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BELIEVING COMES BEFORE SEEING –
AND A TRIBUTE TO GEORGE BEVERLY SHEA (1909-2013)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, April 21, 2013

“I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).


I came upon this text in a strange way. I was under a deep emotional attack from the Devil last week. It was one of those times when you pray and the heavens seem to be made out of brass, God seems far away, and everything seems hopeless. I tried to pray and there was no answer. I tried to search for a sermon topic or text, and I couldn’t find one. If you are not a pastor, you will never know the fear and anxiety a preacher feels when the weekend approaches and he has no sermon from the Lord! It makes a preacher feel like King Saul when “the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams nor by Urim, nor by prophets” (I Samuel 28:6). I don’t know how to describe the feeling except to say, like Saul, the preacher is “sore afraid,” when that happens (I Samuel 28:20).

When I was about to give up, I decided to clean off a corner of the desk in my home office. There, under a stack of papers, was a book of Spurgeon’s sermons I had been looking for since last Christmas! I took the book and laid it in front of me. It fell open by itself. I looked at the page in front of me. I could have shouted “eureka” with Archimedes – when he suddenly discovered a way to determine the purity of gold! “Eureka” means, “I found it!” There was the text I needed!

“I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

Spurgeon said he would not take the whole verse for his text. He said he would focus only on the words, “Unless I had believed to see.” He said, “The prayer of my heart is, that some may be led to believe to see – and that those who have been trying to see in order to believe, may now come and trust Jesus, and believe and see the grace of God” (MTP, number 766, “Believing to See”).

The words “I had fainted” are in italics. Spurgeon said that they are really not necessary. He said if you leave out those words “I had fainted” you get the full force of what David meant. To bring out that force he quoted Adam Clarke, “‘Unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’ – What! what, alas! should have become of me!” (Treasury of David, Volume II, p. 19).

“I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

From this we learn several things.

I. First, we must believe to see salvation in Christ.

This is the opposite of what the lost world thinks. They may say, “Seeing is believing.” They mean that you have to see the proof of something before you can believe it. That may be true in the material world. But it is not true of the spiritual world. Regarding the things of God, you must first believe – and then you will see! Jesus made that clear when He said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The Scofield note says, “The necessity of the new birth grows out of the incapacity of the natural man to ‘see’...the kingdom of God...The natural man is absolutely blind to spiritual truth...The condition of the new birth is faith in Christ” (note on John 3:3). You don’t see the things of the kingdom first, and then believe them! No! You believe first, and then you see! “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” – or anything in it!

Christ is there in the spiritual world. You must believe in Him and be regenerated first. Only then will you “see” Him by faith! In the words of our text, “I believed to see.”

Spurgeon said that salvation depends on believing before one sees, or feels the joy of knowing Christ. Spurgeon said, “Throughout all the Bible this is the...light that comes out of the darkness to poor [lost] man. ‘He that believeth on him is not condemned.’ ‘He that believeth on him hath everlasting life.’...I may safely say that this is the gospel – that he that believeth is saved, and that the faith by which he lays hold of Christ, is to him proof positive that he is saved” (ibid., p. 458). I love what Dr. A. W. Tozer said about this,

      If a sinner goes to the altar and a worker with a marked New Testament argues him into the kingdom, the devil will meet him two blocks down the street and argue him out of it again. But if he has an inward illumination and he has that witness because the Spirit answers to the blood, you can’t argue with that man. He will be just as stubborn, regardless of the arguments you try to bring in. He will say, “But I know!” A man like that is not bigoted or arrogant; he is just sure....
      You can repeat the Book of Romans word for word and still be blind inwardly. You can quote the whole Book of Psalms and still be blind inwardly. You can know the doctrine of justification by faith and take a stand with Luther and the Reformation and be blind inwardly. For it is not the body of truth that enlightens; it is the Spirit of truth that enlightens (A. W. Tozer, D.D., Tozer Speaks, Wing Spread Publishers, 1994, volume I, pp. 325-326).

Tozer told about a Christian man who was taken to hear a lecture by an atheist. The atheist gave a powerful lecture against Christianity. The unbeliever who took him to the lecture said to the Christian, “Now what do you think?” The Christian said, “Oh, I heard this lecture 25 years too late. It was 25 years ago that God did for me what that fellow said can’t be done!” (ibid.).

