DOING THE DOCTRINE OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-2-87 10:50 a.m.
We are all a part now of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Doing the Doctrine of God. It is an exposition of the seventh chapter of the Book of John. In our preaching through this wonderful incomparable Gospel, we are beginning in chapter 7. And the first verse says, “After these things Jesus walked in Galilee,” in the northern part of Palestine, “for He would not walk in Jewry,” in Judah, in the southern part, “because the Jews sought to kill Him” [John 7:1].
Then in the verses following, His brethren go up to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem [John 7:2-3]. No matter where you are in that part of the world you go “up” to Jerusalem. Always, you go up to Jerusalem. “And they went up to the Feast of Tabernacles, but Jesus went not up with them” [John 7:8].
Then beginning in a later part of the chapter, our Lord goes up. Verse 10, “When His brethren were gone up, He also went up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret” [John 7:10]. 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 ways: “Where is the Lord?” It can be asked in vicious and murderous intent: where is He?
In the nineteenth verse, our Lord repeats that, “Why go ye about to kill Me?” [John 7:19]. And the chapter began in our first verse: “They sought to kill Him” [John 7:1]. The question can be asked in awesome, terrible, violent reaction. To us that is so strange and out of context in our life, but it would surprise you in how many areas of the world there is vicious and murderous reaction to our Lord. I’m not speaking only now of the Shiite Muslim, where to be a Christian is to take your very life in your hands. I’m speaking of our own family and race.
I was in London, and on a weekend at Hyde Park’s speaker’s corner, they gather there from the ends of the earth. They are a vast congregation and assembly of nuts and screwballs and nitwits and stupid creatures of every kind and color. And they are there just pouring out all of that stupidity, and you go from one inanity to the other idiocy, and just around. Well, to my amazement, as I walked through that great number of people gathered there on the weekend at Hyde’s Corner in London, there was a sweet, dear, humble Baptist pastor, and by his side a gracious, godly deacon. And he was preaching the gospel in that milieu of inanity; an amazing thing, an astonishing thing! And of course, as with everyone else, he had a crowd around him and a circle opened before him.
Well, as I stood there listening to that godly man in amazement, preaching the sweet, simple message of Jesus, suddenly there came out into the circle before him a big bruiser; big guy, heavy set, with a heavy Irish brogue. And he came out into the circle and stood there and looked at the preacher and at the deacon and at the crowd gathered round, and doubling up his fist, said, “I wish I could get hold of that Jesus Christ. I would choke Him to death with these very hands.” He said, “With this fist, I’d pulverize His face. I’d break His neck. I’d kill Him right here. And if He were to come back to earth again, we’d crucify Him just as we did when He came two thousand years ago.”
Ah, you wouldn’t think such a thing. You know, as I remember that, ten thousands times a thousand times I wish that I could go back to that moment. Why didn’t I step out into that open circle and walk over there by the side of that Baptist preacher and that godly deacon, and say, “I am an American, and I come from across the sea, but I want you to know that I believe in Jesus. He is my Savior and my Lord. And I stand here with uplifted hand, praising His name for all He has done for me.” Why didn’t I do that? I have regretted that a thousand times in memory.
How do they seek Him? Sometimes, the question is asked with murderous hatred. Sometimes, it is asked with disdain and contempt and rejection. The whole last part of this seventh chapter of the Book of John is the reaction of the religious leaders of His day, led by the Pharisees and the Sadducees, in contempt dismissing the Lord out of life: “Where is He and where can I find Him?” [John 7:11].
Sometimes the question is asked in deepest humility, searching for the truth. In the fiftieth verse of this seventh chapter [John 7:50], Nicodemus said unto them—Nicodemus is the one introduced to us in chapter 3 who came to the Lord by night seeking the way of life [John 3:1-4]. Sometimes the question is asked, “How can I know truth? And how can I know the way to God?”
Sometimes the question is asked in loving devotion, such as in the latter part of this Gospel when we come to the last chapters. Mary Magdalene asked, supposedly the gardener, “Where have they laid Him, that I might come and take His body away?” [John 20:15]. She was asking of the Lord Himself and did not recognize Him [John 20:14].
