The Power of Personal Testimony
November 11th, 1984 @ 10:50 AM
THE POWER OF PERSONAL TESTIMONY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-11-84 10:50 a.m.
And we praise God for you, the great multitude of you who are sharing this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled The Power of Personal Testimony – the personal witness for our Lord. These messages these present days are in keeping with our commitment to bring the saving hope of Christ into the homes of the people of this vast metroplex. Last Sunday morning, a week ago, I delivered a message on Evangel Prayer Groups, Evangel Home Groups. Last Sunday the message concerned prayer and fasting. We have no power with God except through the mediation of intercession, of praying. In about six weeks, beginning the first of the year, we shall follow a stated program of prayer and fasting.
And the message this morning concerns our personal testimony. I want you to turn in your Bible to the third chapter of Acts, the third chapter of Acts. And I am going to read a text from 2 Corinthians 4:13. Paul quotes the tenth verse of the one hundred sixteenth Psalm, “I believed, and therefore have I spoken,” personal testimony, “I believed, I committed, I trusted the Lord, therefore have I spoken” [Psalm 116:10], prayer. In the first part of the message, we are going to look at what God does with a one somebody who magnifies His saving name.
Now Acts 3. Peter and John go up together into the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon. And there was a man there who was lame from his mother’s womb, all of his life. And somebody who cared for him brought him and placed him at the Beautiful Gate, the big entrance gate into that vast temple. And, as always, when he saw Peter and John going into the temple, he reached forth his right hand, expecting to receive some kind of a charitable gift. And that man, all this time, is holding out his right hand. And Peter says to him, “I do not have any money; but what I do have, I will give to you.” And he took him by that right hand that was extended out, expecting to receive a penny; he took him by that right hand, and lifted him up [Acts 3:7]. I preached a sermon here one time on The Big Fisherman. There are a lot of instances in the Bible that describe the physical prowess of that tremendous man Simon Peter. And you have a good instance of it here. I’ve never seen a man in my life anywhere that could take another fellow by the right hand, and raise him up, the whole body, just lift him off of the ground. I’ve never seen anybody able to do that. Simon Peter did that here. He took that impotent man by the right hand and literally lifted him up, raised him up. And when Simon Peter raised him up, immediately his feet and ankle bones were remade, recreated; they received strength [Acts 3:7]. And he looked down and saw his feet and his ankles, and he could walk, he could stand, and he could leap! And it says, “Leaping up, he stood and walked, and entered into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God! [Acts 3:8]. “Look,” he said, “look, look, I can walk, I can walk! Look, look, look, look.” Well, good night alive, a nut like that, praising God and jumping around, no wonder it says in the next verse, “Everybody ran together to look at him” [Acts 3:9]. I would have run too to look at a fellow like that: walking, leaping, and praising God. “And all the people saw him walking and leaping and praising God” [Acts 3:9].
And when that fellow got through testifying, when he got through walking and leaping and praising God—now I want you to look at chapter 4, the next chapter, and the verse 4—“And the number of the andrōn,” not “anthropoid,” “anthropoi” would refer to all the people, just folks, men, women, children, everybody, “anthropoi”; “And the number of the andrōn, the number of the men,” in distinction with the women, “the number of the men were about five thousand” [Acts 4:4]. When Simon Peter, in the previous chapter, got through preaching his Pentecostal sermon [Acts 2:14-40], it says here, “There were added unto the church about three thousand souls, men, women, everybody, about three thousand” [Acts 2:41]. But when this fellow got through walking, and leaping, and testifying, and witnessing, and praising God, it says, “The number of those that believed were about five thousand andrōn, five thousand men” [Acts 4:4]. Now if there were five thousand men, there were about five thousand women, beside the children and the young people; I would say there were at least fifteen thousand, at least fifteen thousand. When that man got through witnessing and testifying and praising God, there were about fifteen thousand that were believing in the Lord. I’m preaching on the power of personal testimony. Simon Peter delivered a great sermon at Pentecost, and three thousand were added to the family of God [Acts 2:41]. When this man got through testifying, praising the Lord, there were about fifteen thousand that were added to the Lord [Acts 4:4].
