The Power of Personal Testimony
September 24th, 1986 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-24-86 7:30 p.m.
In the Revelation, turn to chapter 12, in chapter 12, turn to verse 7. And we are going to stand in a moment and read verses 7 through 11; Revelation 12:7-11. Now let us stand before the Lord and read out loud together 12, verses 7 to 11, together:
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death
Thank you. We will be seated. This message is in keeping with the tremendous call for personal commitment in visitation and testimony. We begin, as a congregation and as a fellowship of believers, in this effort this coming Monday night. The title of the sermon is The Power of Personal Testimony.
I cannot but be very sensitive to the avowal that John writes in the Revelation in our conflict and confrontation with the evil one. They overcame him. They got the victory over him by the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 12:11]. I can see that: the blood of the Lamb, the cross of Christ, the atoning grace of our Lord. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb. But this second avowal is an amazing one to me. "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony" [Revelation 12:11]. What our word of witness does in the whole earth and heaven above us – in our own souls, in our own lives, among the people with whom we work, our friendships. It is an amazing, an amazing avowal to me, the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.
Then as I study, as I look through God’s Holy Scripture, I see that throughout the Word of God, the power of our testimony. In the Book of Acts, when Pentecost brings to us the empowering unction and saving convicting grace of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity of God – when Pentecost baptized us in the Holy Spirit [Acts 2:1-4], Simon Peter stood up and preached the first sermon in this Pentecostal, Holy Spirit-endowed dispensation [Acts 2:14-40]. And the Bible says after he was done preaching, that the same day there was added unto them about three thousand souls [Acts 2:41]. That was a wonderful service, that was a marvelous, glorious response – three thousand souls. And I say, that is the hand of God. Just look at that!
Now I turn the page of my Bible to the next chapter. And the next chapter, chapter 3, recounts the wonderful conversion and healing of a man born lame, never walked. They laid him at the gate of the temple each day, and he sat there begging for alms [Acts 3:2]. Then that man was gloriously healed by Simon Peter and the apostle John; and having his hand outstretched, asking, expecting something from the people as they went into the temple, Peter said to him: "Rise!" [Acts 3:6]. If you were born lame and had never walked in your life, would you have risen? He didn’t rise. He was born unable to walk. But he was seated there, where they laid him every day, with his hand outstretched. And Simon Peter – and here is another occasion of the tremendous stature, the bigness, the gargantuan physical construction of the man – Simon Peter alone pulled that big net of fishes up to the land in the last chapter of John [John 21:11]. Here he took that man by the right hand, Simon Peter did, and raised him up [Acts 3:7]. I would like to see a man do that. I have never seen a man that I thought was able to do it. Simon Peter did. He took that man by the right hand and with his full weight, dead, down, because he was born unable to rise, Simon Peter lifted him up, raised him up. And when Simon Peter lifted him up, that man was healed in his feet and his ankle bones [Acts 3:7].
Now the rest of story: leaping up, he stood and walked and entered into the temple, walking and leaping and praising God [Acts 3:8]. What a – did you ever see anybody? "Hallelujah! Glory to God! Look at me! I can walk. I can walk. Man alive, I can walk. Look, look, look, look!" I tell you – no wonder it says here: "And the people saw him and heard him" [Acts 3:9]. Now, when he got through speaking and witnessing and testifying, that man, they who believed the word, numbered five thousand aneron; not anthropoid, people; aneron, men as distinguished from women [Acts 4:4]. I think there is a reason why God wrote that aneron there, pointing out to us the incomparable, unimaginable response when that man got through testifying. Over here, when Peter got through preaching, there were three thousand people who were added to the church [Acts 2:41]. When that man got through testifying, there were five thousand aneron. And if I could follow the percentages that I have known all my life in the churches, I would say there were fifteen thousand people who were converted to the faith when that man got through testifying [Acts 4:4].