Sometimes the question is asked in holy aspiration. In the seventeenth chapter of this Gospel of John, our Lord says, “I pray that these may also be with Me, that they may rejoice with Me in glory” [John 17:24].
Where is He? Where is He? To ask the question now of us, and to answer it now in our experience: where is the Lord? He is in our hearts. He is close to us, where we’re seated, and where I stand. He is as near as our breath, and as close as our hands and our feet. Where is the Lord? He is seated by your side, and He walks with you in every pilgrim day. Where is our Lord? He is in the Holy Word. We see Him in inspired and infallible Scripture [2 Timothy 3:16].
I hold in my hand a precious New Testament given to me by my roommate in the university, Christie Pool. The young man then who was sent as a missionary to Africa and founded our Baptist Theological Seminary in Ogbomosho in Nigeria, he gave this to me with the date and with the beautiful inscription: ta anō phroneite, mē ta epi tēs gēs, “Place your mind upon things above, not upon the things of the earth.”
Well, anyway, it was this New Testament that proved the dynamic in the great Reformation. For the first time in the history of the world the Scriptures were printed in this Greek New Testament. It was done by Erasmus in 1516. It was called the Textus Receptus, “the received text,” and is the basis for the translation of the King James Version into English.
Erasmus wrote in the in preface of his New Testament, the Greek Textus Receptus, he wrote these words, and I copied them in my little New Testament text: “These holy pages will sum it 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.” What an amazing affirmation! If I open God’s Holy Word, I’ll see there the Lord Jesus more completely and fully than if He stood here before my very eyes. Where can I find Him? I can find Him in the pages of this Holy Book.
Where can we find the Lord? We can find Him in the congregation and the assembly of His people. “Verily, I say unto you,” He said, “where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20]. And in a great congregation like this, think of the presence of Jesus, pouring out His soul and heart and love upon us in this assembly and in this worshipful service.
Where can I find Jesus? Where is He? He is present in our loving devotions, in our periods of prayer. One of the most moving paintings I ever saw in my life was in a great museum; the artist had depicted a lowly cottage, and there in the center of the room, the kitchen, was a table, and the table was set for the meal. And the father of the family was there with his head bowed in grace, and the family gathered round. And the artist had drawn above that worshiping, praying father and that sweet family with bowed heads, he had painted a glorious picture of the Lord Jesus with His hands extended over the little family. Where is Jesus? He is there present with us in our devotions and in our intercessions before Him.
Where is our Lord? He is with us in our ministries in His name. “Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these, you did it unto Me” [Matthew 25:40]. He is there, blessing, receiving, accepting.
Where is our Lord? He is in heaven interceding for us at the right hand of God, naming our name, pleading our cause, and bestowing upon us strength for our pilgrim way [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25].
Where is He? He is here with us. So the seventh chapter says our Lord went up to the feast, and, in the midst of the feast, verse 14, “Jesus went up into the temple, and taught. And the Jews marveled, saying, How knoweth this Man letters, having never learned?” [John 7:14-15]. He was manifestly a peasant and not only that but a provincial from Galilee. He did not belong to the elite in Jewry in Judah. And least of all was He dressed like a teacher in the synagogue and a rabbi in the temple. He was no graduate of the school of Gamaliel or Hillel. He was no product of the universities.
He was a plain peasant, dressed that way, and in the years of His life had worked with His hands, callused with thirty years of carpentry [Mark 6:3, Luke 3:23]. And when they listened to Him, this Man without graduate degrees and without university distinction, they marveled at Him, saying, “How knoweth this Man letters, learnednesses, academic excellence, having never learned?” [John 7:15].
Of course, we know He is an emissary from heaven. He brought down God’s wisdom from glory itself. You know, that’s an unusual thing: the difference between academia and good common sense. You can be a learned, graduated idiot and absolutely know nothing in the earth. I’ve gone to school with them by the uncounted numbers, graduated in the same class with them: idiots, stupid idiots.