Now you say, “Pastor, that’s an unusual and peculiar and unique thing.” Well, just keep a-listening. Would you like to turn to the eighth chapter of the Book of Mark, eighth chapter of the Book of Mark? Now we’re talking about the power of personal testimony. The eighth chapter of the Book of Mark; Matthew, Mark, the Second Gospel, now you look at it: “In those days the multitude being very great, in those days the multitude being very great, having nothing to eat” [Mark 8:1]; then you have the story of the feeding of the four thousand in verse 9, “And they that had eaten were about four thousand” [Mark 8:6-9]. Now, you don’t get the miracle of that because it’s separated from the story that’s gone before. What happened was this: Jesus, in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, is on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee; He is in Decapolis, He is in the country of the Gadarenes [Mark 7:31]. And over there, it says, and we just read it, “There was a great multitude, gathered to hear the Lord” [Mark 8:1].
Now when I turn back to the fifth chapter of the Book of Mark, He is in that same country [Mark 5:1], He is in that same place, He is in that same spot: He is in Gadara, He is in Decapolis. And in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, you have the miraculous story of His healing that man [Mark 5:1-13], who said his name was “Legion,” he was so filled with demons [Mark 5:9]. He was wild, he lived in the tombs, everyone was afraid of him; he cried aloud day and night. He was mad. And the Lord healed him. And because in the healing, the people over there in Gadara lost about two thousand of their hogs [Mark 5:13]; why, now look at verse 17: “They came to the Lord Jesus and prayed Him, adjured Him, to leave” [Mark 5:17]. Man, it costs to have Jesus, those hogs. That man was healed; that’s nothing compared to losing some hogs; so they begged Him to depart out of their coast, leave their country. And Jesus never stays where He is not invited.
So the Lord came down to the boat [Mark 5:18], and when He did, getting ready to leave, he that had been possessed with the demon begged Him that he might follow Him, be a disciple [Mark 5:18].
And Jesus suffered him not, but said unto him, You go back home to your friends, and all your people, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish throughout all Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him; and all men did marvel.
Now do you put those two together? They asked the Lord Jesus to leave. “We’ve lost hogs because You are here. We’re more interested in our hogs than we are in You. Leave please, Lord Jesus, leave.” So the Lord Jesus left [Mark 5:17-18]. And as He left, that man who’d been marvelously and miraculously delivered said, “Lord, let me go with You, and be a follower and disciple with You.” And the Lord says, “You go back, and you tell all the folks over here, and all the people and families in this district, you tell them what God has done for you.” And that man who’d been marvelously delivered began to witness and to testify throughout all of that eastern part, beyond the Sea of Galilee, what God had done for him [Mark 5:18-20]. And when the Lord came back, then you read it in the eighth chapter, “There was a vast multitude that gathered round” [Mark 8:1-2]; the power of personal testimony.
Now the religion of our Christian faith began just like that. It began in a personal witness. In the first chapter of the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, it starts like this: John the Baptist sees Jesus passing by, and he points to Him, and he says, “Look, behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]. And there were two of John’s disciples who heard him witness; one was named Andrew, and the other is the author of the Gospel, the sainted apostle John [John 1:37, 40]. And they begin following the Lord, just following after Him, as Jesus went by. And the Lord turned around and said, “What do you want?” and embarrassed, at a loss, they just blurted out, “Where do You live?” And the Lord said, “Come and see” [John 1:37-39]. John is writing that story when he’s between ninety and a hundred years of age; and he remembers it, though it was over sixty years ago, he remembers the exact hour. He said, “It was ten o’clock in the morning. And at ten o’clock in the morning, we went to visit with our Lord” [John 1:39].
· And Andrew found Simon, his brother, and said, “We have found the Messiah, the Lord God.” And he brought him to Jesus, and Jesus said, “You are going to be called Cephas, Peter, petros, a stone” [John 1:40-42].
· And then John found his brother James, and brought him to Jesus, sons of Zebedee.
· Then Jesus, walking beyond, found Philip, and won him to the faith [John 1:43].
· And Philip found Nathanael, and won Nathanael to the faith [John 1:45-51].
That is the way the Christian religion began: that’s all of the first chapter of the Gospel of John. It began in a wonderful, personal witness: “This is the Lamb of God…We have found Him,” says Andrew, says John, says Philip, says Nathanael.
