Passing Through Deep Waters
August 2nd, 1981 @ 8:15 AM
PASSING THROUGH DEEP WATERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-2-81 8:15 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, W. A. Criswell, and preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to chapter 43, and the sermon is entitled Passing Through Deep Waters.
Now, the reading of the text in Isaiah chapter 43 and the first few verses:
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 Jehovah 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 the passage is very apparently toward Israel, “I have created thee, O Jacob, I have formed thee, O Israel” [Isaiah 43:1]. And when the Lord speaks of the fire and the water through which the nation should pass, He is speaking of His preservation of that holy and chosen family.
For centuries now and for centuries, the tribes of Israel, the Hebrew nation, has known nothing but persecution, bitter and fierce. They have been hated and hounded to the ends of the earth. Some of the figures through which the nation has gone are harbingers of their history. When they stood at the waters of the Red Sea [Exodus 14:21-22], and again when they stood before the swollen Jordan, overflowing its banks, it was God who parted the waters that they might have deliverance and find a way through [Joshua 3:14-17]. When Moses saw the bush burning unconsumed [Exodus 3:1-3], and when the three Hebrew children, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, were thrown into the fiery furnace—heated seven times hotter [Daniel 3:19-21]—these are figures of the trial and tribulation and persecution of the nation. But God promised they should always be, they should never find destruction in any effort or plan or persecution of man [Matthew 24:34-35]; and the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans outlines for us the future conversion and salvation and glory of Israel [Romans 11:1-36].
But the passage also, in its glorious and incomparable assurance and promise, is also the possession of all of God’s people through all of the ages [Isaiah 43:1-3, 5, 7]. For you see, break down the children of the Lord into groups as small as you please, the promise ever keeps its same form, and its same pertinency, and its same shape. It never changes. Whether the promise is to the people of God in Israel, or whether the promise is to the people of the Lord in the church, or whether it is broken down into family groups, or into two or three or just one, the promise is ever the same [Romans 11:1-36]. It never loses its shape or its form.
Like crystals that are created by the hand of God, like an emerald, or a topaz, or an amethyst, or an aquamarine, any of those beautiful crystals, when God shapes them, He forms them in atomic patterns, and the pattern is never broken. When you take one of those crystals, such as an amethyst, it takes a form such as a hexagonal rhomboid. Break it, and it will break into the same pattern, hexagonal rhomboids. Crush it with a mighty stroke, a great hammer, and every piece that remains, maybe finest pattern, will always break into those same forms. The atomic structure never changes, and however it is broken, it always keeps that same form.
So it is with the promises of God. However you break down the group, a nation, or a church, or a family, or a couple, or just one lonely soul, the promise is ever the same. It never changes; it is forever true. Thus, God’s promise here, “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 fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” [Isaiah 43:2], God’s promise to His children.
First, I see that God has revealed to us a fearful and a frightful revelation. Not “if” thou passest through the water, through the flood, and through the fire, and through the flame, but “when” [Isaiah 43:2]. “When thou passest through the waters,” and “when thou passest through the floods,” and “when thou walkest through the fire,” and “when the flame is kindled upon thee” [Isaiah 43:2]. Isn’t that an astonishing revelation? For in the first verse I read such heavenly benedictory words about God’s people, “I created thee,” “I formed thee,” “I have redeemed thee,” “I have called thee by thy name, and thou art Mine” [Isaiah 43:1].
Therefore, I would imagine, I would suppose, that these heavenly, celestial ones that belong to God would never know trial, or suffering, or heartache, or tribulation, or trouble. They are God’s; He knows them. He calls them by name [Isaiah 43:1], and He says, “They are Mine” [Isaiah 43:1]. Therefore, I would conclude they are exempt from all of the tragedies and sorrows of life. No, for the next verse immediately follows, “When thou passest through” the floods, and the waters, and the fire, and the flame [Isaiah 43:2]. It must be that the nearer one gets to God, the nearer he gets to the fire.
There is a saying of Jesus, one of those apocryphal ones, where the Lord is quoted as saying, “He that is near Me is near the fire.” And in the Book of John, the Lord did write, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” [John 16:33]. Is that true of the children of God? They’re not immune, they’re not exempt from the bitter trials and persecutions and heartaches of the world. It must be, for everything I read, everything I see, and everything I experience is just that. God said Job was the best man in the whole world [Job 1:8; 2:3], and the Bible said there was none like him in the earth, but there never was a man more tried than Job.
The Lord chose Peter to be the head of the apostles. He is the chief spokesman of the great opening of the door to the Gentiles. God said, “I give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 16:19], and He opened wide the doors to the Jews in Jerusalem [Acts 1-7], to the Samaritans in Samaria [Acts 8-12], to those who were proselytes in Caesarea [Acts 10:1-48], to the Gentile world [Acts 13-28]. Yet, the Lord said to Simon Peter, “When thou art old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee wither thou wouldst not” [John 21:18]. Then the next verse, “This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God” [John 21:19], that is, Simon Peter should die with the outstretched hands. He should be crucified, and in crucifixion and in suffering unspeakable, he should glorify God.