Let me tell you a story. A judge was going to the court in the courthouse. And he had just barely time in his horse and buggy to get there to preside over the court. And while he was driving his horse pulling the buggy, suddenly there jumped across the road a rabbit, and the horse shied away. And when he did, he broke in half the buggy shaft, just like that. And the judge, in consternation, not knowing what to do; you can’t drive a buggy without the shaft. It’s the shaft between two shifts that the horse pulls the buggy, and that thing had broken in two. And he was there just just impaled on nothing.
There came by an unlearned, unlettered Negro farmer, walking down the road. And when he got to the judge, spoke to him, he saw what was the matter.
And the judge said, “What shall I do? I begin court in just a few minutes and here I am. What shall I do?”
And the Negro pulled out a pocket knife, pulled out a pocket knife, and he said, “Why, I’ll mend this.” And the unlearned, uneducated, untaught Negro went over there to the side of the road and cut off a hickory stem, a hickory limb. And he peeled it. And he split that hickory limb in two. And he put one side of it on one side of that broken shaft. And he put the other half on the other side of that broken shaft. And he bound it together with that hickory bark. And it was twice as strong as it was before.
And the judge looked at him, and he said, “How in the earth is it that, here I am, a graduate of the law school and a judge in the land, and here you are, you’ve never been to school a day in your life, and yet you just know exactly how to mend this?”
And the old Negro scratched his head and answered, “Well, judge, I guess it’s because some of us got sense and some of us ain’t.” Oh, dear! How easy it is to be an educated someone! Oh, my!
They looked at our Lord and they listened to our Lord: plainly, manifestly, a peasant, not a man of the schools. And they marveled at Him and exclaimed, “How does He know, having never learned?” [John 7:15]. He came from heaven. And dear people, let me tell you one of the things that comforts my heart. He is up there in glory at the right hand of God, interceding for us [Romans 8:34]. But I don’t think it would be possible for Him to forget that in this earth He was dressed in the clothes of a peasant, and that He did the work of a carpenter all the days of His beginning life. If ever we had a sympathetic High Priest, we have such a One in the Lord Jesus. That’s why the author of Hebrews says,
We have not an High Priest who cannot be touched, moved with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tried as we are . . . Wherefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that you may find help and strength in time of need.
That’s our Lord. That’s our Savior. That’s God manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16].
So He teaches in the temple. Beginning at verse 15, they marveled at Him, knowing without ever being taught [John 7:15]. And the Lord says, “My didaskalē, My doctrine, My teaching is not Mine. It came from heaven” [John 7:16]. Then verse 17, “If any one will do His will, he shall know of the didaskalē,” translated here doctrine, “whether it be of God” [John 7:17].
“If any one will do His will, he shall know” [John 7:17]. That’s an amazing paradox from the lips of our Lord. For everything I would have thought in life is that you know, you learn, then you do. That’s logical, isn’t it? You learn, you study, you find the truth. Then, you do it. But, the Lord turns it around. He says, “You do, then you will know” [John 7:17]. And as I think of that, as with everything else our Lord says, what to me was so obviously different, when I think of it in the light of His heavenly revelatory wisdom, I can see what He means: you do in order to know.
When I was in the seminary, right in another part of the city was a Presbyterian seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. And there was just a little handful of us theologues who were visiting with a professor in that Presbyterian seminary. And he said, in the course of our conversation, he said, “I have a teenage boy. And upon a day, that teenage son of mine was down in the slums of the city of Louisville. He was there with a Christian missionary worker. And after he’d spent the day with that chaplain, that Christian minister, in the slums of the city,” he said, “my boy came back that evening, and he came up to me, and he said, ‘Dad, today I saw the Christian faith. I saw what it means. I saw and learned what it was all about. I saw it today.’”
Then he turned to his father, and the father said, “The boy then said to me, ‘Dad, why haven’t you ever told me about the Christian faith, what it was, what it means? Why didn’t you ever tell me? I just learned it today in the slums of the city.’”
“Well,” the professor said to us, “of course, I had taught that boy from the day that he was able to understand, I’d taught him the Christian faith and what it means. But what happened was, they were words, they were syllables, and they were sentences to the lad until he saw it in the face and in the lives of the people to whom God sent His message of redemption and salvation.”
