THE SELF-REVELATION OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-19-80 8:15 a.m.
And it is no less a joy to share this hour with the uncounted thousands of you who are worshiping with us on the two radio stations that bear the messages. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And, as practically all of you know, in these days we are preaching through two series of messages. In the evening, at the seven o’clock hour, the message concerns the problems of human life. And tonight, at seven o’clock, it is entitled David: Sexual Drives, and believe me, I have found more things that I never knew as I have studied preparing this sermon, and several of the things are amazingly wonderful. They are just marvelous and amazing to me! That will be the sermon tonight, Sexual Drives. And in these morning hours the messages concern the great doctrines of the Bible. Next Sunday it will be The Sum of Scriptures: the Heraldic Announcement. The whole message of the Bible is “Look, look! He is coming!”
And the message today in this series on bibliology is entitled, The Self-Revelation of God. We are introduced in the first verses of the first chapter of the first book of the Bible with a God who moves, who creates and who speaks, “And God said” [Genesis 1:3]. Then in Hebrews 1:1-2, we have a summary of the self-revelation of God and the Word is this, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son”—the self-revelation of God.
We speak first of the necessity for the self-disclosure of the Almighty. There are many things that we can learn by study and by observation; the soil and the seed, the tree and the fruit, water and minerals, cattle and fish, the laws of gravity and the motion of the stars. It is almost illimitable in itself, the things that we can learn and study and see by observation. But there are many things, and they are the really meaningful things, that we cannot learn by reason. The things that lie back of things, the true realities back of what we see, no matter how much we study or how much we observe, we can never learn those ultimate meanings. Who made all of these things and why? Is there purpose in life, and if so, can I know it? Where did we come from? And to what goal are we reaching out? No amount of study or observation will ever bring us those answers.
Reason, observation, study, understanding is like a hen, like a chicken, and she hatched a whole brood of ducklings. She proudly walked with them to the water’s edge and she stopped, but the ducklings went right on swimming through the pond. To that hen, to that chicken, it was an astonishing development! Reason is like that. Study is like that. Observation is like that. It can go just so far but it cannot go any farther. God is like that. We can study the stars and the universe and come to a basic and sound conclusion that whoever created this vast, vast universe must have been Someone of illimitable, omnipotent power. But, who is He? And what is His name? And what is He like? We could study the stars forever and never know. We can look at the rainbows, and at the autumnal sunsets, and at the beautiful flowers, and at the color in the world, the shadows playing on the vast Grand Canyon, and looking at these marvelously beautiful things we can solidly conclude that whoever created this universe loved things beautiful. He loved color, proportion. Whoever did it was sensitive to aesthetic beauty, but who is He? What is His name and what is He like?
Or we can study the inside of our souls, our own hearts and makeup, and, looking at us, we can definitely conclude that whoever created us is morally sensitive, right and wrong are so known to us and felt to us, nor is there any tribe or family so degraded that they are not as sensitive to right and wrong in their culture as we are in ours. We can well conclude that whoever created us is also moral. But who is He and what is His name? And does He know me? And is there purpose in my life? And has He created me for some message or some work or some assignment? Who is He who lies back of all of the phenomena that we outwardly see?
That is the necessity for the self-revelation of God. If He does not disclose Himself, we could never ever know Him. And that is the message of the Bible. God speaks to us in language, in words. God does His deeds, laid before us, written on the sacred page. And we can think His thoughts, we can see Him move, we can feel His message in our hearts, and we can respond with our souls. That’s why the Bible is given to the self-disclosure, the self-revelation of God. God presents Himself, makes known Himself, in the pages of the Holy Scriptures.
And what we can find out for ourselves is not in the Bible. What is in the Bible is what we couldn’t know otherwise. But what we can discover for ourselves is not in the Bible. The continents, where are they? We can discover that for ourselves. Where are the great mountain ranges of the earth? Where are the valleys? Where are the sources of the streams and rivers of the earth? We can find that for ourselves.
I don’t think I ever had a more unusually thrilling moment than when I stood at the source of the Nile. For the centuries of the ancient world, the Nile and its rising and falling was a mystery to all of the geographers and the topographers and the historians; to all the culture and civilization of the ancient world, it was a mystery. And David Livingstone gave his life trying to find the source of the Nile and never found it. But I stood there, where it rushes out and pours out of the vast, inland Lake Victoria. Why isn’t that in the Bible? We could discover that in time for ourselves.
