January 3rd, 1954 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-3-54 7:30 p.m.
In coming to the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Acts we come to the greatest crises in the life of the apostle Paul. Death is nothing. Martyrdom is nothing. Imprisonment is nothing. These things are on the outside. The great crises in a man’s life are always on the inside. They are of the soul. They are of the heart. They are of the spirit.
In the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, the apostle departs from Athens and comes to Corinth. In the second chapter of the 1 Corinthian letter, Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, he describes his entrance then among the people.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
For I determined – I have set my heart, I have made up my mind –
not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
[1 Corinthians 2:1-5]
I say when you come into the story of Paul’s life in Athens and in Corinth, you come to the greatest crises that he ever faced. Now let’s look at the story:
After these things Paul departed from Athens, came to Corinth;
And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and he came unto them.
And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.
Every Jewish boy by the law was taught a trade. He might be a Rabbi, he might be a capitalist, he might be anything – except to work with his hands as an actual vocation in life – but he was taught to work with his hands anyway. And Paul was taught to make tents.
And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.
And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.
And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.
And he departed thence, and entered into a certain man’s house, named Justus, one that worshiped God,
– a proselyte, he was a gentile proselyte –
whose house joined hard to the synagogue.
And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.
Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace:
For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: thou art immortal until your work is done.
– and that’s true of all of us. Why be afraid of anything? Go do the work. Get in that airplane, go off. Get in that car, drive away. Go down, don’t be afraid –
Your life is immortal until your work is done:
Fear not, I am with thee, no man shall set on thee to hurth thee,
For I have much people in this city.
And he continued there – after the admonition of the Lord – a year and six months, teaching the Word of God.
So he departed from Athens and he did it in the midst of the ridicule, and the scars, and the laughter of the Epicureans and the stoics philosophers. To them it was funny, it was ridiculous! It was unthinkable; it was a good show, that God should raise the dead.
Last Sunday evening, a young man came over there to my study, a brilliant young fellow. He said, "I cannot be a Christian. For one thing," and he started off, "the first thing; I don’t believe in immortality, I don’t believe in a life after death. I don’t believe in the resurrection from the dead. I see no need for it, nor do I personally desire it."
Well, a whole lot of people are like that, whole lot of people like that who have always lived. These were like that, when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some laughed, mocked. Others said, "We’ll hear thee again of this matter." Isn’t that the epitome of egotism? "We will hear thee again of this matter."
How do they know that? Paul is coming back? The day of grace still open; the opportunity still at hand? Paul never came back. So far as I know, they never had another opportunity. But they, "We’ll hear thee again of this matter," and so they left. And Paul departed from among them, and he walked the forty miles from Athens, across the Corinthian isthmus to the city of Corinth itself. He was alone in Athens and he is alone here, in the tremendous city of Corinth.
I suppose there is not a more famous city that has ever been on the earth than Corinth. It was a city of commerce and of culture, of art, of music, and of sin. The civilizations of the East and of the West met in Corinth. It was a famous city in ancient days. The plunder of the city of Corinth, when the Romans overran it, was so tremendous that ship load, after ship load, after ship load, after ship load was poured into the city of Rome and comprised one of the greatest triumphs, one of the longest, the most phenomenal that the earth had ever seen.
When you see these gorgeous Greek classical buildings the chances are it will be a Corinthian column that will adorn it. It was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia. Not Athens. Corinth was the capital. It was a teeming city with an altar to vice, sensuality, every unnamable, unspeakable thing you could describe, and had a tremendous commercial, financial life.
So upon a day, this wandering Jew, among thousands of other strangers, resorted thither. Nobody knew he was there. Nobody would have cared had he been pointed out. This Jew with a fanatical, Christian perversion in his head and with a funny idea that our sins are to be forgiven by a cross.
By the way, let me stop for a miracle. Would you pause to look at a bush that burned? A miracle of God: this wandering Jew coming into that vast city with a new gospel and a new message, who paid any attention to him? But ah, the immortality of the truth of the Son of God! Corinth is waste, the city itself is forgotten, and we have only one interest in it – in any modern social order – and that is the fact that this wandering Jew one time was there.
I flew over Corinth. The pilot was kind enough to take time to show us the country from the air: the isthmus that has been cut through the ancient city, the squalid little city that is built there now. I had one interest in it, like you’re interest in it. Not that fair temple of Venus that used to be on the Acro Corinthian, not there anymore, nor its tremendous reputation in ancient days for its commerce, and for finance, and merchandising, nor for anything else except for this thing. I was interested in it because this wandering Jew had made his way to the city of Corinth, and I wanted to see it. I wanted to see it. You’re that way today.