That was the way I felt at the liberal Southern Baptist seminary. I often quoted Psalm 119:99, “I have more understanding than all my teachers.” That infuriated those liberals! But it was true. Years before I went to the seminary Christ did for me what the liberal professors said can’t be done! I “believed to see.” First I believed in Jesus. Then I could see the truth of the Bible! First I believed in Jesus and then, weeks after I was saved, I could feel His presence. That’s why I tell you this evening, Believe in Jesus now! Throw yourself on Him by faith! Cry out with the drowning Disciple, “Lord, save me!” and He will. He that believes in Jesus is saved. The Apostle told the lost jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). That is as true tonight as it was two thousand years ago! “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see...” (Psalm 27:13).

II. Second, we must believe without feelings.

Can we believe in Jesus without any feelings? Absolutely! In fact, you must believe without feelings! Let me tell you how the text came alive to me without any feeling at all. Years ago, back in the early 1960s, I read Psalm 27 over and over again. At the time I was also reading the journal of John Wesley. On page after page of Mr. Wesley’s journal I read about the waves of revival in the First Great Awakening (1730-1760). Then I read Psalm 27:13,

“I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

A wave of faith came over me, and I knew that I would “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” “I had believed to see” revival. So strong did the conviction come that I prayed for revival every single time I prayed. I prayed knowing revival would come. “I had believed to see” it. A couple of years ago Dr. Murphy Lum said, “Bob, do you remember how you used to pray for revival all the time? Every time we asked you to pray, you prayed for revival. Dr. Lin asked you to say grace before a banquet, and you prayed five minutes for revival! It wasn’t appropriate, but God answered you – and the great revival came down at the Chinese church.” Dr. Lum then surprised me. He said, “Bob, I think that revival came because you prayed for it with such faith.” It surprised me when he said that because I was only a boy in my twenties when I prayed like that in every prayer meeting. And then it came! The Heavens opened and God came down night after night. One man at the Chinese church said, “I have never seen anything like it!” Several thousand people poured into the church in the next few years. “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

I had never seen a revival! I had never felt revival power! “I believed to see” it. I believed first – and saw it afterwards! Believe to see! Believe to see! Believe to see! That is God’s order. Believe to see Jesus first, when all is dark! Believe to see Jesus when you have no feeling and no human reason to believe. Believe by naked, raw faith! Believe to see Him and you will. But you must believe in Him before you see Him or feel Him! If you don’t believe first – it isn’t faith! It was easy for everyone at the Chinese church to believe in revival after they saw it. But it took raw, naked faith to believe it before we saw it, as several of us did! You have to believe first! That is faith. “I had believed to see.” That is the order of faith. Believe first. See it afterwards.

Isn’t that the way it was with Noah?

“By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Hebrews 11:7).

He didn’t see the Flood and then build an ark! No! He built the ark and then saw the Flood! He believed first, and then saved his family in the ark! Believing comes before seeing! Isn’t that the way it was with Abraham?

“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:8-10).

Abraham didn’t see the city first and then believe! No! He believed first, and then saw the city!

“For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

Believing comes before seeing! Isn’t that the way it was with Moses? He didn’t see God first, and then forsake Egypt! No!

“By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27).

That’s what you must do! Forsake the Egypt of this world, and then trust Him who is invisible, as Moses did! Believing comes before seeing!

Mr. George Beverly Shea died last Tuesday at the age of 104. Mr. Shea sang right before Billy Graham preached for nearly 70 years. Over 210 million people heard him in person. About two billion people heard him one way or the other, on TV, on radio, recordings, and the Internet in over 185 countries. More people heard him sing than any other soloist in the 20th century. And yet there was nothing fancy about him.

At a Billy Graham crusade in Orange County years ago, I walked down on the baseball field after the invitation was over. In the distance I saw an elderly man in a grey suit walking slowly in my direction. He sat down on the grass. No one paid any attention to him, but I recognized who he was. I went over and sat down beside him on the grass, and talked with him for a few minutes. He was absolutely transparent, just a quiet, somewhat shy old man in a grey suit.

