Self-Revelation of God
October 19th, 1980 @ 10:50 AM
THE SELF-REVELATION OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-19-80 10:50 a.m.
You are listening, with all of us in this sanctuary, sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message. As you know, we are in a tremendous series of sermons on the great doctrines of the faith and the first section of fifteen is given to the doctrinal series on bibliology, a doctrinal study of the Bible. Next Sunday it will be The Sum of Scripture, the Heraldic Announcement; today it is The Self-Revelation Of God.
The evening sermon at 7:00 o’clock tonight concerns the long series on the problems of human life. And the title of the message tonight is David, the Sexual Drive. And I can tell you that in studying for that sermon I learned things I never knew before. All these teenagers know about it, but I did not until I studied for this sermon tonight. And some of the things that I learned were the most amazing and wonderful you could ever imagine. At seven o’clock tonight, the message on David, Sexual Drives.
Now this study: The Self-Revelation of God. When we open the Bible and look at its first word, and its first verse, and its first chapter, and its first book, it presents God as moving and creating and speaking, “God said.” Then in the first chapter of the first verse of the Book of Hebrews, the summation is made, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.” The self-revelation: the self-disclosure of God.
First: the necessity of that self-disclosure, of that self-revelation. There are many things, multitudinous things, almost illimitable in number that we can learn by study and observation: the soil and the seeds, the trees and the fruit, water and minerals, fish and cattle, the great moving forces of nature like gravity and the motion of the stars. It is almost infinite, what we can learn by study and observation, but what is behind reality? What is the purpose and the meaning back of what we see? What is the reality beyond reality? Where did we come from? And whither are we going? And what is the meaning and purpose in life? These things we could never know however long we studied and however much and meticulously we observed.
Who is it that made this creation? Fashioned it by His omnipotent power? What is His name and who is He like? We could never know these ultimate and all-important, all-significant answers by study and by observation. Reason and understanding can go just so far and then it stops completely; an inability, abysmally inable, incapable.
We are like a chicken, we’re like a hen sitting on a whole batch of eggs. And when they hatched, they were ducklings and proudly she walks to the edge of the water with those goslings and she stops, but to her amazement, those little creatures that she’s just hatched go right on through the pond, swimming across the water. And that chicken stands there and looks at them in amazement and cannot understand. And by the way, I’m kind of like that chicken too, I don’t understand either. How is it that little chicks could go to the water and stop, but a duckling should go right on? I don’t know. All reason and all understanding is like that; we can go just so far with it, and we can write, and probe, and compare, and put in equations and formulae. But beyond that outward phenomena we don’t see. The meaning back, the reality that lies beyond what we observe in physical phenomenon, we can’t know.
Now in our studying and in our looking at the creation of God, we can study the stars forever and, of course, come to a very decided and firm conclusion that whoever made them was omnipotent, all-powerful. But what is His name? And what is He like? And does He know me? Could He call me by my name? Who is this that created the great world above and around us? We could study the phenomena forever and never know Him.
We can study the beauty of the Almighty’s hand; the rainbows, and the autumnal sunsets, and the trees that put on such gorgeous, glorious garments in the fall, and the flowers made out of the mud of the ground. And we could study all of those gorgeous, beautiful things in the world, and we can come to a firm and sound conclusion that whoever created them loved beauty, symmetry, color, but who is He? And what is He like? And does He know us? We could study the rainbow and the clouds and the shades in the Grand Canyon and the sunsets and the autumnal colors; we could study it forever and never know Him.
We can look in ourselves and we can see the moral sensitivity of our souls. There is never a family, or a tribe, or a race, so degraded but that they are morally sensitive. Their culture may be different from ours, but in their culture, they are as sensitive to right and wrong as we are. Studying sociology and morality, we can come to a firm and sound conclusion that whoever created us is morally sensitive. But, who is He? And what is His name? And does He know us? And is there purpose in life? Where did we come from? Whither are we going? And how is it that God has fashioned us for meaning? These things lie in the self-disclosure and the self-revelation of God, and if there is no self-revelation of the Lord, we could never ever know Him.
That is why, in the Bible, there is not disclosed for us things that we can learn for ourselves. The Holy Scriptures is a disclosure of the presence, and the meaning, and the mind, and the purpose of God for us. But not beyond that; the purpose in the Bible is not anything but that. There is not in the Bible, revelations that we can learn for ourselves. The Bible doesn’t tell us where the great continents of the earth are; we can learn that for ourselves. The Bible does not depict for us the great mountain ranges and valleys of the earth; we can learn that for ourselves. The Bible does not reveal to us the sources of these great streams and rivers that water the earth; we can learn that for ourselves.