Corinth would have been one of the other, forgotten, unnamed, cities of the Orient, had it not been for the coming of this Jew, preaching the gospel of the Son of God. Oh, the immortality of the truth of the Lord! Refined gold will someday become dim; the beautiful garment someday, the canker worms shall eat. The painted face someday shall cease to conceal its ghastliness and its ghostliness. And the magnificent frame shall someday fall, a feast for death and a festival for the worms. The very sun itself shall cease into cinders and into ashes, but the truth of the Son of God shall live and abide forever! Heaven and earth pass away, but the Word preached by this Jew, this wandering Paul, shall live and abide forever.
He came to Corinth, nobody knew it, nobody paid any attention and nobody cared, but God was in him. This man, Paul, and he had to make a living, had to support himself. He found in the great colony of Jews there, for Claudius had added vastly to their number, by expelling the Jewish population out of Rome. So seeking to make a living, that he might support himself and have bread to eat he resorted to the people of his own race and common language. He found the colony of Jews, a large one. And among the Jews he found those that made tents and wrought in his own trade.
And among the tentmakers, he found Aquila, his friend. And when hand touched hand, it was as though they had known one other from eternity. They were friends to begin with. Isn’t that a strange saying? You say that’s by chance. Chance, chance, there’s not any chance in this universe, save the chance of the purposeful will of God. These two friends – God brought them together – and the moment they saw one another, their souls were knit; this man Paul and Aquila.
So they worked together and Paul won them to the Lord and he preached in the synagogue every Sabbath and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. And there was a persecution raised against him and they cast him out. Paul had a hard time. In the night the Lord spake to him in a vision.
That brings us to the crisis in his life. It was like this: he had a terrible time in Corinth. He had a terrible time everywhere. It never has been easy in power, in unction, to preach the gospel of Christ. But in this season in Paul’s life he was doubly, triply, quadrupley, infinitely discouraged.
I have never had the experience of people rising up in the middle of my sermon and laughing "ha ha", such inanity, I’ never had that experience. I have never had the experience of people rising right in the midst of an address and ridiculing and poking fun at the thing I was trying to say, and then turning around and storming out.
The nearest I ever had to it was the crazy thing they did in fun. They had me down there to the "Bone Head club" in the city of Dallas when I first came to this queenly metropolis. And you know how they always do after they carried on about an hour or so. I never fell into such hands in my life. I sat down there right in the middle of them. And to my left here was the most baldheaded Jewish man that I ever saw. He looked like an onion, great big head, absolutely bald, very, very Jewish. So as they were carrying on, why, a fellow came and put a red looking mop on his head; just the most awful looking thing you ever saw. Then after that, a fellow came stumbling in and went up there to the head table and said "I’ve been looking for this new preacher in a First Baptist church, Dr. Criswell. I want to meet Dr. Criswell".
And the chief said "Well, he’s right there, go over there and shake hands with him".
So he walked over there to that very Jewish man, with the red mop on his head, and shook his hand and said "How do you do Dr. Criswell? You look exactly like your picture".
They carried on like that about an hour; then of course, introduced me to speak. And when I stood up, I had no idea what they was going to do, when I stood up and opened my mouth to say one sentence, they all in one accord, arose, laughed, and walked right out the door, left me there by myself! As I say that was made in fun.
That didn’t happen in fun to Paul. They did it out of their heart, that was their soul. They laughed at him, and scoffed at him, and ridiculed the message that he preached. And Paul left Athens with a heavy heart and he came down to Corinth and things were hard in Corinth. As he preached the gospel, the Book says here that they opposed themselves – Greek of that thing is that "they arranged themselves in battle array" – they took that thing up with both hands, with cudgels, and they blasphemed! There in Athens they laughed at him. Did those intellectuals, those philosophers do they mean it as fun? They were ridiculous, but those Jews in Corinth, they arranged themselves in battle array and they blasphemed the name!
They did everything they could by harsh language and blasphemous words to do everything to subvert the gospel that Paul was preaching. He was having a hard time. He was having an awful time, and he was getting ready to quit.
Now you say that’s a crazy thing to say about Paul, but it’s true. The best men are men at best. And there’s not a strong man who ever lived but that knows the shaking and the trembling. There’s not a man here tonight – however brave, and courageous, and strong you are – but that somewhere in your life, you have met situations before which your soul quailed.
Paul was a man of like passion as we, and he was discouraged and he was afraid. They were threatening his life, blaspheming, doing everything they could to subvert the gospel of Jesus. And he was discouraged in his soul. To be laughed at in his message and to be blasphemed by his own people, he was discouraged, ready to quit, and preparing to leave. In the night time, the Lord appeared to Paul by a vision saying, "Don’t be afraid Paul. Don’t be afraid, but speak, speak Paul; hold not thy peace. Speak, Paul, speak! Preach. Preach!"