Now, you say, "Preacher, that was just – that was just something unique there. Yeah, that was not to be duplicated." Let’s take time to look at it just once again. In the fifth chapter of the Book of Mark, Jesus is on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. And over there is this demented man who cries in the tombs day and night [Mark 5:1-5]. And the story – remember, the demons that were in him went into the hogs and they ran into the sea [Mark 5:11-13]. And when they saw the loss of their capitalistic investment in the pigs, why, they began to entreat Him to leave, to depart out of their coast [Mark 5:17]. And this man who had been marvelously delivered came and prayed Jesus, that he could be with Him – "Let me follow close to You" [Mark 5:18]. "Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee [Mark 5:19]. And he departed and began to publish in all Decapolis" – that is that great territory on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. "He published in all Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel" [Mark 5:20]. Now, He has been invited out [Mark 5:17]; the Lord has been sent away. "We don’t want You here. It’s hard on our pigs. It’s bad on our hog business. We would just be more comfortable if You would leave." So He left. Jesus never is here unless He is invited, so He left. And He left that man witnessing, testifying, telling how wonderful Jesus was [Mark 5:20].
All right, I am going to turn the page now. In the eighth chapter of this same Book of Mark, our Lord is back in that same place. He is over there in Decapolis. He is on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. And the chapter begins: "In those days the multitude being very great" [Mark 8:1], they were thronging the Lord, thousands of them. Then you have the story of the feeding of the four thousand with a few small fishes and a few pieces of bread, seven little biscuits [Mark 8:5-9]. Where did those thousands of people come from who crowded around the Lord on every side? They are the result of that demoniac who just witnessed all over Decapolis what God had done for him [Mark 5:20]. Now, when we follow through with the ministry of our blessed Lord, that personal testimony , that personal witness is always characteristic of the life of our Savior.
It starts off in the Gospel of John like that. John the Baptist is testifying to the Lord Jesus and points Him out: "Behold," he says, "the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" [John 1:29]. "There, look!" – a personal witness. And Andrew and John heard John speak, John the Baptist speak, and Andrew won his brother Simon Peter to the Lord [John 1:40-42]. And Jesus, finding Philip, won him to the Lord [John 1:43]. And Philip found Nathaniel and won him to the Lord [John 1:45-]. That is the way the Christian movement began, in these personal, testifying, witnessing people who just spoke wonderful words about the glorious Savior.
And Jesus’ ministry is largely encompassed in that kind of a witnessing faith. Third chapter of John, the Lord is speaking to Nicodemus; one man, congregation of one [John 3:1-21]. Turn over the page, and in the next chapter, the fourth chapter of John, our Lord is speaking to a despised Samaritan woman, an outcast; the whole chapter, the Lord talking to that Samaritan woman [John 4:1-36]. When you turn the pages of the life of our Lord, here He is talking to a rich young ruler, over there in Perea on the other side of the Jordan River [Mark 10:17-22]. Turn the pages, following the work of our Lord, and He is on this side of the Jordan. He is now in Jericho, and He is visiting and witnessing to and winning to the faith a despised tax collector by the name of Zaccheus [Luke 19:1-10]. And even on the cross as He died, He died speaking of the glorious kingdom to a dying thief [Luke 23:43]. The continuing spread of the Christian gospel was like that; the power of personal testimony, people speaking of the wonderful Saviorhood of Christ Jesus.
