WE SHALL UNDERSTAND BY AND BY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-26-88 10:50 a.m.
Once again, welcome to the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now a part of the worshiping congregation of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor, bringing a message, a textual sermon from John 13:7, entitled We Shall Understand It By and By. In preaching through the Gospel of John, we are in chapter 13. And it begins like this:
Before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come . . .
Supper being ended . . .
He laid aside His garments; took a towel, girded Himself . . .
Poured water into a basin, began to wash the disciples’ feet, then to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded.
When He came to Simon Peter, Simon saith to Him, Lord, do You wash my feet?
Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
The Lord, that evening, that evening, is to be tried, arrested, and the next day, the next day, crucified. His mind, of course, and heart are on that atoning death for us, for us. And so oppositely, the disciples are quarreling about who will be chiefest and greatest in the kingdom of God [Luke 22:24], and who will be seated on the right and the left hand of the throne of glory [Matthew 20:20-24; Mark 10:35-37]. And it was then that the Lord disrobed, and began to wash the disciples’ feet [John 13:5]. And coming to Simon Peter, the chief of the apostles, Simon said, “Lord, not You wash my feet?” [John 13:6]. And then, the text: “What I do now, you do not understand—You do not know. But, you will understand some of these days, by and by, hereafter” [John 13:7].
There are three things that arise out of this word of our Lord. Number one: we don’t understand the meaning of the providences of God that guide our lives in the present. We don’t know now [John 13:7]. Number two: Jesus loves us. “Loving His own,” in verse 1; “He loved them” [John 13:1]. Eyes tell us “to the uttermost,” to the end of the earth. And, we can trust Him for the meaning. And number three: “Thou shalt know hereafter” [John 13:7]. Someday, by and by, God will make it plain.
First: we don’t understand now. So much of the meaning of life and the providences that overwhelm us are hid from our eyes. We live our days in a world of mystery, inexplicable, impenetrable. The horizons that lie before us are banked in fog. There are as many questions that arise in our life as there are snowflakes falling in a winter storm. Each one of our lives is a separate island in a vast sea of mystery. We cry, and nothing is heard but the sound and the echo of our own voices. Our little boats are pushed out into a vast and illimitable sea. And we sail it fearfully.
We seek for meaning in the providences of our life. Where do we come from? To where do we go? And there is no answer.
Walking one morning
In a pleasant land
By a river flowing
Over golden sand.
Whence come ye waters
Or your golden sand.
We come flowing
From a silent land.
And wither go ye waters
Or your golden sand.
We go flowing
To a silent land.
And what and where
Is that distant land?
A shore in the great darkness
Of a silent land.
[“Day,” James Thomson]
There is no answer. And if the diameter of our knowledge is increased and broadened, it is still surrounded by a sea of darkness that hides from us the meaning of life. If life is a pilgrimage, at the turn of every corner, at the close of every day, there may be a providence that crushes us and overwhelms us. Is it a beautiful landscape or is it a burning volcano? Is it a little crib of new life or is it a cold and dreaded coffin?
If life is a voyage, our boat sails over it, not knowing our ultimate port and destination. And if life is a mystery play, the characters in it are so confusing. Some are thus indifferent; addicts, alcoholics, promiscuous wastrels. Or they are fatalists, saying that we are nothing in life but driftwood. Or they are agnostic, saying we can know nothing, or atheists saying there’s nothing to be known, or those who seek like the Buddhist, a Nirvana, where existence ceases to be: know nothing, feel nothing, seek nothing. Maybe like Job’s comforters, who sat silent in his presence for seven days [Job 2:13], and as silent, seem to be wise men, but when they open their mouths, they’re fools.
What is the meaning and the mystery of human life? We take our poor souls to the Lord Jesus. And we trust in Him; that He knows the future, that He presides over the course of our days and the ultimate consummation and end of our life.
In the fifth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, there is a scroll written on the inside and on the outside, within and without and “a great voice, saying, Who is worthy to take the scrolls, and to break the seals, and to look thereon? And no one in heaven, or in earth was found worthy to break the seals and to read the scroll” [Revelation 5:1-4]. And One was found: the Lamb of God, the Christ of the world, the hope of our salvation. He is worthy to take the scroll, to look thereon and to read thereof [Revelation 5:5-7].