The ministry of our Lord continues that way. In the third chapter of that Fourth Gospel, the greatest sermon on the new birth that was ever delivered was delivered to a congregation of one: Nicodemus, a rich man, a member of the Sanhedrin, ashamed to be openly identified with the Lord, came by night [John 3:1-2]; and the Lord spoke to him. And the greatest message ever delivered on being born again, was delivered to a congregation of one, just one [John 3:3-21]. Turn to the following chapter, chapter 4, and the greatest sermon that was ever delivered on spiritual worship, “God seeks those who worship Him in spirit and in truth” [John 4:23]; the greatest message ever delivered on spiritual worship was delivered to a congregation of one. And she, a despised, outcast, Samaritan woman [John 4:7], who had been married five times, and the woman was living with a man to whom now she was not married [John 4:17-18]; delivered to one, a congregation of one: a despised outcast Samaritan woman [John 4:13-26].
I read in a bulletin; I read the preacher of the congregation said, “We will have no more evening services. We are canceling all of our evening services because,” he said, “it is not worth my while to prepare and deliver a message to a congregation of less than a hundred people.” The greatest sermons in the Bible were delivered to congregations of one. You go through this city of Dallas, every Sunday night you will see these great churches look like sepulchers: they are dark, why? Because it’s not worth the while of a pastor to deliver a sermon to a congregation of less than whatever he has in his mind. Man, if anybody will listen to you, I don’t care who he is, where he is, if anybody will listen to you, that’s the best congregation you’ll ever find in the world: one, two, anybody, tell them about the Lord Jesus; the power of personal testimony.
We continue it. The whole Book is just like that. In the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, Philip was a deacon, who is a layman, and then became known as an evangelist. Deacon Philip was holding a revival meeting in the city of Samaria. And the whole town is moved heavenward, God-ward, Christ-ward; they are having a tremendous revival meeting [Acts 8:5-13]. And in the midst of that revival meeting, in the very heart of it, the Spirit of the Lord says to Philip, “You leave and go down into the desert and stand there by the side of the highway that leads from Jerusalem and Palestine down into Egypt and Ethiopia” [Acts 8:26]. And he stands there by the side of the highway, in a desert, wondering why God has taken him out of that great revival meeting. And as he stands there, an Ethiopian treasurer under Candace the queen, comes driving by with his chariot [Acts 8:27-28]. And the Spirit says to him, “Go join yourself to that chariot” [Acts 8:29]. And the man had been in Jerusalem, had found a copy of Isaiah, such as you see in the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem, found a copy of Isaiah, and was reading it out loud [Acts 8:30]; and he was reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah that says, “All we like sheep have gone astray . . . and the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all” [Isaiah 53:6]. And he asks the Ethiopian eunuch, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And the Ethiopian eunuch says, “I do not, except some man should guide me.” And he invited Philip to sit with him in the chariot [Acts 8:30-31]. And as they went down through the road, through the desert, God spoke to his heart [Acts 8:32-38]. The testimony of one man. It’s amazing what God does. And the whole Bible is just like that: the witness of one man, personal testimony.
Now I want you to do one other thing with me: I want you to turn to 2 Corinthians chapter 10. We’re talking about the power of personal testimony. Second Corinthians chapter 10. Haven’t you heard it said, “This man is the greatest preacher since Paul, greatest preacher since Paul.” Talking about George Whitefield, greatest preacher since the apostle Paul. Talking about Charles Hadden Spurgeon; he’s the greatest preacher since the apostle Paul. Or talk about George W. Truett; he’s the greatest preacher since the apostle Paul. I know what you mean by that when you say it: you think of Paul as being a tremendous stentorian orator, who rises from one vast moving peroration after another; that’s what you mean. Well, let’s see what kind of a preacher he was. Second Corinthians 10:10: “His letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is asthenēs, and his speech exouthenēmenos. That’s a good translation here: “His bodily presence,” when you look at him and hear him, “his bodily presence is weak, unimpressive, and his speech contemptible!” What do you think about that? Greatest preacher since the apostle Paul. And that’s what they said about him when they heard him: “His bodily presence is asthenēs, feeble, anemic, weak; and his speech, his oratory, his sermons are exouthenemēnos, they are contemptible” [2 Corinthians 10:10]. Well, what do you think about that?