One of the astonishing mysteries of all of the ancient and medieval world was the rising and falling of the Nile. There was no probing that secret and for thousands and thousands of years, man saw that phenomenon and wondered where it came from. David Livingstone gave his life searching Africa for the source of the Nile and died never finding it. Can you imagine how I felt standing on the edge of Lake Victoria in Uganda and seeing that great rushing torrent pouring out of that beautiful lake, the beginning, the source of the Nile? And the ancient world, medieval world, never knew it. And I stand there looking at it.
These things are not revealed to us in the Bible, we can find them for ourselves. All of these great forces of nature that we harness and use to bless mankind, such as electricity or penicillin, we can discover them for ourselves. The Bible does not reveal to us what we can learn for ourselves: horticulture, agriculture, the raising of sheep and goats and cattle, trigonometry, chemistry, physics, astronomy, all of the vast research of the scientific mind. All of these things we can learn for ourselves; the Bible does not disclose them. It is not for that purpose. The purpose of the Bible is to bring to us the need for our human souls: God, and redemption, and forgiveness of sin, and hope for heaven, and purpose and meaning in life, to feed our hungry souls. That is the purpose of the self-revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures.
I sometimes, just in imagination, think of a cynic, of a critic watching the Lord Jesus feed the five thousand. They’re over there in a desert place: they’ve listened to the Lord all day long and the disciples say, “Send them away.” And the Lord says, “No. They would be faint, they would fall; I must feed them.” And they say, “Why, there’s nothing but these two little biscuits, how could you feed so vast a throng: five thousand men besides women and children?” The Lord takes the bread and He breaks it, and He breaks it, and He breaks it, and He breaks it, and He feeds the five thousand [Mark 6:34-44].
Now, I can imagine a cynic standing there watching the Lord break that bread to feed the five thousand. And he says, “Why does He not give them emeralds and rubies and diamonds? These, in luster and in beauty, would last forever. He gives them bread; why doesn’t He give them jewels?” The reason is, He feeds the hungry soul: He ministers to human need, and the need is for bread, lest we faint by the way. The Bible is like that; it is for the feeding and the saving of our lives and our souls – that the revelation is of God and not of these other extraneous, ornamental things.
I heard of a man who had a passion for diamonds, and he heard that beyond the desert there were diamonds. As he crossed the desert to find the gems, he lost his way and was perishing in the burning sands. As he dragged himself up to the height of a sand dune, there before him was a canteen of water half-buried in the sand. He dragged himself to it with deepest anticipation; it was life! And as he picked the canteen up and uncorked its stopper, he lifted the canteen to his mouth to drink the life-giving water. And instead of a pure stream of water, there poured out of the canteen a brilliant stream of blue white diamonds. And in an agony, he threw it away, scattering those precious jewels over the burning sand and died in desperation.
Thirst: we think we think we need these things; and “if I had these things and just this, how enriched my life would be!” When actually, we need the water of life, the bread of life – what feeds our souls and makes known to us the living way of the living God – and that is the Bible. It presents for us the self-revelation of God, a knowledge we could never know without that self-disclosure.
Number two: not only is it necessary that God reveal Himself – the self-disclosure is a necessity, otherwise I could never know Him – but second, the self-disclosure of God is of necessity progressive and continuously fuller, more abounding, more open, and more revealed. It’s not all at once but it is little by little; here a little, there a little, precept upon precept, precept upon precept [Isaiah 28:9-10]. It is as a child, teaching the child all of the little basic things: first; to walk or to talk or to pronounce a word, and gradually guiding the child into the full knowledge of adulthood. Of necessity, the revelation of God in the Bible is like that: it is progressive, it is increasingly fuller.
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake unto our fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son” [Hebrews 1:1-2]. It increasingly expands and enlarges: the self-revelation of God in the Scriptures. Now, why the necessity of that? The necessity for that does not lie in the nature of God. He does not change. The fullness, the full-orbed glory of God, is in the first chapter of the first verse of the first book, Genesis, just as He is full-orbed and glorious in the benedictory prayer in the Revelation [Revelation 22:20-21]. The reason, the necessity is not found in the nature of God, the necessity is found in us. We are so stubborn and so sinful, we are so fallen and so ignorant, we are so unlike the purity and the holiness of God that the revelation in us is with difficulty; teaching us, leading us in obedience and understanding. The necessity for the revelation being progressive, a little at a time, is not in God but in us.
May I illustrate? The disciples come to the Lord in the nineteenth chapter of Matthew, and they say to Him, “Lord, what about this putting away of a man’s wife? Moses, by commandment said, ‘Give her a writing of divorcement, and put her away.'” That was the way of divorce, write her a note, give her a piece of paper signed by your name, and put her out of the house, separate from her. Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement and to put her away? Matthew 19:7. Now, you look at the Lord. He will reply in Matthew 19 verse 8:
Jesus saith unto them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives:
– just write her a note and put her out of the house –
but from the beginning it was not so.