Saul of Tarsus, when he was called to be 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 an heir of heaven is to be an heir of trial and tribulation. And every disciple of our Lord, somewhere, sometime, somehow, shall know that confrontation and that sorrow. There is no escape; it is inevitable.
Education may help us, and it does. Science may bring us achievements, and it does. Medicine and pharmacy may comfort us, and it does. But no grasp of man’s wisdom or knowledge is able to deliver us from the fury of the fire or the overwhelming flood. Wealth cannot buy redress from it. There’s not a house a rich man can build with walls so thick or a lock so strong to keep out that trial and that trouble.
The Lord God had one Son without sin [Hebrews 4:15], but He has no children without suffering. And these trials and these troubles come in many forms and in many fashions. You see that in the passage, “When thou passes through the waters . . . and when thou passest through the rivers … and when thou walkest through the fire . . . and when the flame is kindled upon thee” [Isaiah 43:2]. Some of the experiences inevitable in our life are chilling to the bone, when we’re swept away by the fury of a rapid river, and some are heated in the extreme and would sear and consume and burn our souls.
Not “if” but “when” [Isaiah 43:2]. There is no one of us, even the truest, most faithful follower and disciple of Christ but shall know the trial, and the heartache, and the tribulations, and the sorrows of life; the flood, the flame, and the fire. But, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; nor shall the flame consume thee.” God says, “I am with thee.” No roaring river shall separate us from God, and no consuming and flaming fire shall destroy His presence, “I am with thee” [Isaiah 43:2].
There are no more precious words to the soul of the saint than those verses that close the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans:
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There are no providences, however tragic; there are no trials, however heart-breaking, that can separate us from God, “I will be with thee” [Isaiah 43:2].
I am not the less loved of God, nor am I thrust from His presence because I’m troubled, or I’m poor, or I’m helpless, or I’m weak, or I’m sick, or I’m needy. Nay, it is in those difficulties and trials that I most shall sense the presence, and the nearness, and the tenderness, and the gentleness, and the encouragement of God. “When thou passest through the flood, and the fire, I will be with thee” [Isaiah 43:2]. The text does not say, “When you’re walking down a primrose path, I will be with thee.” Nor does the text say, “When the carpet is strewn with green, soft grass and flowers, I will be with thee.” The text says, “When thou passest through the floods, and when thou walkest through the flame, I will be with thee” [Isaiah 43:2].
I do not wish for each of you, or any one of you, trials, and troubles, and heartaches, but I do say this: if you never experience a broken heart and you never know fierce trials, you’ll never have the experience of the real closeness and nearness of God.
It is in the day of our deepest need and necessity that God draws the nearer to us. Do you notice also in our passage He uses the word “through”? “When thou passest through the waters, it shall not drown thee, and when thou walkest through the flame and the fire, it shall not consume thee” [Isaiah 43:2]. Through: the Christian pilgrim not only comes to the edge of the chilling tide, nor does he look into the furiously fiery furnace, but when he is plunged into the tide, and the roaring seas, and the overflowing rivers, and when he is thrown into the fiery furnace, the word is always “through.” The flood never drowns us, and the fire never consumes us, for God is with us through the fire and through the flood [Isaiah 43:2].
How many times have I heard saints of God say the comfort of the twenty-third Psalm is this, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me”—the symbols of Thy presence—“the rod and the staff to lean upon, comfort me” [Psalm 23:4]; through, through.
When the three Hebrew children were cast into the fiery furnace, the king looked and said, “Did we not throw three men into that burning cauldron? But I see four … and the face of the fourth is like unto the Son of God!” [Daniel 3:24-25] And they were walking free in the fire and in the furnace, for the fire did naught but to bring to them the living presence of the living Lord, and it burned up their bonds. They were free! [Daniel 3:26-28].
So it is that the trials and the fires and the floods that overwhelm us in our lives, they just free us from the visible that we might live in the invisible. Not that our bodies are to carry our souls, but our souls are to carry our bodies. The flame and the fire burn our bonds and liberate us to walk in the presence of the great and living God [Isaiah 43:2].
That is the song that we sang:
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not [hurt] thee: I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
[from “How Firm a Foundation,” John Rippon, 1787]
And this is God’s way of preparing us for the victories of the kingdom. “Every one that is called by My name I have created for My glory” [Isaiah 43:7]. And this is God’s purpose for us, that we might reign with Christ. But I cannot reign if I do not suffer with Him. As the Scriptures say, “If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him” [2 Timothy 2:12].
No man could know a victory who has not first been in a battle and in a conflict. If we are to wear the crown in heaven, we first must bear the cross down here in the earth [Matthew 16:24]. Shall I shun from it? Shall I be intimidated by it? Shall I cower and cringe before the warfare? No.
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I be afraid to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sail through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To carry me on to God?
No, I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the cross, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy word.
[from “Am I a Soldier of the Cross,” Isaac Watts, 1674-1748]
Through the fire, through the flood, through the flame, “But I will be with thee,” to victory, to triumph, to glory. He hath promised, and He will not fail.
