Except Ye See Signs and Wonders
March 25th, 1987 @ 7:30 PM
EXCEPT YE SEE SIGNS AND WONDERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-25-87 7:30 p.m.
We welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are a part now of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message. It is the same title as our text in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, in the forty-eighth verse, one of the most unusual replies of our Lord to a man in deepest agony. His son was at the point of death, and he made the journey from Capernaum to Canaan to ask the intervention of God in the tragic illness of his boy [John 4:46-47]. And Jesus answered him, "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe" [John 4:48]. That was a test of that nobleman, like so many, many, many, and that is the message; whether it was in that day, or yesterday’s day, or today, identifying God and His grace and mercy with the unusual and the miraculous and the phenomenal. And that poor father replied, "O, Sir, I am not seeking a phenomenal, miraculous thing for me to talk about or to see or to brag about. My son is dying!" [John 4:]. And of course, the rest of the story is known to you: the Lord, in His mercy and in His grace and in His compassion, healed that boy [John 4:50-53].
Now that leads me to speak of one of the most unusual movements in the Christian faith. Every once in a while it has appeared in Christian history, but today, and especially in our country, it has assumed tremendous proportions. And I’m speaking of the modern charismatic movement; speaking in unknown tongues; which, by the way, before I begin, all over this earth they have made tape recordings of those speakings in unknown tongues. They have sent them to the greatest linguistic centers in the earth, and there has never yet been identified a language. It is gibberish, speaking in unknown tongues. Then second: an emphasis upon divine healing. Dear me, how much that is presented in the churches that follow that kind of a pattern of worship!
About, oh, half a dozen days ago, I received a letter from a preacher. And he starts off, "My dearest partner Criswell," I have no idea, don’t know who this man is:
My dearest partner Criswell,
Last week Sister Clark showed me the new miracle cloth I gave her only seven days before. In her other hand was a twelve thousand dollar check God had blessed her with. How would you like to have two thousand five hundred dollars a month, partner Criswell? That’s what happened for Sister Wanda; she still carries her new miracle cloth on her person.
Pastor Criswell, the cloth I’ve enclosed is one of the new miracle cloths for you to wear. All I ask you to do is use the special envelope and enclose a love gift of twenty-five dollars. For a double-portion blessing, enclose fifty dollars.
Then, then, then he goes on: all kinds of diseases and all kinds of miracles will come to me if I’ll just wear this miracle cloth. And not only the gift of speaking in unknown tongues, unknown languages – the Greek is "languages" – and not only the divine healing that comes from the miracle cloth, but the exhibition of the power of God in the miraculous intervention in the services.
I talked to a minister. Now these men are supposed to be truthful men and not born liars; I talked to a minister and he said, "In just one service, I saw three dead people raised from the dead; in one service, I saw three of them raised from the dead." You know, the more I look at TV and these modern Christian movements, I’m beginning to believe that most of these ministers are born liars or worse. It’s awful!
Now, I have some considerations. Number one: what of those not raised from the dead? Did Satan win that one? And what of those who are not healed? Has Satan escaped with them? I went to the famous Angeles Temple in Los Angeles, California when Aimee Semple McPherson was the far-famed pastor of the church. And I sat there for hours, watching that healing service. Any man that I could see was really ill, I could tell it: cancer on the face, or half of his eye and forehead eaten away – when he came, he left just as he came. But these that I could not tell, they stood after they’d been stricken with the Spirit and laid down like cord wood on the pulpit; they all rose and said they were healed. Now if healing is a sign of the presence and power of God, then Satan has a commanding lead in this world. The majority of our people who are really ill are, most of them, facing an awesome confrontation, and finally we die. And there’s no exception to that.
Paul was not able to heal promiscuously. In 2 Timothy, the last chapter, the twentieth verse: "Trophimus have I left at Miletus sick" [2 Timothy 4:20]. Why didn’t Paul heal him? That’s one of the hardest-hearted of all the things I ever read in my life. If Paul had the power of healing, why didn’t he take his miracle cloth and put it on Trophimus and heal him? Why didn’t he do it? Why would he leave him there? My brother, miraculous healing – any kind of a like miracle is a confirmation of a man’s mission, if it is needed from heaven. In the life of our Lord or in the life of our apostles, there were confirming signs from heaven; but, the sign is for the purpose of confirmation.