God made a man for a woman. A man for a woman and that was the intention and purpose of God in building the human home and the human family [Genesis 2:21-25]. Well, why was it not observed from the beginning? Why do you read of David’s nine wives, and why do you read of Solomon’s seven hundred wives and three hundreds concubines, and why do you read of all of the other things that go into the turmoil of the breaking up of the original purpose of God? Because of the hardness of the human heart. But God’s purpose always is full, beautiful, holy. But we are difficult, we are slow and hard of heart, as Jesus says.
Look at it just once again, not to belabor the point: why the necessity for the revelation of God to be progressive, more and more? In the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, the Lord is washing the apostles feet, and Simon Peter says, “You are not going to wash my feet.” And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Simon, what I do thou knowest not now. But thou shalt know hereafter” [John 13:6-8]. Not now, but sometime later you will understand.
Now just one other: in the Gospel of John, chapter 16, verse 12. In the discourse in the upper room, the Lord says, John 16:12, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” The mind can just – we’re so finite, and circumscribed, and unable, that we can just understand so much. And beyond that, it is enigmatic to us; we’re overwhelmed by it, and the same way with our human hearts.
It is difficult, it is difficult for the family of men to accept God in all of His glory and fullness. Our hearts are too fallen and we can’t enter into it, so God has to lead us along, and the human family is like that. He spoke to Noah in Noah’s day – to an individual, what he must do. And the word that God spoke to Noah in Noah’s day was sufficient for Noah [Genesis 6:12-7:9]. The Lord spoke to Israel in Moses’ day, and the word that God spoke to Israel in Moses’ day was sufficient for Israel for their day. God spoke to the nations in Isaiah and Jeremiah and the word was sufficient for that day. God spoke through John the Baptist, which was sufficient for that day. And God hath spoken to the apostle Paul and to John in the Apocalypse for the revelation that is sufficient for us in our day. But always, it is with an expanding revelation that God is speaking to us; from Moses, through the prophets, through the great theological outlines of the apostle Paul, finally revealing to us, through the Holy Scriptures, the full-orbed glory of Jesus Christ. “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], an increasing revelation, fullness of the self-disclosure.
Now, in the little moment that remains, and it seems to me that just as we begin to talk about these things that time is gone. I say, that’s going to be a great planet God’s going to give me up there in the world to come; it’s going to be the Criswell planet. And I’m going to put me a little soapbox on it and I’m going to preach to my hearts content forever; not have to watch that clock.
Third and last: not only is it necessary that God disclose Himself, reveal Himself, or we could never know Him, and not only of necessity because of our fallen nature is that self-disclosure of God progressive, increasingly fuller through all of the pages of the Bible, beginning at the first page clear to the apocalyptic revelation; apokalupsis means “the unveiling, the revelation.” Not only is it progressive, but a third observation: of necessity, it has to be written down authoritatively for us. If we’re going to base our lives and our souls upon it, it has to be inerrantly and infallibly and authoritatively written down for us. The apostle Peter writes a marvelous word about that. In 2 Peter, the first chapter, the twentieth verse, he says:
Knowing this, 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 that’s reading the King James version. Now, I want you to look at the two pivotal words. “No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private,” that’s not a bad translation, idios means “one’s own, one’s private ownership,” idios: one’s very own. Now the second word, translated “interpretation” here, is epiluseōs. It literally means, “unloosing,” and came to mean “origination.” Now those two words are in the ablative case of source and origination, so let me translate it just exactly as that thing was written. “No prophecy of the Scripture is of any one’s own private origination,” he didn’t think it up, it doesn’t come out of him in his own understanding or persuasion or speculation, but “the prophecy came in old time not by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” Now, that is the apostolic presentation of the Holy Word that I preach out of here in this pulpit. And it is an astonishing thing in 1 Peter chapter 1, Peter writes that the prophets inquired and searched diligently concerning the meaning of what they had been – by the Spirit of Christ which was in them testified, guided them to say concerning Christ, the sufferings, the glory and it’s message for us today [1 Peter 1:10-11].
The revelation of God, in the third place, of necessity has to be inerrant, infallible, without deception or correction. It has to be right or else I could never know the truth of God. Now there is a profound reason for the necessity of that authoritarian word: all faith and all belief, our hope now and forever has to be built upon some kind of an authority. It has to have a foundation of truth upon which we stand. Where do you find that ultimate authority for doctrine, for truth, for hope, for salvation? Where do you find it? There are many who find it in the church.