And that is our last part in the text, “Fear not: for I am with thee” [Isaiah 43:1-2]. And ah, how the Lord comforts us in the Word that He says, “For I am the Lord Jehovah. I am thy God. I am the Holy One of Israel”—that is, He would not lie or deceive us—“the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior” [Isaiah 43:3].
Then He speaks to us in beautiful and encouraging words, “I created thee” [Isaiah 43:7]. I made you. I formed thee and I redeemed thee [Isaiah 43:1]. You’re twice His; by a great and awesome price He bought us to Himself [1 Peter 1:18-19]. “I have called thee by thy name” [Isaiah 43:1]. We’re not in God’s sight just numbers and digits or oceans full, we are somebody dear and known. He says, “I even count the hairs in your head” [Matthew 10:30]. He knows all about us, “I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine [Isaiah 43:1]. He that toucheth thee toucheth the apple of Mine eye” [Zechariah 2:8].
Don’t be afraid when you pass through the water and pass through the fire, and when you walk through the flame, and when you face the overflowing tides of the river. Don’t be afraid. Fear not, for all is under the surveillance and the elective purposes of God, and the fire will not consume you, and the river shall not overwhelm or overflow you [Isaiah 43:1-2].
Is there any heart discouraged as it journeys on its way?
Does there seem to be more darkness than there is of sunny day?
Oh, 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 in 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 depth 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,
And ‘twill only be a moment till 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, 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]. “Fear not; for I am with thee and thou art Mine. I have called thee by thy name; I have redeemed thee” [Isaiah 43:1].
Look. Look. If God loses just one soul, just one, if God were to lose just one soul, the fire consumed it, and the flood overwhelmed it, and it was lost in perdition and damnation, if God were to lose just one soul in the depths of hell, in the heart of the fury of damnation, there would be a hellish, fiendish demon who in blasphemy would look up to God in heaven and say, “Ha, ha! You up there in glory, here is a soul redeemed by the blood of the Crucifed One! [Ephesians 1:7]. Here is a soul that trusted in Jesus! [Acts 16:31]. Here is a soul that committed his life and hopes to the blessed Lord [Psalm 31:5], and look at him! He’s damned! Look at him, the fire has consumed him and the floods have drowned him, and he’s down here in hell and perdition. Ha! Thou callest Thyself Redeemer [Isaiah 44:24, 48:17]; You didn’t redeem this one! He’s damned and down here with me even though he trusted in Thee and gave heart and life and hope to Thee [John 6:37]. Ah, ha!” And he mocks the mighty God in heaven!
My brother, if there is one of us, just one of us that is lost, that is damned, that is consumed by the fire, overwhelmed by the flood, if there’s just one of us, then all heaven is shaken to its foundations and all the authority and ableness and laws of God have become of none effect. And if that one were I, O Lord, how tragic and how sorrow: “I’ve trusted in Thee, and I had the promise in Thee, but Lord, You deceived me, and You let me down, and You didn’t redeem, and You didn’t save, and You didn’t keep, and I’m here burning in this everlasting fire. O God, O God!”
No! A thousand times, no!
I have created thee, I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; and thou art Mine.
And when thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the overflowing rivers, they shall not drown thee: and when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
God holds us and keeps us by His unchanging hand [Isaiah 41:10].
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who to Jesus for refuge have fled?
The soul that on Jesus hath lean for repose,
I’ll never, no never, no never dispose
Though all hell should combine that soul to forsake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
[from “How Firm a Foundation,” John Keith 1787]
That’s God. That’s the Lord! And to the least of us who turn in faith, and in repentance, and in belief, and in acceptance to His unchanging, omnipotent grace, He saves us, He keeps us, He blesses us, He guides us forever [Ephesians 2:8; 1 Peter 1:5].
And this is the joy unspeakable and full of glory that we share with you this day. Have you opened your heart heavenward and God-ward? Christ-ward? Have you? Does the Lord live in your heart, and in your house, and in your home, and in your life? Is He the partner in every business transaction? Do you go to Him for strength and for health? Do you ask Him for wisdom? Would you like to have the omnipotent God in heaven walking by your side? It’s His open-hearted invitation, “Come, come, come. I will bless thee. I will walk by your side. I will see you through. In every trial, I will be your partner, and your Savior, and your guide, your strength and shield and buckler.”
And He is ours, for the opening of my heart to the invitation. Would you accept Him today? In the thousands of you who have shared this service on television today, would you give your heart in faith to the blessed Lord Jesus? In the great throng in this vast sanctuary this morning, “Today, I will take Jesus as my Savior. I will walk with Him, and I will invite Him to walk with me.” A family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, “Today, I give my heart to Christ. Count me, number me, among those who love the Lord, and here I come, pastor, here I am.” Some of you, “I want to confess my faith in the Lord.” Some of you, “I want to be baptized into the fellowship of the people of God.” Some of you, “I want to put our life and membership in the circle of this dear church.” In a moment when we sing our song of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Answer with your life, “Here I am, pastor. I’ve made the decision in my heart, and I’m coming now.” God be with you, and angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.