lyrics and their melodies. It’s God in us that makes the difference; and without Him, it is a dead service. It is ritual, it is liturgical, it is habit, it is just sterile.
I held a revival meeting in a little country church, after I was called to be pastor of this church; just a little country church out in a field. Just blessed my heart, wish I could do it all the time. And that country pastor who was so uneducated—that is, academically, but he knew God and the truth of the Lord. He was taught of Jesus. He said that he was preaching without power, no souls were being saved, and his own heart was dry, his own spirit like a dearth and a drought. And he said he went to his room and closed the door, and fell before God, and with a burdened heart and many tears cried to God for the Lord to help him and to stand by him. And he said, “The Lord came into my soul in a fire and a flame.” Then he described how the Lord was with him in his pulpit and blessed him with souls. When he told me that, I knew every syllable of the way. Without the Spirit of the Lord working with you and standing by you, it is an exercise; it’s just loudness of speech, it is just multiplication of sounds and syllables. For the Word of the Lord is in fire, it’s in flame, it’s in power—as Jeremiah said, “Is not My word like a flame; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” [Jeremiah 23:29]. It’s the promise of the Father, the power of the Spirit with us in the Word [Acts 1:8].
The promise of the Father, it is for truth. He calls the Holy Spirit of Jesus the “Spirit of truth” [John 16:13]; that is, all ultimate truth we learn from His teaching. This world is literally a maze of deception, and false religions, and false cults, and false ideologies, and false philosophies, and false directions, and false doctrines. It is the curse of the world that it is filled with untruth, with deception, with lying spirits. When you read the Bible, you will find—when you are sensitive to the truth of God—that one of the things the man of God wrestled with all through the centuries of the old and the new covenants was the lying prophet, the deceiving spirit. In the Old Testament, sometimes they represented heathen gods, such as those prophets of Baal who cried to that false deity on top of Mount Carmel in the days of the apostasy when Elijah sought to bring them back to the true Jehovah [1 Kings 18:24-39]. Or as Paul in the tenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, he says that all of those gods that the Greco Romans worshiped were demons [1 Corinthians 10:20-21]. How they deceived the multitudes of the people!
Well, not only that, a representative of a false deity, but the true prophet of God had to wrestle with and to confront the false prophet who came forward saying that he was delivering a message in the name of the one true God Jehovah. Do you remember the story of Micaiah and Zedekiah? When Micaiah said to Ahab, “The Lord hath said this battle is lost, and your life is lost. You will not come back alive” [1 Kings 22:15-23], Zedekiah the prophet, false, walked over to Micaiah and slapped him on the face, and said, “From whence went the Spirit of God from me to you?” [1 Kings 22:24]. Micaiah said, “In the day that you hide yourself in embarrassed shame [1 Kings 22:25]. And if Ahab comes back from the battle alive, God hath not spoken” [1 Kings 22:28]. And a man drew an arrow “at a venture,” that is, without aiming it, and let it fly, and it entered a joint in the harness of Ahab, the armor of Ahab; and his life’s blood flowed out in the chariot [1 Kings 22:34-35]. When God speaks, almost always there’ll be a false prophet denying it.
Or read the story of Jeremiah and Hananiah. Through the streets of Jerusalem the prophet Jeremiah wore a yoke [Jeremiah 27:2], a sign of the word of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar would come and carry the people away into Babylon, the word of God. And Hananiah, the false prophet, came to Jeremiah and broke the yoke from off his neck [Jeremiah 28:10], and said, “Thus saith the Lord; Nebuchadnezzar will never come nigh this city. And these people shall never be carried away into Babylon” [Jeremiah28:11]. And Jeremiah said, when the word of the Lord came to him again, “You will see the truth of the word when Nebuchadnezzar destroys the city and its temple and carries the people away into captivity [Jeremiah 28:12-14]. And as for you, Hananiah, before the year ends, thou shalt surely die for misleading the people of God” [Jeremiah 28:15-17].
Nor have I time to recount the dramatic confrontation between Amaziah, the prelate of the king’s court, and Amos, an untutored farmer from Tekoa in Judea [Amos 7:10-17]. It is always that. And it is that in the church today, and has been the history of the church through the centuries: that it is filled with the deceptions of those who say that they speak the true doctrine of God, but do lie.