I listened to a minister of the church say, “You stay with mother church and mother church will carry you, will take you to heaven.” And in that persuasion, they find great comfort and rest of soul. They’re in the church, and the church has the answer to all of the ultimate doctrines, truth, authority and life. The great Latin father Cyprian said “Who has not the church for his mother has not God for his Father.” And the incomparable Augustine, one of the greatest minds of all time, Augustine said, “I would not believe the Scripture unless the authority of the church confirms it.” It is – I can well understand, for the millions and the millions of people who belong to that church – it is a great rest for them, that they believe this because the hierarchy of the church says it is true, and that makes it true.
I read of the “immaculate conception,” that Mary was born without sin. How do you know such an unusual thing? It is true because the church says it is true. I stood at the tomb of Mary, where one thousand, nine hundred fifty years, “This is where she was buried.” I was in the Vatican in 1950 when the church promulgated the doctrine of the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven, that she was not buried, there’s no tomb for her – she was assumed up, she was taken up, bodily into heaven when she died. In 1950 the dogma was promulgated. What makes you think such an amazing thing? Because the church says it, the church teaches it, and that makes it true.
Or the great “treasury of merits,” which makes possible the sale of indulgences; how could such a thing be true? The church says it is true. Or purgatory; where could such a thing be? The church says it is true, and for the millions and the millions of people, they find rest in that. It is true because the great foundation authority for truth is found in the church.
Now in our day and time, there are other millions who – in the academic community especially – find the great authority for whatever faith they espouse in existentialism, in neo-orthodoxy, in the persuasion that a thing is true because it is true to me, in experience. “The Bible to me is the Bible; that is the Bible. If it’s not the Bible to me, it’s not the Bible. If it’s not true to me, then it’s not true.” And they base all of life, all of it, and every interpretation of life on the basis of experience, existence. “If it is true to you, then it is true. Otherwise, it is not true.” That’s the authority for what they believe; in human experience.
You know, Spurgeon made a comment that is so true about a thing like that. Spurgeon said, and he lived before this modern day of existentialism, Spurgeon said, “Man’s nature is not an organized lie, but human consciousness has been warped by sin.” Why can’t I base my hope on the authority of “this is what I have experienced”? Because my experience may be warped by sin; I am a fallen creature. And my experience must be tested by the Bible, not the Bible by my experience.
Now to conclude, and I must stop. I need an authority. I need a foundation upon which to stand, on which to base my life. I need it. I must have it. So for us, for us the great the authority and foundation for our hope, and our belief, and our salvation, and that we’ll see God – that He will take us to Himself – is found in the immutable, and unchanging, and inerrant, and infallible Word of God. He said it and He will not break His promise. And I can believe and accept the Word of God as the very self-disclosure of the Lord Himself.
And if I awake at two o’clock in the morning, I can turn to John 1:12 and it says:
He came unto His own, His own received Him not:
But to as many as received Him, to them gave He the right
– the prerogative, the privilege –
to become the children of God, even to them that trust in His name.
And I can say, “Lord, when I was ten years old, the best a ten year old boy knew how, I received You as my Savior.” My dear old mother, turning to me in tears said, “Son, today will you take Jesus as your Savior?” And I said, “Lord, God, sweet mother, today, today, today, I take the Lord as my Savior.” And the promise is in the Word, “To as many as received Him, to them gave He the right,” the privilege, the prerogative, the open door, “to become the children of God, even to them that trust in His name.” The faith, the doctrine, the church, my hope of salvation and heaven, all of it is based upon the truth of the Word of God. My feet may tremble, and does many times, but the Rock on which I stand never moves: God’s holy, revealed Word.
Now may we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, how wonderful could Simon Peter say, “I have seen the Lord with my eyes, I have heard Him with my ears, I have felt the presence of His glory, but we have a more sure word of prophecy” [2 Peter 1:16-19]. My eyes might deceive me, my ears might mislead me, and my feelings might be warped by my fallen nature, but the Word of God could never lead me astray, the foundation of the faith, the ground and basis of our authority.
While our people silently pray and wait upon the Spirit of God, a family you, tell your wife and children, “Today let’s put our lives in that wonderful church.” Make the decision now in your heart and when we sing our hymn of appeal, come. A couple you, or just one somebody you, in the balcony round, on the lower floor, “Today, I’m giving my heart to the Lord Jesus.” Or, “I’m putting my life in the church.” Or, “I’m following the Lord in obedience to His command to be baptized.” Or answering some appeal the Spirit makes to your soul.
And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest that You will give us, in Thy saving and keeping name, amen.
Now while we wait, while we pray, while we sing, “Today is our day, my day, and here we are.” Do it now while we make this appeal. Bless you as you come.