In the Book of Acts, we have a long chapter, the longest one in there. And it concerns the testimony of a glorious, marvelous, Hellenistic Jew – Greek-speaking Jew – by the name of Stephen. There are sixty verses in that chapter; the testimony of Stephen [Acts 7:1-60]. That’s in chapter 7. When I turn the page to chapter 8, I cannot believe what I read. Philip is in a glorious revival in Samaria. Oh, the power of God is there, and the multitudes are there, and the thousands of people are there! It is a glorious, marvelous, wonderful revival [Acts 8:5-25]. And in the midst of that revival, in the very heart of it, while it is going on, God says – the angel of the Lord speaks to Philip and says to him: "Arise, and go down to Gaza" [Acts 8:26]. Now I want to point out to you a little addendum of the Holy Scripture: Acts 8:26, "which is desert." Why do you think the Lord put that in there, "which is desert"? He is emphasizing a contrast there that is unimaginable to me. Philip is in the midst of a great, tremendous revival meeting in Samaria. Thousands and thousands are gathered around him. And in the midst of that revival, God says to Philip, "You go down to Gaza," and then that little word there, "which is desert" – alone, solitary. And while he is there, wondering why God should send him out into the wilderness, out into the midst of the nowhere, along comes one man driving home in a chariot [Acts 8:27]. And the Spirit says to him: "That is the reason. That is the reason; that man, that one man" [Acts 8:29].
And the whole Christian movement is just like that. Paul describes his incomparable ministry in Ephesus. Ephesus was the leading city in the ancient Roman province of Asia. The whole continent took its name from that province: Asia; the seven churches of Asia. And from that marvelous revival in Ephesus, the whole interior of Asia Minor heard the message of Christ. In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, Paul is describing, recounting, to the Ephesian elders who had come down to the seashore at Miletus, he is describing to them his ministry in their midst in Ephesus. Well, what kind of a ministry was it? This is what he says. He says: "Brethren, watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I cease not to warn everyone night and day with tears" [Acts 20:31], from "publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews and to the Greeks" [Acts 20:20, 21]. You know, whoever lived there, he didn’t take this section and leave out this ghetto. He didn’t take that group over there and leave off these. Just from house to house, whoever lived there, down every street from house to house, testifying to the Jew and to the Greek, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. "Three years," he says, "I did that. I ceased not from house to house, testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:21].
Now I want to point out one thing about that ministry and about the apostle Paul. Haven’t you heard it all your life, the phrase, "He is the greatest preacher since the apostle Paul"? Talking about Chrysostom, talking about Savonarola, talking about Spurgeon, talking about any one, you know that greatly impresses you: "He is the greatest preacher since Paul." You know, it would not hurt us to read the Bible. Wouldn’t that be a good idea? Don’t you think that would be a nice thing for us to do? Now, when we say, "This man Spurgeon, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, or Savonarola, greatest preacher since Paul," I know exactly what you think. I know exactly what you refer to, what you mean. What you are thinking about is a man with tremendous presence, a charismatic delivery, a man of great oratorical preparation as he rises from one great flight of imagination to the other. That is what you mean by that: "greatest preacher since Paul." Well, I say it wouldn’t hurt us to read the Bible, would it? It may not change our thinking very much, but it sure would be nice reading the Bible.
What kind of a preacher was Paul? What kind of a delivery did he have? Can anyone tell me? He says his enemies say "his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible." What do you think about that? This is 2 Corinthians 10:10. The people said of the apostle Paul, the people who didn’t like him, the people who weren’t converted by him, "his bodily presence is weak." "He looks like a two-by scantling, and his speech is contemptible. He talks like a moron." That is what they said about him. Yet we say, "This man is the greatest preacher since Paul."
Well, how did he do his work? If this man is not a Savonarola and he is not a George Truett and he is not a Charles Spurgeon, how did he do his work? He said, "Remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" [Acts 20:31], "from house to house, to the Jews, and to the Greeks" – to anybody who lived – "testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:20-21]. I want to avow, if I can, that our witness today ought to follow that same order. Haven’t we been taught by our Lord, the Christian religion, if it is one thing above anything else, it is a faith of the one lost sheep [Luke 15:3-7], and one lost coin [Luke 15:8-10], and the one lost boy? [Luke 15:11-32]. God looks upon us one by one. Not as a great multitudinous mass, but by name; you, and you, and you, and your baby, and your child, and your little girl, and your little boy. That’s the way God looks upon us. That is the way we need to look upon us. Not by, "Look at these masses; look at these hundreds; look at these thousands," but always, "Look at this father; look at this mother; look at this little boy; look at this little girl; look at the family that lives in this house"; always, a one somebody you.