Our Lord, in Matthew 24:24, said, “Beware of false christs, and false prophets.” In the [eleventh] chapter and in the fourteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter the apostle Paul writes of those who bring discord and disorder and disunion into the house of God, into the church of Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 11:18, 14:33, 40]. In the second chapter of Simon Peter’s second letter, he warns about false prophets who appear in the church [2 Peter 2:1-22]. All of us are familiar with the apostle John, in his first letter, chapter 4, and the first three verses: he says, “Try the spirits, test the spirits whether they be of God: for many false prophets are come into the world” [1 John 4:1-3]. How am I to know the truth of God? As Pilate cried in the presence of the Lord Jesus, in John 18, “What is truth? [John 18:38]. Where can I find it, how can I know it?” Our Lord said, “He that willeth to do His will shall know of the didachē, shall know of the teaching, shall know of the doctrine thereof” [John 7:17]. If I shall come before the Lord with a humble and teachable spirit, and if I lay before God His inspired and infallible and inerrant Word, and I pray, “Spirit of Jesus, teach me Thy truth,” He will not fail, for He is the Spirit of truth [John 16:13]. There will be the witness in your heart that this is the Word of God, and this is the meaning and the message of the Spirit. This is the promise we have of the Father [John 7:17].
I must hasten. Last: the promise of the Father, the presence of the Holy Spirit is for our salvation. Our Lord said of the Holy Spirit of God, “He will not speak of Himself, He will not glorify Himself” [John 16:13-14]. When I see people that are greatly magnifying the so-called “gifts of the Spirit” and all the things that go with that way, I often think of the Word of our Lord, “He will not speak of Himself, He will not call attention to Himself; but He will glorify Me [John 16:13-14], for He will testify of Me” [John 15:26]. If the Spirit of the Lord is in the presence, if the Spirit of Jesus is in the congregation, they magnify the Lord [1 Corinthians 12:3].
Like last Sunday night, one of our fine young men said, “Pastor, let me say something.” I gave him the microphone at the end of the service; and he magnified the Lord. “How excellent, O Lord, is Thy name in all the earth!” [Psalm 8:1]. Wherever there is a true moving of the Spirit, it leads us to Jesus, unfailingly; it magnifies Him, it exalts Him [John 16:13]. And the reason is obvious: it is the Lord who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25], who is our Savior [2 Peter 1:11, 3:18]; and the Holy Spirit points to Him [John 16:13-15]. And the Holy Spirit knocks at your heart and says, “Look.” The Holy Spirit seeks to woo you to Him. The invitation always is from His soft and insistent voice.
Now I want to show you a concomitant of that. That is why the Holy Bible speaks so seriously concerning the repudiation of the witness of the Spirit of God. For in the days of our Lord, they said, “He has not the Spirit of God; He has the spirit of a demon, and by the prince of demons casteth He out demons” [Mark 3:22]. The Lord said:
Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and all the blasphemies wherewith they shall blaspheme:
But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:
Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.
When the Holy Spirit of God witnesses to the deity and the atonement and the saviorhood of our Lord, and I say, “That’s not so, that’s a false witness,” I bring myself into an unforgiving sin. As the author of Hebrews wrote it:
For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins . . .
He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
Of how much sorer punishment . . . shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God . . . and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will repay, said the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people.
For it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
[Hebrews 10:26, 28-31]
. . . for our God is a consuming fire.
When the witness of the Spirit says, “This is the Savior of the world,” and I reply, “That’s a deception and a falsehood,” I bring myself to the brink of the abyss; I am liable to the unforgiveable sin [Matthew 12:31-32]; O Lord, that when the Spirit calls I might listen, when He pleads I might answer; I must. The Lord has but one Son that He gave as a sacrifice for our sins [John 3:16], and He hath but one Spirit to point us to the Savior of the world [John 15:26, 16:7-15]; and if I turn aside from the witness of the Spirit and do despite unto the Spirit of grace, I have no other way; I am eternally, for ever lost [John 3:36].
O Master, may it be that this day, when the Spirit calls we answer with our lives; when the Spirit testifies, we say amen; when He leads us to the blessed Jesus, we follow after into the presence of the Lord Himself, and someday following after through the gates of the city into the presence of the marvelous, supreme, universal, ever living and ever reigning King. O God, give us souls today. Do it now, Lord. If the word preached has been true, may the Spirit of truth sanctify it, and may God honor it with souls.
And now that’s our invitation to your heart. In this balcony round, you; a family, a couple, or just you; in the throng on this lower floor, somebody you, if the Spirit speaks, if the Spirit of Jesus calls, “Here I am, Lord, I’m making that decision now. Pastor, here’s my hand; I’ve given my heart to God.” On the first note of the first stanza, come. Do it now. Make it now. When you stand up in a moment, stand up walking down that stairway or coming down that aisle. God bless you, angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.