What shall he preach? That was a classical sermon in Athens. All the literature in the world – you go back there in Plato and in Aristotle, in Demosthenes, in Sophocles, in Euripides, in Herodotus, in Thucydides – you can read all that classical literature, you will never find a more magnificent address than the classical address that Paul made in the Aereopogas in Athens. It was a magnificent thing.
But he was discouraged. The Lord said "Paul, speak, preach, talk!"
"For I determined when I came among you not to know anything, but Jesus Christ and Him, crucified."
Paul had set his heart and made up his mind, "I’m going to stay. I’m going to return to the old gospel and the old message, Jesus Christ dying on the cross for the sins of the world."
"Preach, Paul. Speak!"
Not literature, not the classics, not the monolithic specifics, but the uncut, unchiseled, raw, untarnished gospel of the message of the Son of God. Whenever you polish it, whenever you trim it, whenever you philosophize about it, whenever you editorialize about it, it looses its dynamic and its power. Sampson is a fine fellow; Sampson is a strong man, but he is a little rude. He is a little uncouth, he is a little crude. Let us send him to Philistia; send him back to find culture. Let’s send him to the barbers, that he might have his hair cut off and let’s see.
So with a Christian message of the Lord Jesus, any time it is polished, and trimmed, and its edge is cut off and made accessible, and malleable, and appealable, and amenable to the mind of the world – like any other philosophy, it’ll soon have its day and cease to be.
"Paul, preach, preach, preach!"
What is the message of the Son of God? What is the gospel message of Christ? Two things: one, we’re all sinners, all of us, all of us, all of us. None of us that has escaped the touch, and the taint, and the virus, and the decay, and the death of sin. We’re all sinners, all of us. They are all sinners but me. You! They all are fallen of the glory of God but I – you! All of us have sinned, all of us. We’re lost alike; rich and poor, literate and illiterate, fine and not fine, good and bad. Badness – the ideas of it sometimes would affront God, Himself – badness, wickedness, iniquity; all of us are an abomination in the sight of God, all of us. That’s first. The second great avowal when you preach the gospel, the message is this: “Not by works of righteousness, which we have done, but according to His mercy does God save us” [Titus 3:5]. That’s the second one: No man, no man, no man, anywhere, anytime has ever been worthy to walk in the presence of the Lord. We see Him, we know Him, we shall be saved by casting ourselves upon His mercy. What a message that would do to Athens, no wonder they scoffed. We enlightened – praying? Educated, with our degrees, teaching in these universities – you tell us that? That’s the message, it humbles a man.
The only way to see God is on your knees, in contrition, in confession, in repentance, in acknowledgement of the shortcomings and weaknesses of our lives. That’s the message, "Speak, Paul, speak. Preach, Paul, preach!"
Second thing He said, "For I am with thee Paul, I am with thee. I am standing by your side. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. Paul, your eyes are on yourself, looking at yourself. Look to me. Look at me. Paul, your eyes are on these Corinthians, these Greeks who say the message is an idiocy, and a moronic foolishness. Paul, look to me. Look to me. Paul, your eyes are on these Jews, who curse, and blaspheme, and do all they can to destroy the name. Paul, look at me, look at me! Put your eyes upon me, for I am with thee. I am with thee."
You want to be discouraged? Go up and down the streets of Dallas Sunday night. You wonder if anybody goes to church. Does anybody go to church? Drive down the expressway, drive out in the avenue. Where are God’s people tonight? Does anybody go to church?
Look around you, Ah! The things that discouraged one’s heart, even in the Christian city of Dallas. Our eyes are not upon them; our eyes are not fastened on the world, or its people, look to God, look to God. "Keep your eyes upon Me, I am with thee, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid" Our strength, our encouragement is not to be found in the world, it’s to be found in God. Look to Him, look to Him, look to Him.
I read this week, one of those old martyrs, his name was Fisher – he was the ancient, old time, long ago, long ago the Bishop in a little place in England called Rochester – they took him out of the Tower of London to martyrdom, to hang him on a scaffold. When the preacher was led out of the tower of London into the courtyard there and saw the scaffold, he trembled. His heart grew faint within him; he had in his hand a little Greek testament. He picked out, he lifted up, his little Greek testament in his hands to God and said, "O God, is there not some word You would give me in this awful hour?"
He opened the Book and there in the seventeenth chapter of John did he read this word, "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hath sent."
"Look to Me, look to Me, look to Me. Don’t be afraid for I am with thee." And then His last words, "For I have much people in this city."