So with all of the laws of motion and of the universe, the harnessing of those powers in electricity or penicillin, we can learn those things for ourselves. But the Bible addresses itself to our human souls and the need of our hearts. It does not reveal these things of horticulture, or of chemistry, or of biology, or of trigonometry, or of all of the other sciences that so engross our modern day. We can learn those for ourselves. But we cannot learn God, not unless He discloses Himself, reveals Himself. And that is the purpose of the Holy Scriptures, that we might know Him.
You have a poignant illustration of that in the life of our Lord. There He is on the other side of the Sea of Galilee in a desert, and there are five thousand men, beside women and children, around Him. And they have stayed with Him, listening to His word, all day long. And the evening comes. And when one of the disciples suggests that they be sent away, the Lord says, “They are weary and faint. And they need to be fed. They will fall in the desert” [Matthew 15:32]. And they answered, “How could you feed so vast a throng?” [Matthew 15:33]. And Andrew says there is nothing among them but a little boy’s lunch [John 6:8-9]. And the Lord takes the loaves, the little biscuits of the lad with his lunch, and He breaks it, and He breaks it, and He breaks it until He feeds the five thousand [John 6:10-13].
Now, I can imagine a cynic, a critic, standing on the side as he watches the Lord feed the five thousand, breaking the bread. And the cynic, as he watches the Lord break and break and feed the hungry people, the cynic says, “How, how lowered, and how gross. Why doesn’t He give them rubies and emeralds and diamonds? They would be much more lavish and more ornamental and more lasting. Why does not He give them jewels instead of bread?” Because of the need of the hungry life, bread. It was bread.
I one time heard of a man who had an insatiable longing for diamonds. And he had heard on the other side of the desert were diamonds. So he prepared for the journey, and in the midst of the vast illimitable sands he lost his way. And stumbling from dune to sand dune, he finally collapsed in the desert. Gaining enough strength to walk just a few more paces, he saw half-buried in the sand a canteen of water. With a shout of rejoicing and anticipation for life itself, he made his way; he dragged himself to the canteen of water, half-buried in the sand. With trembling hand, he lifted it up, he took off the enclosure and he raised the canteen to his mouth to drink of its life-giving water, and as he raised the canteen to drink, instead of water there poured out a beautiful, sparkling, stream of brilliant diamonds, a canteen full of diamonds. In despair and agony, he took it and threw it away; and those gems, falling unheeded in the burning sand.
What we think we need is many times so actually different from what we actually need. What we need is for our souls, our hearts, our lives, our salvation; we need God! And the only way I can ever know God is in His self-disclosure. He must reveal Himself, and God does that answering human needs. He will speak to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Israel, to David, to Isaiah, to John the Baptist, to Paul, to the apostles, and most of all, through Jesus our Lord, “For God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son” [Hebrews 1:1-2], the self-revelation of God.
Having discussed the necessity for the self-disclosure of God, that we could know Him in no other way, and our hearts cannot feed on stone, we must have the Bread of Life [John 6:35, 48]; second, we’re going to discuss the necessity for the progressive, fuller self-revelation of God. Why didn’t God disclose all of Himself and His commandments and His truth, why didn’t He do it in the beginning? Why is there a gradual, progressive unfolding of God and God’s merciful revelation to us in the Bible? Why isn’t it done on the first page of the first chapter? There are hundreds and hundreds of pages here until finally we come to the full revelation in Christ. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake by the prophets,” waited until these last days to speak fully unto us by His Son [Hebrews 1:1-2]. Why that progressive, gradual revelation of God?
The answer lies in us, not in God. It is not in God’s nature that the revelation had to be disclosed bit by bit, precept by precept, here a little and there a little [Isaiah 28:10], but it is because of our nature. We are so fallen, and so sinful, and so stubborn, and so ignorant, and so slow to obey that God has, little by little, to lead us along like children. The revelation is gradual, and it is progressive, and it is fuller because of our stubborn will.
Look at this which will teach us that in the Word of God. In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, the Lord is answering questions about divorce, and they say unto Him, “Why did Moses command us to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?” [Matthew 19:7]. That’s all that it took in the Old Covenant. Just write it out, hand it to her, and turn her out. Send her away to starve, send her away to make her own way; just write it out and give it to her, and put her out of the house. Why did Moses do that? “And Jesus saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so [Matthew 19:8]. God made one man for one woman [Genesis 2:24]. And the reason Moses did that was because of the stubbornness of your hearts” [Matthew 19:8].
Or look again, the gradual revelation of God. The Lord will say to Simon Peter in John 13:7; when He was washing the feet of the apostles and came to Simon Peter, Simon Peter said unto Him—when he refused [John 13:6, 8], Jesus said, “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” “Some other day, some other time, in the fullness of the revelation, you will understand” [John 13:7].