There is a subtle, but a powerful pressure builds up to see miraculous healings where there has been none. In our church was a visitor of a man who said he was miraculously healed. But he was half-paralyzed still, and his language was thick, and when he said God had healed him, I said in my heart, "God sure did a poor job on you." There is an unbiblical dualism that is created when we seek these signs and wonders. There is a dichotomy that is set up in which God is at work in the extraordinary, and in the supernatural, and in the amazing, and in the phenomenal, but God is not at work in the ordinary, and in the natural, and in the everyday.
You know, whether it is natural or whether it is supernatural, all healing is of God – all of it, all of it, all of it. The doctor can diagnose and some of them are right here in front of me, and the surgeon can operate, and the pharmacist can fill a prescription, but nobody heals but God – God alone. And for us to limit God in His presence and power to the supernatural and the phenomenal, and not in the ordinary and the everyday, is to read God out of our lives. God is present in natural healings as well as in supernatural healings: I think of the miracle of the healing of a wound. If I cut my finger, the scar begins to form. Why doesn’t the scar keep on growing and growing and adding and adding until finally it sticks out an inch or two from my finger? What makes the scar stop just at a certain time when it has healed the abrasion? Why, it’s a miracle! It’s a miracle. Think of the miracle of penicillin: it was in the ground on which Cain and Abel stood; it’s just in my day that the penicillin was discovered, God put it there from the beginning.
Think of the miracle of the ministries of medical schools and of these marvelous drugs. It pleases God that in healing, we do two things: one, we pray, and second, we use means, those two things. In the Samaritan – the Good Samaritan – who came upon that poor man, robbed and left to die. It says that he took him to the inn and there he poured in oil and wine [Luke 10:34] – the wine, of course, alcohol, without which you couldn’t practice medicine. Alcohol is the solution in which so much of the medicinal properties of healing are found. He was of the Spirit of the Lord and he used means. Same thing in the last chapter of the epistle of James: "Pray," he says, "Pray for the sick, and anoint with oil" [James 5:14]. Use means, use means: whatever the doctor could find to help, whatever the herbs that growing could contribute, whatever the medical school can discover; pray and use means – that pleases God, both of them.
We live in a world of miracle. It is not just that I see a miracle in a phenomenal resurrection or a phenomenal healing, I live in a world of miracle. Can any man whoever lived, now or any time in the future, any day in the past, could any man describe what gravity is? What is gravity? Yet, I live in it. If I lift this book, it falls down. What makes it fall down? What keeps these planets in their orbits? What is gravity? Nobody knows. Nobody knows, it is a miracle, and we live in that every day of our lives. The seed germinates: think of picking up that little seed that looks like a dead rock, but plant it, put it under warm sunshine and put a little water on it, and the thing will grow. Think of that! Think of these flowers that you look at. Where were they? They just burst out of the ground, a miracle of God. All of you who come here to church and see me dedicate these babies to the Lord, there won’t be a time that I do it that I don’t kneel and marvel, wonder at the marvelous genius and omnipotent power of God that can frame a little life like that. It’s a miracle of God!
Any healing, I say, is a miracle of the Lord. And we live in a world of miracle every moment of our lives. When we eat, the assimilation of food, that’s a miracle. You look at me, I am a monument to onions and hamburgers and garlic and dill pickles and beans and potatoes. "Pastor, that’s not so." Well, you just take all that food away from me and see what happens to me; it’s a miracle! I sit down at that table and eat that inert, dead stuff and it becomes alive in me; it’s a miracle of God! We live in that kind of a world.
I have another observation to make about those who seek those phenomenal, unbelievably miraculous things, as though that’s how God works and we find Him only in those. Second, I’d say we make second-rate kingdom citizens out of those who do not receive the so-called baptism of the Holy Spirit, who do not speak in unknown tongues, and who do not possess those unbelievable, miraculous gifts. I, you, all of us who have not been thus introduced into all of those unbelievable things of the kingdom, we are second class. We are down here somewhere. But those who have received all those marvelous things, they are first in the kingdom of God – those who possess these astonishing gifts, minister and work in the power of God. But, implicit in that is this judgment: that all others who work and minister are doing it in their own strength. They do it in the strength of God, the sign of it is speaking in gibberish or all these other things that are supposed to be attendant to their ministers. But the rest of us, what we do we do in our own strength, not in the strength of God.
But what, I ask you, but what of the great leaders of the church? Did they speak in unknown tongues? Did they do those miraculous, phenomenal things that are claimed by this modern movement? Look at this, in John 10:41, the Gospel of John, John10:41: John the Baptist did no miracle, as great as that mighty man of God was. I didn’t say this. Jesus said, "Out of all the men that are ever born of woman, there is none greater than John the Baptist" [Matthew 11:11]. That’s what Jesus said of him. I never said that. The greatest man, the greatest human being who was ever born, Jesus said was John the Baptist. But John, the Gospel of John 10:41 says John did no miracle. Nor did any of the great, mighty leaders of the church, not one of them ever spoke in a tongue, not one of them ever claimed to be able to do miraculous healings.