Well, how did he do his work? If it was not by great towering, mounting torrents of oratorical sentences, if he’s not Demosthenean or Jeffersonian, or Marcus Aurelian, then how did he do his work? Now let’s turn to one other, the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts; the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts. And he’s going to tell us there how he did his work. The twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, Acts 20. Now look at verse 31: he says to the elders from the church at Ephesus, “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears, night and day with tears” [Acts 20:31]. Look at verses 20 and 21: “I have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:20-21]. In that vast Greek city of Ephesus, from house to house to house, Greek, Jew, anyone who lived in any place, with many tears, testifying, witnessing, “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:20-21]; turned the whole city right side up, founded the gospel message in the Roman province of Asia [Acts 19:10]. That’s how he did his work: through the power of personal testimony, one by one, home by home, house by house, soul by soul, somebody by somebody, witnessing in the grace and love and mercy of the Lord.
Now for us. It is a tragedy, an unspeakable sadness, when we come to think of people in terms of gobs and masses and buckets full and oceans full; just thinking of them, vast multitudes. God doesn’t do that. God thinks of us in terms of one by one by one. He was there, God was there, when you were born, one at a time; born, one at a time. God will be there when we die; and we die one at a time. And God will be there when the gates of heaven are open, and we enter in, one at a time, one at a time. God knows us by the one. He says, “I call My sheep by name” [John 10:3]; He knows my name. He knows you by your name. He says that the very hairs of our head, the very number of the very hairs in our head are numbered; and He knows the number [Matthew 10:30]. He even counts the hairs in our head. He says that there is not a sparrow that falls to the ground but His eye followed it down [Matthew 10:29]. And He said we are worth more than many sparrows [Matthew 10:31]. If I were to describe the Christian religion as one thing above anything else, I’d call it the faith of the one lost sheep [Luke 15:3-7], and the one lost coin [Luke 15:8-10], and the one lost boy [Luke 15:11-32]. God’s faith, Christianity is always centered around a one somebody you. Not the masses of us, but the one’s of us. You. God cares about you. And our witness and our testimony ought to be positive, in the mind and grace and likeness of our Lord; just a somebody you.
When I was a youth, for the first time I visited New York City. Reared, as I was, in a little town of three hundred, way up in Northwest Texas, you can hardly imagine the impression that New York made on me. Oh, I could not believe such a city. And walking through the city, I came across an impressive building, beautiful building, built like a Greek temple, beautiful building a block long, long, block long, covered the whole block. And the frieze, that band up there at the top, the frieze of the building had an inscription clear across from one street to the other, for a solid block. And I walked the block and read that inscription. And this was it: “Neither rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” And I thought, “Man, those are some people they’re talking about.” So I went back up here and started over again. And I followed that inscription, a block long: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” So I thought, “I wonder what kind of a building that is, and of whom are they talking?” These are great people they’re talking about, nothing stops them. So I tried to hail down one of those New Yorkers passing by, well, he thought I was going to mug him or something, and he just went right on by. Tried to get another one; no, he wouldn’t even speak to me. Finally, a fellow did stop, and I said, “What is that building? And what is that inscription?” Well, he said, “Lad, that’s the New York Post Office; that’s the United States Post Office, and that inscription up there describes the mailman, it describes the postman.” And a thousand times a thousand times since have I thought of that inscription when I’ve seen the postman coming to our door. It may be hot as blue blazes, it may be as cold as the Arctic, it may be pouring down rain, it may be snowing, it may be cold, it may be anything, but there that man is lugging it up to the door, delivering United States mail.
That is what I ought to be doing. There are many, many times when the people have said to me, “Pastor, look at the weather, you’re not going out in this kind of weather.” I said, “There’s not a more impressive time to knock at the door than when it’s pouring down rain, or when it’s snowing”; and they open the door, “Pastor, what are you doing here?” Man, I’ve come to talk to you about Jesus. It makes an impression. If he can deliver the mail personally, in a house, in that kind of weather, why couldn’t I deliver the greatest message in the world? The power of personal testimony.
Now I have one other observation to make about it, and that is this: it never loses its reward, never, ever. You may think it falls to the ground, “I spoke to this man about Jesus, and it made no impression on him at all. I asked this family to come to the Lord, they wouldn’t even consider it”; that’s what you think. There is no word ever spoken for Jesus but that somehow, somewhere, in God’s timing and in God’s way, God blesses it.