Or just once again, in John 16 and verse 12, He says in this last message before He was crucified, He says to His disciples in John 16:12, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” The disclosure was gradual, fuller as time went on, because of the dullness of our perception and our inability to receive it. So the Bible increasingly opens like a flower, and we come to the bud and finally to the full bloom through all of the pages of the Holy Writ.
The Lord will speak to an individual as He spoke to Noah, how Noah is to do. The Lord will speak to Israel through Moses, how Israel is to do. The Lord will speak to the nations through an Isaiah, how they are to do. The Lord will speak through the apostle Paul, how all of us are to do. The revelation is full and gradual, and what God spoke to Noah was sufficient for Noah’s day. What God spoke to Moses was sufficient for Israel’s day. What God spoke to Isaiah and Jeremiah was sufficient for the days of the nations. And what God speaks through Jesus and through Paul is sufficient for our day and for all the days unto the consummation of the age.
So the Lord is speaking to these apostles and to these prophets. He has them write out His commandments and write out His self-revelation. And they write down on pages where it is clear and understandable, he writes out for us the self-disclosure of God’s will for our day and for our time. It is a marvelous description of the Holy Book of God when Simon Peter writes in the first chapter of 2 Peter, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” [2 Peter 1:20-21].
Now let me take those two pivotal words there and look at them. And this is my translation of those words, “But no prophecy of the Old Covenant, of the Old Testament, no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private”—now that’s all right; idios means—“one’s own private ownership,” what peculiarly and unusually belongs just to you, not to anyone else, just you. Now, that’s that word idios, translated here “private.” It refers to something that is distinctly and completely you. Not anybody else’s, you. All right, now the word translated “interpretation” here is epilusis which actually, literally means “an unloosing.” But in its context, it refers to origination, source, the words are in the ablative case of origin and source, and the actual translation of that is this, “No prophecy of the Scripture is of any one’s own private origination” [2 Peter 1:20]. It didn’t come out of him, himself. He didn’t think it up, he didn’t originate it. It is not his.
But, and then he describes where the prophecy did come from, “But the prophecy came not . . . by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” [2 Peter 1:21]. Now, in 1 Peter chapter 1, he says that when the prophets spake, when they delivered that message, that came not of themselves, it didn’t originate in them, but it originated by the Spirit of God [1 Peter 1:11]. When the prophecy came, it says, that they “inquired and searched diligently” [1 Peter 1:10], into the meaning of the word that came through them; “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, the glory that should follow, and unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us did they minister these things, which are now reported unto you by the preaching of the gospel with the Holy Spirit” [1 Peter 1:10-12].
These men to whom God gave this revelation of Himself, this disclosure of Himself, the prophets and the apostles who write here in the Bible, the message they write is not of themselves, but God directed them in what they said. And of course, I believe that the direction of the Holy Spirit of God, as those prophets and apostles wrote the holy disclosure of the Almighty, is without error, it is infallible, it is forever true to that fixed revelation of God in heaven [Psalm 119:89].
Number three, and we must hasten: the first discussion concerning the self-revelation of God was its necessity: that I cannot by studying or observation know God; He must reveal Himself to me. He must disclose Himself to me. He must tell me what is His name, and what is He like, and what does He say. God must reveal Himself to me [Hebrews 1:11-12].
The second discussion was: the revelation of God, because of my fallen nature, is little by little, precept by precept [Isaiah 28:9-10], like leading a child along, like teaching a child. And God did that in the fullness of the disclosure of Himself in the Word of the Lord and finally in the fullness of Christ Jesus [Hebrews 1:1-2]. And He did that writing to us, in language, through the prophets and through the apostles [2 Peter 1:20-21]. . And they wrote down God’s words by the Holy Spirit, and the words are inerrant, they are correct, they are infallible, they are true. This is the disclosure of God to us.
Now, the third and last part of the discussion: it is a necessity that God do this for us in order that we might have a truth, a basis, an authority upon which to build our lives; our hope, our doctrine, our church, every vision that we hold for the future. I must have a truth and authority upon which to build my faith and my life, and without it I have no foundation at all. All faith is like that. All religion is like that. All philosophies of life are like that. It has to be built upon some kind of a truth or some kind of an authority.
Now we’re going to take religion, just our faith, our souls, our lives. Where is the truth? Where is the authority upon which we can build our lives? Build our church? Build our faith? Face the future? Where is that truth and authority? Now there are those by the millions who find the basis of that authority in the Church, the Church. And I can understand why by the millions they rest comfortably and at ease in the Church. I onetime heard one of their ministers say, “You stay with mother Church and mother Church will take you to heaven.” Just stay in it. Cyprian, one of those ancient church fathers who lived in the 200s, Cyprian said, “He who has not the Church for his mother has not God for his Father.” And the tremendous Latin father, one of the greatest minds of all time, Augustine said, “I would not believe the Scripture unless the authority of the Church confirms it.” That’s one basis of life, of doctrine, of hope, of salvation, is the Church. The Church says it, therefore it is the truth.