I’m talking about Augustine, I’m talking about Luther, I’m talking about Calvin, I’m talking about Edwards, I’m talking about Spurgeon, I’m talking about Moody, I’m talking about Scarborough, I’m talking about Truett, I’m talking about Graham – Billy Graham, who belongs to this church here and has since  – I’m talking about all of them; not one of them has. One of these men cornered me one time and said, "Preacher, you’re sure wrong there, because John Wesley spoke in unknown tongues. John Wesley did." Well I said, "I have read several lives of John Wesley and I’ve never come across one instance where he ever spoke in an unknown tongue." Well, they said to me, talking to me, "You’re mistaken. John Wesley spoke in unknown tongues." In the city of Dallas is the greatest authority on John Wesley that lives and walks on the face of the globe, his name is Dr. Albert Outler. He was, until he retired in age, professor at Southern Methodist University. So I went to Dr. Outler and I said, "Dr. Outler, you’re the greatest authority on John Wesley who ever lived. Did John Wesley ever speak in an unknown tongue?" And Dr. Outler said, "Never. Never!" There is no such thing as a great Christian leader in the history of Christendom who ever spoke in an unknown tongue, not one.
There’s another thing that that does in the church. It creates an undue striving after the phenomenal and the miraculous. The "gifts of the Spirit," they call them, forces into the background all of the fruits of the Spirit: they are preoccupied, literally, with signs and wonders, and demonic oppressions, and the casting out of devils, and all the things that pertain to that kind of a miraculous service. But the shattering issues of life and death that face the church take a back seat, striving after the unusual, and the phenomenal, and the things that we face as a people of God are hardly addressed.
I want to point out, if I can, in this last chapter, in the fifth chapter of the Book of Galatians, Paul is writing to the churches of Galatia, and I want you to look at what he says. Look at it: in Galatians 5:16, "Walk in the Spirit." In Galatians 5:18: "Be led by of the Spirit." In Galatians 5:25: "Live in the Spirit." And in Galatians 5:22, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, and joy, and peace, and longsuffering, and gentleness, and goodness, and faith, and meekness, and temperance," nine of them in all [Galatians 5:22-23]. You won’t find in any category like that, anything of the way-out, phenomenal, it isn’t approached. It isn’t signs and it is not wonders, but it is a beautiful and godly life that God seeks among His people. I pray that, in the goodness and grace of our Lord, that we will bow in His presence and say, "Lord God in heaven, I’m not seeking the outlandish and the far-out and the phenomenal and the miraculous. I live in Your world of miracle. I am a child of God, which is a miracle. That I was born is a miracle, that I live is a miracle; everything around me is miraculous. It all speaks of the presence of God and the goodness and grace of our Lord. And these beautiful things of the Spirit like love, and joy, and peace, and grace, and faith, and temperance, these things – beautiful, precious, Lord, multiply them in me."
And if I will be that way, and if I will walk in that way, and if I will pray that way, then when time comes for me to face the exigencies of life – and they will come – I, when I have to face the tragedies of life and the traumas of life, if I die, that’s not that God has withdrawn His favor from me or His grace or His love, or that the people have no power in prayer, not at all. The same Holy Spirit of God, that brought me into the world, that has guided through the years of this pilgrimage, will be the same precious Spirit of the Lord, that stands by me in the exigency, and in the trauma, and in the sorrow of my death. I don’t have to have some miraculous intervention from heaven, some unbelievable, phenomenal thing that comes to pass in my life in order to be assured of the love and presence of God, not at all. He will be with me in the soft and quiet things as well as in the marvelous and phenomenal things. And I can live my life every day, in the assurance that the Lord is with me in those little things, in those quiet things, in those precious things, just as much as if I live in the phenomenal, miraculous things that are so magnified among some of the people in some of these churches.
God love and God bless, and in that quiet assurance that the Lord is with us, His hands are upon us, His blessings are ours to share, we walk through our pilgrimage, serving our Lord, walking in the Spirit – led by the Spirit, living in the Spirit, exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit. And when time comes and I face an awesome, catastrophic exigency in my life, if God were to choose to raise me up, wonderful, wonderful! But that’s not any more wonderful than if the Lord were to open the doors of heaven for me, because whether I live or whether I die, I am with the Lord [Romans 14:5]. And it’s in His gracious hands; He will do what is best and I just am to live in that confident assurance that the Lord is with us. He is with you in the kitchen just as much as with the bishop in the cathedral. He is with us at the dawning of the day as He will be in the setting of the sun. And He is with us in our illnesses as He is in our health. God is always with us and always for us. And it is a blessing, a sweet assurance to walk in His love and in His grace. Well, just some of the things that we see in our earthly pilgrimage.
Now, we’re going to pray and then in a minute, we’re going to stand and sing us a song of invitation. First we pray.
Our Lord, as we read God’s Book and as we see God’s presence in our daily lives, with how many thanksgivings do we raise our voices in loving gratitude and thanksgiving and praise for our wonderful Lord. John did no know miracle, but that didn’t mean God wasn’t with him. These great preachers of the faith didn’t know phenomenal, unusual things. They never raised the dead, they never spoke in unknown tongues, but that didn’t mean God was not with them. And our Lord, rather than seeking after the unusual and the amazing, help us Lord to find a wonderful fulfillment and quietness and abounding love and grace in doing those humble, sweet things that minister to our Lord. And dear God, when the time comes for us to face an exigency in life, if God intervenes and spares and blesses, we’ll just praise Thy name for it. But if God says it is best that we go through the deep waters, and cross over Jordan, then Lord that’s good enough for the apostles, good enough for the prophets, good enough for the saints in the church, and it’s good enough for me. God bless and sustain and be present in Thy love and grace and in Thy dear name, amen.
Now sweet people I want us to sing us a song, and while we sing the song, I’ll be standing right there. Somebody tonight to give himself to the Lord, you come, and welcome. A family to put your life with us in the church; or one somebody you answering the call of the dear Lord in your heart, as God shall make appeal, make the decision now, right where you’re seated. Then when we stand to sing, on the first note of the first stanza, come. And angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
EXCEPT YE SEE SIGNS AND WONDERS
Jesus testing him. Like so many, seeking the miraculous
This father, "No, no. My son!"
The modern charismatic movement
Speaking in unknown
cf. Linguistic centers – tapes – never one . . .
Emphasis upon divine
cf. Prayer cloth
cf. "I saw 3 raised from the dead in one
What of those not
raised from the dead? Satan wins that
of those not healed? " " "
Aimee Semple McPherson,
Angelos Temple, L.A.,
(If healing a sign of the presence, power of
God, then Satan has a
commanding lead: majority prayed for do not
Paul not able to heal Trophimus
II Tim. 4:20
[miraculous healing a confirmation when
life of our Lord
in life of apostles
subtle but powerful pressure builds up to see miraculous healings where there
has been none.
A man, said miraculously
healed. But half paralyzed, language
not God do a better job?
II. An unbiblical Dualism created
dichotomy is set up in which God is at work in the extraordinary and the
supernatural, but not in the ordinary and in the natural (in the everyday).
Natural or supernatural
All healing is of God.
doctor diagnoses. But God only heals
The surgeon operates.
The pharmacist fills prescriptions.
God is present in natural healings as well as in
The miracle of the
healing of a wound.
scar builds up – then stops. cf. cut finger
The miracle of
feet of Cain, Abel
The miracle of the
ministries of medical schools, drugs . . .
Prayer and means
Good Samaritan – Lk. 10:34 "oil
James 5:14 Prayers, oil
We live in a world of miracles
a seed germinating
a baby born
life and living: digesting food
second-rate kingdom citizens of those who . . .
not receive the so-called "baptism of the Spirit"
do not speak in unknown tongues
do not possess the miraculous gifts
Those who posses these astonishing gifts minister/work in
the power of God.
Implicit in their judgment – all others work/minister in
their own strength.
But what of the great leaders of the church?
John 10:41 – "John did no miracle."
Nor any of the mighty leaders of the church –
Such as speaking in tongues
Miraculous healings . . . .
Discussion on tongues.
"Name one?" "John Wesley"
Authority: Dr. Albert Outler, S.M.U.- "Never"
An undue striving
after the phenomenal, miraculous gifts of the Spirit forces into the background
the fruits of the Spirit.
with signs, wonders, demonic oppression, miracles
But the shattering issues of life, death facing the
church take a back seat.
The call of God
Gal. 5: 16 "walk in the Spirit"
"be led of the Spirit"
"live in the Spirit"
5: 22 "The
fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, faith,
goodness, meekness, temperance." (9 in all)
Not signs, wonders, but a godly life.