DOING THE DOCTRINE OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-2-87 8:15 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Doing the Doctrine of God; it is an exposition of the seventh chapter of the Gospel of John. In our preaching through this Fourth Gospel we are now in chapter 7. And it begins: “After those things Jesus walked in Galilee: for He would not walk in Jewry—down south in Judah—because the Jews sought to kill Him [John 7:1]. Then after His brethren went up to the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus went up secretly” [John 7:10]. Now verse 11: “Then the Jews sought Him at the feast, and said, Where is He?” [John 7:11].
“Where is He?” That question can be asked in many different lights and situations. Where is the Lord Jesus? It can be asked in murderous rejection and in bitter denunciation. The chapter begins: “He dared not walk openly in Judah, because the Jews sought to kill Him” [John 7:1]. And in verse 19 that is repeated: “Jesus asked them, Why go ye about to kill Me?” [John 7:19]. The question, “Where is Jesus?” can be asked, I say, in murderous intent.
One day in London, at the corner of Hyde Park, where on the weekend people come from the ends of the earth and they speak, and there are groups all through that great area. Kooks, nuts, crackpots, nitwits, screwballs—you never heard such goings on in your life as you can walk from group to group to group and listen to those tirades by those confirmed idiotic stupid creatures. Well, to my amazement, as I walked around on a weekend listening to those nuts, there in the midst of them was a humble, gracious, loving Baptist pastor. And by his side was a devout and dedicate godly deacon. And in the midst of all of that stupidity and furor, he was beautifully and humbly preaching the sweet gospel of Jesus, an astonishing thing; and the contrast of the environment around him made it more so. Well, I stopped and listened to him. And in the midst of his message, in the midst of it, there came out into the center of the circle of the people who had gathered around that dear Baptist pastor, there came out a big, burly fellow with a strong Irish accent, and he went into a furious tirade, saying, “I wish I could get my hands on that Jesus you talk about! I’d choke Him to death! I’d take my hands and I’d pulverize His face. I’d kill Him right here before our very eyes! If He were to come back today, we’d crucify Him, only do it sooner!” I was astonished! After he got through with his tirade, that sweet, wonderful preacher started again, extoling the beauty and the wonder of our Lord Jesus.
You know what? A thousand times a thousand times I have thought back to that moment, and regretted: why didn’t I stand out in the midst of that circle of people, and lift up my hands and say, “I praise God for this dedicated preacher! I also am a Christian.” Why didn’t I do that? Instead I just quietly walked away and let him stand there by himself with his godly deacon. Where is He? The question can be asked in hatred and in murderous rejection.
Where is the Lord Jesus? It can be answered in bitter denunciation. This seventh chapter closes with the Pharisees and the leaders of the religion of the Jewish people in utter rejection of our Lord [John 7:43-49]. Where is the Savior? Where is He? The question can be asked in deepest humility, seeking the truth of God. In the fiftieth verse we are introduced again to Nicodemus [John 7:50-51], who came to the Lord Jesus by night asking the truth of the way [John 3:1-4]. Where is the Lord Jesus? It can be asked in loving devotion, like that of the question of Mary Magdalene, “Where have you laid Him that I might come and take His body away?” [John 20:15].
Where is the Lord Jesus? The question can be easily answered in our experience. He is in our hearts. He is closer to us than our hands and our feet and our breath. He is with us. He journeys by our side. Where is the Lord Jesus? In that sacred place and nobody is there, nobody present but just He; He is with us in our hearts, a fellow pilgrim in our lives [1 Corinthians 6:19-20].
Where is the Lord Jesus? He is in His Word. When I open this sacred and Holy Book, there I see His face and I hear His voice. One of the great thrusts, dynamic, of the Reformation was the printing of this Book that I hold in my hand. Erasmus, in 1516, for the first time in history, published the Greek New Testament, called the Textus Receptus. It is the background and the text used in the translation of the King James Version. In the preface that Erasmus wrote to his first published Greek New Testament are these words. I read from it: “These holy pages will summon up the living image of His mind. They will give you Christ Himself, talking, healing, dying, rising; the whole Christ in a word. They will give Him to you in an intimacy so close that He would be less visible to you if He stood before your very eyes.” Our Lord is seen and found in His Word.