Let me tell you what I did one time, long time ago. I was walking down the streets of New York City; just gawking, never been there before. The town I grew up in had the magnificent, overwhelming population of three hundred. So I was walking down the streets of New York City, just gawking. And across the street where I was a-walking was a big building. The whole block was that building, and on the frieze of the building was an inscription. So walking down the street, I read the frieze. I had to walk a whole block to read the thing. It was from one street to the other. It was a block long, the frieze. And this is what it said, it started right here: "Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night stays these faithful couriers from the completion of their appointed rounds." Well, I thought, "Who in the world are those people?" So I walked back up here and I started over again. "Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night stays these faithful couriers from their appointed rounds." And I thought, man, those are wonderful people! Those are dedicated people. That’s just great! So I stopped a New Yorker and I said, "What is that building and what are they talking about? Whom?" He just passed me by like that. So I stopped another one, and I said, "What is that building and what are those people that they’re describing?" He just stopped, just like that. They are the most uncivil of all the people I ever knew in my life. I finally stopped a dear, kind, gracious, must-have-been-a-foreigner woman. And she said, "Why, young man" – remember, this is sixty years ago – "young man, that is the New York Post Office. And that inscription is a tribute to your mail carrier." From that day till this, every time I see that mail carrier come up to our house, I think of that inscription: in the rain, in the sleet, in the snow, faithfully true to his appointed rounds. And when I look at that mail carrier, I just think, "Lord, Lord, if we were that faithful." From house to house, door to door, we would do the same thing in our generation as Paul did in his. He didn’t do his work by great oratorical sermons and by marvelous imaginative perorations; that is, if I can go by the Bible. He didn’t do it that way. He did it by knocking at the door, from house to house, by personal testimony.
I have to close. I want to show you, if I can, how that never fails. Never fails. You have heard me say many times, speaking like this – just out of my heart and out of the years of my ministry before God – the Lord only knows how many people I have talked to. I have been around the world three times on preaching missions, talking to everybody under the sun – Hindus, Muslims, infidels. On an airplane, on a train, on a camel, on a horse, in a buggy, walking down the street, in every kind of an area of life you can think for. Never have I been repulsed or insulted. Never. Never. Anytime, anywhere in this earth I have tried to say a good word for Jesus, always it has been graciously listened to. Not that the man would be converted. Not that he would be saved. But always I have had a gracious audience.
Now, my illustration. In my first pastorate, my first one, my little church of eighteen members – in my first pastorate, there was a dear, sainted woman who said, "My husband is lost. Would you come to the house and win him to the Lord? He is lost." I was just seventeen years old. I said, "Yes, I would be glad." So I went to the house; father, mother, and a little boy named Spencer. The mother sent Spencer off to bed so I could be with her husband alone. She excused herself. And until late that night, I talked to that man, Jim Short. I talked to him about the Lord. Always, every time I pressed the invitation, he would say no. I did everything that I knew as a young man to win him to Jesus, and just ignominiously failed. And finally, late, late, late at night I had a closing prayer, and he showed me to my bed.
Sweet people, you would say, "Man, wasn’t that a failure? Wasn’t that a failure? Spend the late hours of the night trying to win that man to Jesus, and he never responded. Never did. He died a lost man." You know what happened? The next Sunday morning, the following Sunday morning, when I was preaching in my little country church and gave the appeal, down the aisle, and taking my hand, and receiving the Lord publicly as his Savior was that boy, Spencer Short. I would say the lad was about twelve years old.
I said to him, "Spencer, you are telling me that you have received the Lord as your Savior, that you have been saved, and you are coming here to confess the Lord, and you want to be baptized. Spencer, when you were saved? When were you saved?" And you know the answer? That boy said to me, "When mother put me to bed, I left the door open so I could hear what you had to say to my father." And the lad said, "My father turned you down, and I heard him turn you down." But he said, "Up there in my bed, I accepted Jesus in my heart."
Isn’t that a wonderful thing? God does not let our testimony fall to the ground. Somehow, He waters it and sanctifies it and blesses it, maybe in areas of which we know nothing.
Let me add a concluding addendum to that. Mary Crowley had a film made of my life, and they took me down to Marlowe, to my country pastorate in Milan County, five miles east of the county seat, Cameron. So while I was there with that crew of photographers, I asked somebody, "Did you ever hear of anybody by the name of Spencer Short? Did you ever hear of him?" And they said, "Spencer Short has been a deacon and the faithful, devoted member of this church around which the little congregation has built its life for half a century. He has been a faithful deacon in this church for fifty years" – fifty years. It doesn’t fail. They may turn us down. These may refuse our invitation. But God blesses in places and areas of which we know nothing. And that’s why we are about, going to knock at the door, going to invite somebody to the Lord Jesus, going to ask them, "Do you go to church anywhere? Are you saved? Do you believe in the blessed Lord? We are just here to tell you what He has done for me." "Oh, oh, oh, what He has done for me!" And God does the rest. After all, we don’t convert anybody. He is in the converting business. God does that. We just witness and point to the Lord.
Now Denny, we want us to sing us a song. And while we sing the song, somebody you here tonight give himself to the Lord. "Pastor, this is a wonderful night for me, and I am coming, accepting the Lord as my Savior." Or, "I want to put my life in the fellowship of this wonderful church, and I’m coming. Here is my family and all of us are coming." As the Lord will press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE POWER OF PERSONAL TESTIMONY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost – three thousand saved(Acts 2:41)
B. The healing of the lame man(Acts 3:1-4:4)
1. He stood and walked into the temple, leaping and praising God
2. Upon hearing his testimony five thousand aneron, men, were saved
C. Jesus healed the demoniac, sending the demons into pigs(Mark 5:15-20)
1. Jesus was asked to leave
2. He asked to follow Jesus, but Jesus sent him home to tell his friends about what God had done for him
3. When Jesus is back in that same place, and there are multitudes who throng the Lord as a result of the demoniac’s witness(Mark 8:1-9)
II. The beginning of the Christian faith
A. John the Baptist testifying to the Lord Jesus (John 1:29)
B. John the Baptist to Andrew and John (John 1:35)
C. Andrew to his brother Simon Peter (John 1:40-42)
D. Jesus to Philip (John 1:43)
E. Philip to Nathaniel (John 1:45-51)
F. Jesus’ ministry is largely encompassed in that kind of a witnessing faith
1. Speaking to Nicodemus(John 3)
2. Speaking to despised Samaritan woman(John 4)
3. Rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22)
4. Zacchaeus(Luke 19:1-10)
5. Dying thief on the cross next to Him (Luke 23:43)
III. The continuing spread of the faith
A. The testimony of Stephen(Acts 7:1-60)
B. Philip sent from a great revival in Samaria to Gaza "which is desert" – to meet one man(Acts 8:26)
C. Paul’s Ephesian ministry(Acts 20:20-21, 31)
1. We are impressed – "greatest preacher since Paul"
a. Yet the Bible says his bodily presence is weak and speech contemptible (2 Corinthians 10:10)
b. He did his work house to house
IV. Our witness to the saving faith today
A. Taught by Jesus the faith of the one lost sheep, one lost coin, one lost boy (Luke 15:1-32)
1. God looks upon us one by one
B. Delivering our message, street to street and house to house
1. New York building with tribute to mail carrier on the frieze
V. Never fails of its reward
A. In my first pastorate, witnessing to a lost husband who refused – his young son came down the aisle having listened in and gave his heart to the Lord
1. Boy has been a deacon and faithful member of the church for half a century
B. God does not let our testimony fall to the ground