It’s like this: Mary Crowley, just some time ago, not too long ago, made a film of my life, and they took me down to my first country church; now this is my pastorate fifty-seven years ago, fifty-seven years ago, pastor of a little country church, where they plowed up to the front door, and where they left off started at the back door, and went to the end of the furrow. Country church, had eighteen members; named Marlow, in Milam County, five miles east of Cameron, right by the Grand River. There was in the community a farming family, whose wife was a very devout member of our church. Little-bitty church, she was one; but her husband was not a Christian. So when I went down from school, stayed in the home for the weekend, I asked God to bless me as I try to win that man to the Lord Jesus. They had a little boy in the home, had a little boy about, oh, ten, eleven, or twelve years of age. So the mother sent the little boy, Spencer Sharp, sent the little boy to bed in order that I might be alone with her husband, the father of the lad, that I might try to win him to Jesus. So the little lad went to bed, mother sent him to his room and to bed. And I stayed there with Mr. Sharp beyond midnight, pleading with him about the Lord, asking him to give his heart to Jesus, to accept the Lord as his Savior. And no matter how I prayed a prayer, or tried, or invited, he would say, “No, no, no.” He never accepted the Lord; he died a lost man, never converted. But the next day, the next day which was Sunday, when I preached to my little congregation, down the aisle came that boy, Spencer Sharp. He is now, and has been for fifty-seven years, he’s been the leading deacon in that little country church; he’s still there, and the church is built around him. Down the aisle came that little boy, and I said, “Well, Spencer, why are you coming?” He said to me, “I’ve been saved. I’ve been saved. I have accepted the Lord as my Savior, and I want to be baptized.”
I said, “Lad, when were you saved? When were you saved?”
And he said to me, “Last night, my mother sent me to bed in order that you might talk to my father. But I opened the door and I left it ajar, that I might listen to what you said.” And the lad said to me, “My father turned you down, he said, ‘No,’” but he said, “In my bed, last night, while my father was turning you down, I bowed my head, and I asked Jesus to come into my heart. And I was saved last night.”
Never thought about it, never entered my mind about it, that thought! I may not see the harvest, I may not know the extent of its blessing; but somewhere, somehow, someday, in God’s time, every word we ever say for Jesus will bear a harvest a millionfold; the power of personal testimony. That’s the kingdom, and that’s God’s open door in which all of us can beautifully and wonderfully share.
We’re going to stand in a moment now and sing our hymn of appeal; nobody leaving, all of us remaining, praying, waiting. In this pivotal and determining moment, somebody you, a one somebody you give himself to Jesus, “Today pastor, I take the Lord as my Savior and I’m coming.” In the balcony round, down a stairway; in the throng on this lower floor, down an aisle, “Here I am pastor, this is God’s day for me.” A family you, “Pastor, this is my wife and these are my children, all of us are coming today.” A couple you; your wife, your husband, or a friend, or just you, “God’s spoken to me pastor and I’m answering with my life.” Recommitting your days to Him, or coming into the fellowship of our dear church, or accepting Jesus for all that He has promised to be, make the decision now in your heart, and when we stand to sing this appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, “Here I am pastor, I’m coming today.” It will be the greatest commitment and decision you’ll ever make in your life. Do it. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
OF PERSONAL TESTIMONY
Acts 3, 2
I. What God does with one who magnifies
His saving name
A. Healing of the lame
man (Acts 3:1-8)
leaping and praising God (Acts 3:9)
thousand believed (Acts 2:41, 4:2)
B. Healing of the
Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5)
1. Jesus told him
to go back home and testify
2. Result of his
testimony – four thousand believed (Mark 8)
II. Christian faith began in a personal
A. Declaration of John
the Baptist (John 1:29)
who heard him witness began to follow Jesus (John
by one disciples brought one another to Jesus (John
B. Ministry of our Lord
continued in the same way
1. Sermon on new
birth delivered to congregation of one
2. Message on
being born again delivered to congregation of one
Message on spiritual worship delivered to congregation of one (John 4:23)
C. Entire Bible is like
that (Acts 8:26-37)
III. The testimony of Paul
A. What kind of a
preacher was he? (2 Corinthians 10:10)
B. How did he work? (Acts 20:20-21, 31)
IV. One by one
of the one lost sheep, lost coin, lost boy (John
10:3, Luke 12:6-8)