The doctrines that are promulgated on the authority of the Church are so very many. One of them would be the immaculate conception of Mary; that she was born without sin; nothing like that anywhere but in the Church. The Church says it, therefore it is true. It’s a dogma they must believe. Another would be the bodily assumption of Mary up into heaven. I stood at the tomb of Mary in Jerusalem, and that same year, I happened to be in the Vatican in 1950, when the doctrine of the bodily assumption of Mary up into heaven was promulgated. One thousand nine hundred fifty years, they pointed to the tomb of Mary, but in 1950 they promulgated doctrine that she was never buried, she was bodily assumed up into heaven, because the Church said so. Or the doctrine of the treasury of merit, on the basis of which they could sell indulgences. The Church said so, or the doctrine of the infallibility of the pope in manners of doctrine: the Church says so.
That’s a great thing, if you can believe, a tremendous thing. It is true because the Church says it is true. And the Church, in its pronouncements being infallible, is forever a foundation upon which to rest your heart and your life. And there are millions and millions who can do that with great ease and quietness of heart. A thing is true because the Church says it is true.
Now in our present generation there are other hundreds of thousands of those who have come to believe in existentialism. They have come to believe in what indoctrinists call neo-orthodoxy. And that is this; that a thing is true if it is true to you. We base, in that doctrine, the truth upon experience. A thing is not true if it is not true to me. The Bible is not true unless it’s true to me. Jesus is not true unless He is true to me and my experience. Anything is true only as I have experienced it. Existentialism; this is a doctrine that if you could follow it would be very, very fine.
Spurgeon said, “Man’s nature is not an organized lie, but human consciousness,” human experience, “has been warped by sin.” It would be very, very easy for a man to say, “I’m going to follow my own affinities and predilections. It’s how I feel and it’s how I think that will be the authority for my life.” That would be fine were it not for the fact that we are a fallen, and as Spurgeon says, a “warped” people. I can’t go by my experience, it may deceive me. My experience must be tested by some great revelation from God, and not the revelation of God tested by my experience.
“Well, pastor, if the basis of our life and if the basis for our hope is not in a hierarchy in a church, and if it is not in experience, then where can I find the great foundational truth upon which my hope and my life and my salvation depend? Where can I find it?” And you know the answer. It’s the sermon this morning. I find it in the self-disclosure, in the self-revelation of God, in the Holy Scriptures. It is true because God revealed it in His Word. I can be quiet in my heart, believing the promises of Jesus. He said if I trust Him, He would see me through [John 14:18]. He said, if I’d give my heart and life to Him, He would write my name in the Holy Book of Life [Luke 10:20]. He said, “You follow Me and I will take you to the very gates of heaven” [Matthew 16:24]. He said, “You listen to My voice, and ye will have life and have it more abundantly” [John 10:10].
So in our commitment and in our faith, we base every hope of our souls upon the eternal and unchanging promise of God revealed to us in His Holy Word. May the Lord bless the message to our hearts and give us a wondrous willingness to listen to the voice of God as He speaks in these holy pages and give us His Spirit, double portion, to commit our hearts and lives to Him in beautiful discipleship and following after God. Now may we stand together?
Our Lord, we believe and we trust in the word and the promise of our blessed Savior, “He that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out” [John 6:37]. As the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, the Son of Man is to be lifted up and whosoever looks to Him shall live [John 3:14-15].
Look and live, my brother, live,
Look to Jesus Christ and live.
‘Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
It is only that you look and live
[from “Look and Live,” William Ogden, 1887].
In faith and trust, Lord, we bow at Thy dear feet.
And in this moment, when our people are quiet and we stand in prayer before God, the appeal is to you. To give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], maybe for the first time in your life, “I accept Him as my Savior, dear pastor.” Come, and welcome. A family you, to put your life in our church, to be baptized as He was baptized [Matthew 3:16-17], and as He commanded us [Matthew 28:19], or to come in any way that God would press the appeal to your heart; and to give your life anew to our blessed Lord, as He shall speak, answer with your life. And thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest You will give us this precious hour, in Thy dear name, saving and keeping, amen.
Now while we pray and while we wait this moment and while we sing this hymn of appeal, in the balcony, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “I’m coming today, pastor. I’m bringing my family or just my friend or my wife.” Or, “I’m coming, just I.” God be with you and angels attend you while you come, while we pray and while we sing.