It’s doing it that gives life and meaning and understanding to what God is and what He means. I see that so many times in the lives of young men who go to the university, and there they’re taught everything beyond the Christian faith that infidel minds can conjure up. And the young fellow in the university gives up the faith. He renounces his religion. He’s an atheist, or he’s an infidel, or he’s an agnostic now.
But you wait. The day will come when he’ll marry. The day will come when he has children. And the day will come where the exigencies and the fortunes of life, trouble and sorrow knock at the door. And you watch him. He’ll be back in church. He’ll be back with his family. He’ll be teaching those little children the faith of the Lord that he renounced in the university.
That’s a strange thing, human life; you do, then you know, just as our Lord said in that seventeenth verse: “Whosoever will do His will shall know of the didaskalē, the truth of it” [John 7:17].
You know, how far I am correct in this judgment I’m not able to say, but sometimes I think in our theological education we start at the wrong end. We take these young men who have been called of God to be a preacher of the gospel, and we send them to these schools. And there they’re introduced to the documentary hypothesis, which denies the inspiration of the Word of God [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. And they’re introduced to all of those things of what they call higher criticism, having to do with author and date, and finally a denial of the whole message and miraculous content of the Word of God. And the young fellow is, he becomes neutral in his life, some of them renouncing the faith and leaving the ministry.
You know what I often think? If you just turn that around, as Jesus says, if they did and then learn to know [John 7:17]; if they first were introduced to the need of humanity and the brokenness of human life and were to begin their life in ministry in need, then the Bible would become clear like the glory of a new promised day.
I’ll never ever in this earth cease to thank God that when I was seventeen years of age I was a pastor. And for the years and the years of my upbringing and my schooling, I was out there ministering in the name of the Lord. And I’m not decrying education. I’d be the last one in the world to do it. I gave ten years of my life, four in the university and six in the seminary, trying to learn. I’d never decry that scholastic background, never. But, I am saying to you this in all truth: I learned more ministering to my people in my little churches, my country pastorates, than I did in all of the books that I studied in school.
Jesus says, “Do, and you will learn. Do, and you will learn” [John 7:17]. After all, when we look at the pragmatics, empiricals of life, it’s that way: you do and you learn. Did you ever try to teach somebody to swim by reading a book? The only way you’ll ever learn to swim is to get out there and start paddling and beating and flagging in that water. I think of a fellow over there at the “Y.” He took his little boy and he put his hand under his tummy. And he took him out there in that water, and just held the little fellow up with his hand. And that little old boy just flailed the water and beat and kicked, and in no time at all he was swimming like a tadpole. That’s the way you learn. That’s the way you learn, by doing, by doing, just getting into it.
I was walking along underneath this auditorium behind a little knot of teenagers. And one of the boys was trying to get the other boy to ask a girl up there for a date. And the little boy was scared to death. And he said to the friend who was, who was, you know, pushing him along, he said to him, “I don’t know how to ask her. I don’t know how to say it. I am afraid to ask her.”
And the other boy said, “Listen, ask her. There ain’t no wrong way to ask her.”
Man, that’s the truth. You do and then you learn. You do and learn, just as the Lord said [John 7:17].
I was reading a few days ago about Paganini’s violin, the great Italian musician and virtuoso. When he died, they took his violin and put it in a museum in Milan. And somebody came along and said, “That violin, in that dead air in this museum in Milan, will disintegrate. Take it out and place it in the hands of a great virtuoso and let him play it. Let him do it, and that violin will come to life and stay alive forever.”
That’s it. Do, do and you’ll learn [John 7:17]. All the experiences of life confirms that. It takes medicine out of magic. It takes astronomy out of astrology. It takes commerce out of piracy. It is the way that we learn the truth is by doing it.
And how much more is that regnant in the spiritual life? Would you know God? Would you learn the truth of the Lord? Would you be filled with the light of heavenly wisdom? Then do. Then do. Then do [John 7:17]. The creed is a product of the life. That’s why Paul spoke of those Corinthians, their creed was “eat, drink and be merry,” because their lives were sensuous [John 7:17].
When you see a man who is not a Christian and he denies the faith, the trouble is not in his head. It’s not in his intellect. The trouble is in his heart. It’s in his life. His soul is filled with darkness because he doesn’t do. He doesn’t hear the Word of God. He doesn’t obey the Word of God. He doesn’t respond to the Word of God. And he’s dead in his heart and in his soul. Let him respond. Let him commit. Let him do, and he’ll know the truth of the Lord.