Our life, each one is a scroll. And do I dare read it, if I could? If it were placed in my hands, would I scan its pages? Would I? Following the scroll of my life, here is a great tragedy, and here is an abounding, illimitable, crushing sorrow. And here is an illness. And here is the day of my death. And if I could read the scroll of my life, I would dread this page. And I would bow in grief and sorrow before this one. And what would I do when I come to the end of the days? Lord, it is best I don’t know. It is best I not read it. It is best that I leave it in Your worthy hands. “Worthy art Thou, O God, to take the scroll,” and to read it [Revelation 5:9]. And the choice shall be Yours. It is in Your hands, O Lord.
So, I go on, not knowing.
I would not know if I might.
I had rather walk with Christ, by faith
Than to walk by myself, by sight.
I had rather walk with Him in the dark
Than to walk alone in the light.
[“I Know Not What Awaits Me,” Mary G. Brainard]
It is in God’s hands. And we trust that what is best, God will give to us.
I one time heard of a little crippled boy who hollered to the conductor on a streetcar, “Wait up, Mr. Conductor. Wait up for me.” And when the little lad scrambled through the door into the streetcar, he sat down by a gentleman, and the gentleman looked at the little crippled boy, so very crippled, and said to him, “Son, how is it that you are so bright and so happy, so full of joy? How is that?” And the little lad humbly replied, “My father says to me, My daddy says to me, ‘God always gives us what is best. And don’t you think I ought to be happy with what is best?’”
O Lord, it is in Your hands. It is in Your choice, and what is best, Lord, thank You, for the kind remembrance and the sweet providence. After all we are acquainted with the attributes and the character of our Savior: “All power,” He says, “is given unto Me” [Matthew 28:18]. All things that were created were created by Him [John 1:3]. He is the Sovereign and Ruler and King of this universe [Ephesians 1:22]. All wisdom is His. Never man spake like that Man [John 7:46]. And He loves us [Ephesians 5:2]. He is our Friend.
In the days of the long ago, I presumed every child of God goes through a torment of doubt. It came to me in my books and in my studying and in my training and education. I started pastoring when I was seventeen years old, and on the weekend, on Sundays, I’d be preaching in my little country churches the best I knew how. And then, in the days of the week I’d read those books, and listen to those professors and just plunge into a civil war of doubt, in my heart. And in those days I wrote this poem:
I have been thrust in the valley and could not understand why
God has seemed so far away, distance drowned my cry.
My heart turned to a promise that Satan cannot deny,
Christ says, “I will be with thee,” and He cannot lie.
I have wandered in a wilderness desperately seeking the trail
The books of men and the men of books had bled my faith so pale.
My hand reached up toward a helper, to a Christ who could prevail.
My hand was clasped by Jesus, and He cannot fail.
O my soul, why does thou ever falter before the Lord?
Behold, He leadeth forever, those who trust in His Word.
Follow the call of the Spirit whenever the Spirit moves.
For the battle is with the Lord Jesus, and He cannot lose.
[“Commitment,” W.A. Criswell]
And that is a life commitment from the days of my youth, until these concluding days of age and ministry.
I have stood above the grave of my father and my mother, and looked down upon that mound. My mother was buried with a gold, old-fashioned, wide gold band, wedding ring, on her finger. She wore that wedding band for over half a century. And when she was buried, she was buried with that wedding ring on her finger. It was a life commitment unto death. And that is my commitment before the Lord God.
What I cannot understand, He understands. What I don’t know, He knows. Where I haven’t been, He has. He knows the future. He knows tomorrow. And someday, He will explain it to me, by and by. So our beautiful text: “Thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter” [John 13:7]. Some glorious and triumphant day, God will make it plain. We’ll understand every providence in human life.
It seems, it seems that now things are so out of the providences of God, out of the hands of the Lord. But in the wisdom of God and in the knowledge of God, and in the ableness of God, all things have their purpose, and reach toward a final triumphant and glorious consummation.