God said to Paul, "Paul, I’ve gone down Ervay Street this way, I’ve gone down Ervay Street that way, and I have a family there, and I have a youth there, and I have some people there. Paul, I have gone out Ross this way, and down Greenville that way. I’ve taken a census of the city and I have some people there, and there, and yonder. Paul I’ve gone out Live Oak this way, and I’ve gone out Gaston Avenue that way, and I’ve gone out James Boulevard that way. Paul, I’ve taken a census of the city and I have people here, and there, and yonder. Paul, I have much people in this city. Speak, speak, speak. Preach, Paul! Preach! I have much people in this city."
Paul stayed a year and six months and preached the gospel of the Son of God. What happened? The gospel reached – in power, in saving power – the gospel reached into the high commercial lives of the city, and Erastus, the city treasurer, became a Christian.
The gospel reached into the Synagogue of the Jews and Crispus, the ruler of the Synagogue, became a Christian and was baptized – he and all his house. The gospel reached into the families of Corinth; and Fortunatus, and Achaicus, and Stephanas, and their families all became Christians. And there grew up in the ancient city of Corinth, one of the great Christian churches of the ancient world. "Speak Paul, speak, I have much people in the city."
Dear friend, that is my comfort and my recompense in promise as I preach in this sacred place. If I am true to the Book, and if I try my best to mediate the truth of the gospel of the Son of God, the Lord will give me a reward. Somebody will come down that aisle, somebody will be saved, somebody will find Christ as a Savior. If three hundred thousand people pass us by, the three hundred thousand and one will pause, and listen, and turn, and will come down that aisle and stand by my side. That is the promise of God, the elective promise of God.
Two sides to election, "I have much people in this city,I have," two sides to that. We always look and decide, "Maybe these aren’t the elected," I don’t know, that’s for Him. I just know that some are, and the promise is that some will respond. There will be somebody saved. There will be somebody come down this isle. There will be somebody who will put his life by the side of our lives in this ministry in fellowship and in the patience of Jesus.
"Paul, preach, preach, preach. Preach, Paul, speak! For I am with thee and I have much people in this city."
Well, the old apostle needed it. And he rose to God’s great call and power. The Lord blessed the work under his hands. Like He blesses this work, like He will bless any work that’s done in the Spirit and the power of the Lord.
Could we pray? Holy, holy savior, Lord, day after Lord’s Day, standing in this sacred place thy servant tries to mediate the Book, its truths, its heavenly message; it’s glorious, saving promise. Sometimes, feebly, sometimes stammeringly, sometimes maybe mistakenly, but always Lord, prayerfully, the best we know how, trying to preach the message of the Son of God.
Now Lord, we have claimed that promise that God will stand with us and that we shall have a reward if we faithfully preach, somebody will believe, somebody will turn, somebody will come. Now Lord, in almost ten years, every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, God honored His word. So honor once again tonight. Give us a reward, somebody to come. Thank thee Lord for this morning and the harvest and the last Lord’s Day with its harvest, tonight with its harvest and every church with its appeal in the name of Christ, Amen.
And now while we sing the song, somebody you give his heart to Jesus. Somebody you give his life to Jesus. Somebody you come into the fellowship of this church. However God shall say the word, open the door, make the appeal, you come, you come. Come stand by the pastor, "Pastor, here I am and here I come. Tonight, I give my life and my heart to the Lord Jesus." Or, "Tonight I place my life in the fellowship, in the blessed communion of this wonderful church."
In the balcony, from side to side, anywhere; somebody you, or a family you, as God says the appeal, as the Spirit shall press it to your heart, tonight would you come? "I will make it now, I’ll do it now. Here I come pastor, here we are."
Will you, will you? While we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Paul comes to Corinth(1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
A. Tremendous city of commerce, culture, art – East meets West
1. Worshiped at the altars of vice, debauchery and degradation
B. Nobody aware of his presence, this poor, wandering Jew with Christian fanaticism in his heart
1. Yet Corinth is mostly remembered because Paul was there
C. Found his way into the large Jewish community
D. Sought out fellow tradesmen – tentmakers
1. Met Priscilla and Aquilla
II. The crisis in his life
A. The work terrible difficult, especially in Corinth(Acts 18:6)
B. The vision in the night (Acts 18:9-10)
1. "Speak, Paul, speak!"
a. Preach the plain gospel(1 Corinthians 2:2)
i.We are all sinners(Romans 3:23)
ii. We are saved by His mercy(Titus 3:5)
2. "For I am with you"
a. Look to God, not yourself
b. Bishop of Rochester at the scaffold
3. "For I have much people in this city"
a. God had taken a census
C. As Paul was faithful, the gospel entered the highest councils of the city
D. God will always give some