In Philippians, the second chapter, Paul didn’t say, “Think out your salvation with fear and trembling.” He says, “Work it out, work out your salvation with fear and trembling” [Philippians 2:12]. It’s doing the thing. It’s the response of your soul and your life that makes the knowledge of God full and bright and regnant in your soul.
When I turn to the Book of Job, there are forty-one chapters there of confrontation, of opinion, of discussion, of all of the philosophical approaches to the providences of life. There are forty-one chapters of it [Job 40-41]. Then you come to the forty-second, the last chapter, and there Job has an experience with God. He meets the Lord God. And do you remember his word? “O God, I had heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, opinion, discussion, I had heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee: Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and in ashes” [Job 42:5-6]. To know, do, respond, commit [John 7:17].
May I haste to the conclusion? “If any one will do His will, he shall know the didaskalē, the truth of it” [John 7:17]. “If any one”; it is a universal invitation, includes everybody.
A week ago I was reading B.H. Carroll, and in my reading he was describing a baptismal service on the Brazos River, Washington on the Brazos. R. C. Burleson, the great educator and president of Baylor University in the last century, R. C. Burleson was holding a revival meeting. And down the aisle in that revival meeting came General Sam Houston, confessing his faith in the Lord Jesus and asking to be baptized. And right behind him, B. H. Carroll says, came a little, uneducated, untrained, untaught Negro boy.
And B. H. Carroll says in that sermon that, in the Brazos River, R. C. Burleson baptized General Sam Houston, the father of the state of Texas, General Sam Houston. And when he had baptized General Sam Houston, then he baptized that little unlearned, uneducated Negro boy.
That’s the gospel. It has no favorites. It’s universal. Anybody, come, anybody.
Now one other thing and I’m done. This “will” here, “If anyone will do His will, he will know the didaskalē” [John 7:17]. That “will” is not future tense, like “shall” and “will.” That’s a translation of thelō, which is choice, commitment, will. If anyone thelō, if he will, if he will respond, he will know [John 7:17]. All the things of the enlightenment, of the meaning, and of the destiny of life will be brought to him, like the sun rising in the morning.
Hosea 6:3 says if we thelō to do His will, we will know His will. If I thelō to do it, I must respond to know; if I don’t know, it’s because I do not respond.
The whole message of Christ is: “Come and see”; try and be convinced; commit and be converted. That’s the way it began in the first chapter of this Gospel of John out of which I’m preaching, when Andrew and John said to Simon Peter and to James, “Come and see. Come and see” [John 1:39-42]. That’s what the Lord said to Peter when he denied Him: “When you turn, when you repent, strengthen your brethren” [Luke 22:32]. That’s what the Lord God said to Saul of Tarsus: “Arise, stand on thy feet and go [Acts 9:6]. I send you to the Gentiles” [Acts 9:15].
It is in our coming, it is in our responding, it is in our committing, it is in our doing that we learn the truth of God [John 7:17]. And that’s the Lord’s appeal to your heart, to come, to respond, to commit, to do, and then let God teach us all of the wonderful heavenly things He has in store for those who look in faith and grace and love and prayer to Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. Now may we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, may the truth of this great passage from the lips of our Lord find a response in our hearts. O God in heaven, turn the gospel message from being just sound, the pronunciation of words, syllables and sentences; but may it be turned into flesh and blood and life and ministry and love and response and commitment. And our Lord, do it this morning. Do it now. May these come down that aisle, “Pastor, no longer do I wait or argue or find opinion, but I am committing today, and may God lead and open the door through the rest of the way.”
In a moment when we stand to sing, a family you, coming into the fellowship of our dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25], or a one somebody you, accepting the Lord Jesus as personal Savior [Romans 10:8-13], or answering the call of God in your heart; while our people pray and wait and sing this hymn of appeal, would you answer with your life? “Pastor, I am going to do that today, then I will trust God for the knowing.” Thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give; in Thy precious and saving name, amen. While we stand and while we sing.