But when he stood before the microphone to sing, before Billy Graham’s sermons, you could have heard a pin drop in those vast stadiums. His voice was filled with the power of God, causing strong men to fold their hands and listen like children. No one spoke or made notes when Bev Shea sang in those stadiums. You could feel the Holy Spirit descend on those great crowds, quieting every heart. Many of you know that I sharply disagreed with Billy Graham on several things. But I never disagreed with Bev Shea. He was a good man, and a man that loved God. There was a simple quality to his faith that made his singing a blessing to tens of thousands of people around the world. And the songs he wrote were so simple and plain. A man who was not a Christian once told him he ought to write a song titled, “The Wonder of it All.” He went to his hotel room and wrote these words on a laundry bill. It became one of his most famous songs. I’ll try to sing it.

There's the wonder of sunset at evening,
   The wonder as sunrise I see;
But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul
   Is the wonder that God loves me.
O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
   Just to think that God loves me.
O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
   Just to think that God loves me.

There's the wonder of springtime and harvest,
   The sky, the stars, the sun;
But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul
   Is a wonder that's only begun.
O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
   Just to think that God loves you.
O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
   Just to think that God loves you.
(“The Wonder Of It All” by George Beverly Shea, 1909-2013).

Mr. Griffith, please sing Bev Shea’s signature song, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.”

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
   I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
   I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand
Than to be the king of a vast domain
   And be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
   This world affords today.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
   I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
   I’d rather be true to His holy name
Than to be the king of a vast domain
   And be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
   This world affords today.

He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
   He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs;
   I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead
Than to be the king of a vast domain
   And be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
   This world affords today.
(“I’d Rather Have Jesus,” words by Rhea F. Miller, 1922;
     music composed by George Beverly Shea, 1909-2013).

What was his secret? What made him “America’s beloved Gospel Singer”? It was his simple faith in Jesus. It was always unmistakable. This man was no showman. This man never dyed his hair. He put no makeup on his face. His suits were as plain and simple as his heart. The power he had was the power of faith, the power of God. Mr. Shea knew in his soul what I have preached tonight. He “believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” And this quiet, unassuming man is one of the first people I hope to see in Heaven some day.

Our deacon, Mr. Griffith, reminds me of him. It didn’t start out that way. We used to have a lot of singers. But one by one they fell away until one day, over 20 years ago, only Mr. Griffith was left. And that’s when he began to grow into the godly man he is today. He now has the same unassuming presence, and unmistakable faith that Bev Shea had. I need to hear Mr. Griffith before I preach because I trust him, and because God trusts him – and because everyone who hears him knows that he, like Bev Shea, really believes what he sings. My mother used to say, “Robert, Ben Griffith really believes it.” And she was right. There is nothing phony or theatrical about Mr. Griffith. He is a quiet, unassuming man – and one of the finest Christians I have ever known.

Do you want to be like Bev Shea and Ben Griffith? Do you want to have the quiet faith of those two men? You have to trust Jesus first, then you will see the Kingdom of God as they did. You say, “Dr. Hymers, I’m ready to trust Jesus.” Then leave your seat and walk to the back of this auditorium now. Dr. Cagan will take you to a quiet place of prayer. Go right now, as Mr. Griffith sings,

Just as I am, without one plea,
   But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
   O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, and waiting not
   To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
   O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
(“Just As I Am” by Charlotte Elliott, 1789-1871).

Mr. Lee, please lead us in prayer for those who responded. Amen.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO OF "BELIEVING COMES BEFORE SEEING –
AND A TRIBUTE TO GEORGE BEVERLY SHEA (1909-2013)"

(END OF SERMON)
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write to him at P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015. Or phone him at (818)352-0452.

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Psalm 27:1-14.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
A medley of songs made popular by George Beverly Shea, 1909-2013.


THE OUTLINE OF

BELIEVING COMES BEFORE SEEING –
AND A TRIBUTE TO GEORGE BEVERLY SHEA (1909-2013)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

(I Samuel 28:6, 20)

I.   First, we must believe to see salvation in Christ, John 3:3;
Psalm 119:99; Acts 16:31.

II.  Second, we must believe without feelings, Hebrews 11:7;
Hebrews 11:8-10, 27.