Where is the Lord? He is in the assembly of His people; He is here. “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of you” [Matthew 18:20]. What an amazement He was to those who saw Him and who looked upon Him and who heard Him. He never went to a rabbinical school, He was no graduate of any university, and yet as they listened to Him, “Never a man spake like that Man” [John 7:46], later in the chapter do they report. “How knoweth this Man all of these things, having never been a graduate of the schools?” [John 7:15].
Of course, to us, He came down from heaven, and He brought with Him all of the omniscience of God [Colossians 2:9]. What an astonishing miracle: the Lord Jesus, God’s infinite revelation of wisdom and knowledge and sanctification to us, yet dressed in a peasant’s garb, plainly a provincial from Galilee. And I love to think that today, in heaven, He remembers the day of His humiliation [Matthew 27:27-50], dressed in the garment of a working man, giving thirty years of His life in a carpenter’s shop [Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3]. How approachable! How touchable! How intimately known and seen is the blessed Lord Jesus.
Now in the moment, the teaching of our Lord; Jesus answered, saying, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me. If any one will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God” [John 7:16-17]. The didaskalos, translated here “doctrine,” the truth, the teaching—what an astonishing reversal of everything we would conclude in life does the Lord avow in that sentence: “If anyone will do His will, he shall know the didaskalos, the truth, the way” [John 7:17]. That’s just the opposite of what we think, what you have been taught. Jesus says do and you will know: “If anyone will do His will, he will know [John 7:17]. We do just the opposite; we think just the opposite: first we ought to know; then we do. Jesus says, “Not so; you do, and then you will know” [John 7:17].
As I think of that paradox in the teaching and revelation of our Lord, “to do thus to know,” I think of a conversation a theological professor in the Presbyterian seminary in Louisville, Kentucky had with a group of us preacher boys. We were just talking with him, visiting with him. And in that conversation, he said, “My teenage son went down to the slums in Louisville, and he spent the day down there in those slums with a man of God, ministering to those outcast and poor and derelict people.” And he said, “My son came back in the evening, and came up to me and said, ‘Dad, why is it you’ve never told me or showed me the truth of the faith, Christianity, and what’s it all about? I saw it today, Dad, for the first time, down there in the slums of this city.’” And the professor talking to us said, “Why, I’d been teaching that boy all of his life, ever since he was born and could understand I’ve been teaching him the truth of God. But what happened was, my teaching was words, it was sound, it was syllable, it was sentence, until he saw it down there in the slums of the city.” That’s what Jesus says: “You do, and you will know”; not the other way around, you know then you do. “You do, then you know” [John 7:17].
That is a remarkable thing, a remarkable thing. And I see it in the tragedy of our modern theological approach. Here we are seeking to make a flaming evangelist out of that young preacher or a glorious, marvelous pastor out of that young theologue; and what do we do? First we teach him; and he goes into all of those hypothetical, theoretical possibilities in the writing of the Word of God, all of that documentary hypothesis, and all of the things that concern authorship and writing and dates of the Bible, and then expect him, expect him to go out and be a flame of fire for God. It turns around. What we need to do is to take the young theologue and put him out there where the need is the greatest, and the hopelessness is the darkest, and the people are the lostest! And then out of the experience of doing comes the Word of God that is so precious, and so pertinent, and so able to save. Dear God, how unusually right is our Savior always in what He teaches! “Do, and you will know” [John 7:17].