When one takes seed and plants it in the earth, it seems so foolish, so bad—take seed and plant it in the earth. I saw a picture, a terrible one. On television in a Third World country, the people were starving to death. And the largess of the American government had sent them wheat, great bundles of wheat, great sacks of wheat, in order to plant. And instead of taking those seeds and planting them for the crop the following year, the hungry, starving people broke into those boxcars and broke into those trucks and consumed and devoured the wheat that was supposed to be planted in the ground.
It seems to take seed, wheat, food from their hungry, starving mouths and plant it in the ground is so opposite of love and compassionate care. But if you understand, it’s what is best. So God does that for us throughout our lifetime. Even we someday, are planted in the ground, planted in the earth, buried in the very dust of this planet, in order that we may be raised to a new, resurrected life in Christ.
It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in power and glory…
it is sown in weakness; it is raised in the likeness of God. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
[1 Corinthians 15:42-44]
God has a reason, even in the planting of our bodies in the dust of the ground. And thus, through all of the providences of life, God has a reason. And He will explain it to us, by and by.
In some of the things that we read in God’s Holy Word, the providences have been so cruel. Like a Joseph, when his father Israel gave him his coat of many colors [Genesis 37:3], it incited the jealousy and hatred of his brothers [Genesis 37:4]. They put him in a pit to die of thirst and starvation [Genesis 37:24]. Then they sold him to the Ishmaelites [Genesis 37:27-28], who sold him to Potiphar [Genesis 39:1], into slavery, who put him in prison for years [Genesis 39:20]. But out of it, when Israel and his sons came for food and life to Egypt [Genesis 42-48], Joseph said, when he revealed himself to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” [Genesis 50:20]. We shall understand it, by and by.
I can well enter into how this apostle John could have felt when he watched, that night, our Lord arrested. And they smote Him with their fists and they tore out His beard [Isaiah 50:6]. And they crowned Him with thorns, and they beat Him with a terrible lash [Matthew 27:26-30]. And they nailed Him to a cross [Matthew 27:31-50].
Oh, oh, oh.
Were you there?
Were you there
When they crucified my Lord?
O God. Sometimes it makes me
. . . to tremble.
[from “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” J.W. Johnson]
But out of it came our redemption, our remission of sins, our salvation [Ephesians 1:7]—understanding it by and by. And thus it is with us in our lives. God will make it plain, one glorious and triumphant day.
Tempted and tried, I’m oft made to wonder
Why it should be thus all the day long,
While there are others. . .
Never molested, though living in the wrong.
Farther along we’ll know all about it.
Farther along we’ll understand why.
So take heart, my brother, live in the sunshine.
We’ll understand it all by and by.
[from “Farther Along,” W.B. Stevens]
Precious Lord, take my hand.
Lead me on, help me stand.
I am weak, I am tired, I am worn.
Thru the storm, thru the night,
Lead me on to the light.
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.
[from “Take My Hand Precious Lord, Thomas A. Dorsey]
You don’t know now, but you’ll understand, by and by. Someday, God will make it plain [John 13:7]. May we pray?
Our Lord, we give ourselves in that faith and trust in You; that God knows best, that there is a reason for every tear we cry, for every heartache we feel, for every disappointment and hurt we have ever known. God purposes some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40]. So, Lord, give us the heart of faith and of trust. Whatever the providence of life, may we accept it. It is in God’s will and the Lord will make it plain, some beautiful and triumphant day. And our Lord, in this congregation tonight, in this congregation today, please God, may there be those who are so encouraged in the faith, that they come and seek the face of God with us in Thy precious name, amen.
Here in this great congregation, we are going to stand in a moment and sing a song of appeal. But the appeal is not just for us here in the house of the Lord, it is for you who watch this service on your televised screen. What more glorious thing could you do than to give your heart right now to the Lord Jesus and trust Him for the morrow, for your children, for your own life, for all dear to you, and for the coming of a more glorious and better day in Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. Give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-13]. Follow Him; the most precious thing you could ever do in your life. And someday I will meet you in heaven and we will rejoice together in the goodness and grace of our precious Lord, given to us, bestowed upon us freely in His own loving grace [Ephesians 1:6]. Do it now.
And here in this sanctuary, while we sing our song of appeal; down the steps from the balcony or down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me. This is my little family. We are all coming.” Or just you, answering God’s call in your heart, make it now. And a thousand times welcome and angels attend you in the way while you come, as we stand and as we sing.