In human experiences, isn’t that life? I was over at the “Y” looking at a father; he had a little bitty boy with him, taking him over there. What the father did, he was teaching the little fellow how to swim. How would you teach a boy how to swim? Give him a book, give him a whole library of books, but he’s just as unable; he’ll just drown if you stick him in the water. And what that father did was, he took his little bitty boy and he put his hand underneath his stomach, right in the middle of him, and held him up, and put him in the water. And that little old boy splashed and kicked around, and his father holding him up, and in no time at all he knew how to swim. “Do, and you will know” [John 7:17]. That’s the case study learning law, out there in the court. That is the clinical method in the medical school, out there where the people are sick. That’s the farming method in agriculture. That’s the machine shop in the mechanical school. It takes a new world. No longer is it theoretical, it’s actuality; it’s real. And that is the experience in human life: it is out of doing that we learn the deep things of God. The creed comes out of the experience [John 7:17].
That’s why Paul spoke of those Corinthians who had, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” [1 Corinthians 15:32], the creed came out of their sensuous life. Any doubter and objector and unbeliever is like that: the trouble is not in his mind, it’s not in his intellect; it’s in his heart, it’s in his life. If he changed, his soul, instead of being darkened would be filled with the light of the presence of the glory of God [John 3:19-21]. “Do, and you will know” [John 7:17]. That’s why Paul writes in the second chapter of Philippians, not, “Think out your salvation,” but, “Work out your salvation” [Philippians 2:12]. It’s doing it; it is responsively pertinent that brings us our knowledge and our vision and our glory of the Lord.
When I look at the Book of Job, there are forty-one chapters, forty-one chapters of opinion, and discussion, and confrontation, and intellectual thought; there are forty-one chapters of it [Job 1-41]. But it isn’t until you get to the forty-second chapter, the last chapter, and Job has an experience with God that he says, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear,” all of this opinion and discussion. I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now I see Thee. Mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” [Job 42:5-6]. Do, and then you will know. So He says, “If anyone will do the will of God, he will know” [John 7:17]. Anyone, universal—isn’t that an amazing open door God hath set before us, if anyone.
This last week before last, I was reading B. H. Carroll, one of our mighty, mighty preachers, founder of Southwestern Seminary, head then of the Bible department in Baylor, B. H. Carroll. B. H. Carroll was preaching about R. C. Burleson, who was the president of Baylor University. And in his speaking of R. C. Burleson, he said in this message that I was reading, he said that, “Down there at Washington on the Brazos, one day in a revival meeting held by R. C. Burleson, down the aisle walked General Sam Houston, giving his heart to the Lord. And down that same aisle in a moment, walked a little bitty, uneducated, ignorant Negro boy. And B. H. Carroll said, “In the Brazos River they were baptized side by side.” B. H. Carroll described the baptismal service of General Sam Houston, one of the great political leaders of all time and the founder of our state of Texas, Sam Houston; and by his side a little uneducated, ignorant Negro boy. “If anyone, anyone,” it is universal, “if anyone, and if anyone will, thelo,” it’s not future like “shall” and “will”; it is volitional, it is by choice. “If anyone will, he will know” [John7:17]. God says, “Come” [Psalm 37:5]. God says, “Do” [Matthew 7:12]. God says, “Respond” [Ezekiel 33:11]. God says, “Commit” [Matthew 11:28]; and you will be in the very light of the knowledge of the glory of God that shines in the face of Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 4:6]. What an amazing thing!
And the whole Christian faith started off like that: when Andrew and John say to Simon Peter, “Come and see, come and see” [John 1:37-42]; when God said to Simon Peter, “When you turn, when you turn, strengthen thy brethren” [Luke 22:32], doing; when God said to Saul of Tarsus, “Arise, stand on thy feet, and go; I have sent thee to the Gentiles” [Acts 22:10, 21]; it is doing, it is responding, it is committing, and then you know [John 7:17].
Why does a man say, “I don’t see, I don’t know”? It’s because he refuses to respond. Respond, come, give, dedicate your life to God, and you will know; the glory of the wisdom of heaven itself will attend you every step of your pilgrim way. But you must come, you must respond, you must do. And that’s our appeal to your heart this precious morning hour. “Pastor, today, this day, this moment, this hour, I have decided for Christ, and here I stand.” In the balcony round, you, on this lower floor a family you, anywhere somebody you, “Pastor, I have decided, and here I stand” [Romans 10:9-10]. Do it. And a thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing.