My Manner of Life from My Youth


My Manner of Life from My Youth

May 2nd, 1954

My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 26:1-2

5-2-54    10:50 a.m.


In our preaching through the Word, we have come to the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts.  The twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts has in it the most eloquent defense that a man ever made for his life, for his ministry, for his God, for his Christ, for his faith.  Several times now, in the morning, in the evening, we will be speaking from the defense of the apostle Paul before King Agrippa.  Today, we are going to speak of his life as a boy, as a baby, as a child, as he grew up in a godly home.  Several times Paul will refer to it, you watch it as I read the first part of this defense:

Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself.  Then Paul stretched forth the hand—

he had a mannerism—

Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:

I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews:


Agrippa was a Jew himself—

Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews:  wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.

My manner of life from my youth—

which is my text—

My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;

Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers:

Unto which promise our twelve tribes—

You hear them referred to as ten being “lost.”  Oh no!  They’re scattered all over the earth—

Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come.  For which hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.

Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?

[Acts 26:1-8]

Then he goes on.

Now the message this morning:  My Manner of Life from My Youth, from babyhood, from childhood, from boyhood.  The little country of Palestine is about the size of one of our big Texas counties.  You would think that long ago its ancient people would have been absorbed and swallowed up by the families and the nations of the earth.  Instead, the Jew stands out today as he did yesterday and as he has done in the millenniums and the centuries past.  The great Gulf Stream in the vast Atlantic is easily discernible.  It has a different color, it has a different wash, it’s an altogether different part of the ocean; it stands separate and apart.  So with the race of the Jew:  he stands separate and apart from all the other nations and families and tribes of the earth [Deuteronomy 7:6].  What is become of the Hittites, a vast empire in the ages gone?  Nobody ever saw a Hittite.  What has become of the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Jebusite, the Moabite, the Ammonite?  What has become of ancient Philistia?  What has become of the Chaldean?  What has become of the Ninevite?  All of the other great empire builders of the ages past, long ago, long ago, they vanished from the face of the earth.  And yet, with the passing of centuries and millenniums, the Jew still stands separate and apart in any nation, in any city, in any place; he stands unabsorbed, alone.

Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, until all of these things be fulfilled,” Matthew 24:34.  The Lord had just described the ultimate end of the age, the coming of Christ, the denouement of all time and history, the final consummation of all things [Matthew 24:2-33].  And our Lord said, “This genus, this kind, this race, the Jew will be here until the great final rendezvous with God” [Matthew 24:34-35].  His race will never die, it will always live.  That to me is one of the miraculous phenomena of all history and of all time.  The Jew, the Jew, why is he still here?  And why is he still separate and apart?  Why is he unabsorbed among all the families and nations of the world?  There are two reasons: first is God; I’ll not speak of that.  There’s a reason for the Jew; it lies in God, the promises made unto Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob [Romans 11:28], and the promises of God never fall to the ground [Numbers 23:19].  One reason is God.

The second reason why the Jew still lives, stands separate and apart, the second reason lies in his children, in his home, in his children.  Moses was brought up to be the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, to be the heir to the throne, to be the ruler of Egypt; but he turned aside from his kingdom, and he renounced his sonship to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he chose to suffer affliction with the people of God [Hebrews 11:24-25].  Why?  The answer lies way back there when he was a baby; he nursed at the breast of a Hebrew mother [Exodus 2:2-10], and as the little boy grew up in her arms she taught that lad the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  And when the boy grew up and became a man and was heir to the throne, he looked out over the affliction of his people, and he remembered the things taught him by his mother; and he could never forget!  When the choice was made, he cast his life and his lot and his destiny with the slaves who belonged to God; mother, mother, mother [Exodus 2:11-15; Hebrews 11:24-25].

And in the sacred Scriptures, the Hebrew child was brought up to remember the God of their fathers.  In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Exodus, “And it shall come to pass in after years, when your children shall ask you, What mean ye by the sacrifice of the Passover?  That thou shalt say unto thy children, We were slaves, and we were bondsmen, and the Lord, and the Lord” [Exodus 12:26-27].  In the fourth chapter of the Book of Joshua, “And when the great, great family of Israel walked over on dry ground, through the flooding Jordan, each tribe took up a stone and placed it at Gilgal in a great heap” [Joshua 4:19-20].  And then the Book says, “And it shall come to pass in days to come when thy children shall ask thee, What mean ye by these stones? that thou shalt say, The Lord, the Lord” [Joshua 4:21-24].  The greatest passage in the Old Testament to the Jewish people is in the sixth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord thy God is one God:  And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart. . .and with all thy mind, and with all thy might.  And these statutes and these judgments shall be in thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, unto thy children.

[Deuteronomy 6:4-7]

The little boy Samuel grew up, his mother taught the boy the name of God.  David, out in the fields, caring for his father’s flock, knew the Lord as a boy, as a boy [Psalm 71:5-6, 17].  Little John the Baptist was placed in the heart and in the hand in the home of a devout couple, aged, priest; but they taught the lad that from birth he was set aside to be a servant of God.  No razor was ever to cut his hair; he was to be God’s servant like Elijah the Tishbite [Matthew 11:14].  The Lord Jesus was brought up in a godly Christian home, and from the beginning He was familiar with the word in the Scriptures of the Old Testament prophet [Luke 2:46-47].  Paul says to Timothy, Timothy in the third chapter, “From youth thou hast known the Holy Scriptures” [2 Timothy 3:15].  The rich young ruler said to the Lord Jesus when the Lord said, “Keep the commandments and thou shalt live” [Matthew 19:17], the young man replied, “Master, all of these have I kept from my youth up, my youth up” [Matthew 19:20].  They were taught, they were trained in the home to know God and to serve the only God.

So it is with this man Paul.  As he stands here making his defense before Agrippa [Acts 26:1-2], he speaks first of the life of the home in which he grew up.  “These things, the manners and customs of the Jews, known to you as an expert, King Agrippa [Acts 26:3], all of these things all of the people know because I was taught them, and I grew up in them from the days of my youth” [Acts 26:4].  I want us to look at Paul’s home for just a moment, the rearing of a child in a godly home, the ancient Jewish home.  He could not remember the time when prayers were not said and hymns were not sung.  On the eighth day, the little fellow was taken and dedicated to God in an unusual and a peculiar rite [Genesis 17:12-13].  Therein he became a member of the chosen family of God; then as he grew up, those special days and services made an indelible impression upon the mind of the little fellow.

In the middle of the winter, there was the Feast of Dedication [John 10:22].  On the first day, one candle was lighted.  On the second day, two candles; the third, three candles, and so on until seven candles were lighted.  And it was in memory of the lion-hearted Judas Maccabeus, who gave back to the nation and to the people their temple, who rededicated it, who cleansed it again, and the services of sacrifice and temple worship were started once more.  Then in the early spring, there was the happy Feast of Purim [Esther 9:28-32], in memory of the glorious deliverance under Esther, the queen [Esther 9:20-32].  Then a little later, there was the Feast of the Passover [Exodus 12:1-28; Numbers 28:16; Deuteronomy 16:1-18], father and mother doubtless went to Jerusalem to observe it.  But the Feast of Unleavened Bread, seven days no leaven in the house at all, all of it carefully purged out [Exodus 12:15-20, 13:3-10; Numbers 28:17-25; Deuteronomy 16:3-8].  Then following, the Feast of Weeks [Leviticus 23:15-22; Numbers 28:26-31; Deuteronomy 16:9-12]—seven times seven, the fiftieth day thereafter, the first fruits of the harvest [Leviticus 23:9-14].  Then in the early fall, there was the Feast of the New Year [Leviticus 23:24] and the great accounting before God [Leviticus 23:26-32].  Then, just a little later, the fast—the fast of the Day of Atonement, when they poured out their souls in confession of sin [Leviticus 16:1-34]; and then a little later than that, the Feast of Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:12-38; Deuteronomy 16:13-17], when the little fellow would see the family go outside and make a little leafy booth and dwell in it for a week.  And it was in memory he was taught of the days when they wandered without a home in the wilderness and when God gave the law on top of Mt. Sinai into the blessed hands of Moses [Exodus 20:1-17].  The little fellow grew up in that.  He could not remember the days, he could not remember the time when he did not know the name of God, day by day brought up, brought up, in the love and nurture of the Lord.

Now this boy, Saul of Tarsus, he was brought up in that home.  And when he was five years old, he was sent to a Jewish school.  All Jewish children were sent to a school; it was unlawful to have a Jewish community without a school.  And from five until ten, the little boy was taught the Bible, nothing but the Bible, nothing but the Holy Scriptures; from five until ten years of age.  From ten years until fifteen years of age, he was taught the Mishnah that is the oral law, the tradition of the elders.  And then from fifteen on up, however so the boy might be interested, he became a part of the higher academies of the rabbis, where he learned the Gemara, which was the Mishnah that comes a part of the Talmud:  all of his life taught the Word of God and the religion of the Hebrews.

Now this boy, Saul of Tarsus, again he says, “From my youth, which at the first was among my nation here in Jerusalem” [Acts 26:4], he came from the capital city of Cilicia, Tarsus by name [Acts 21:39].  So when he was about ten years of age apparently, he was sent to Jerusalem that he might be taught there by the great rabbi.  In the days of the apostles, rabbinism had come almost to supplant the authority of the priest and the Levite.  Those great doctors of the law, teachers of the law, the lawyers, as they began to teach the people and to work with the people, in their eminence, and in their learning, and in their fellowship, and in their influence among the people, they gradually supplanted all of the other forms of Jewish worship.  And in 70 AD, when Jerusalem was destroyed, the Levitical system, the sacrificial system, the priestly system forever perished from the earth; but rabbinism flourished.  The teachings of the rabbi continue to exist, and the great frame of the Jewish nation continued on as it is unto this day.

Now in the days of the apostle Paul, there were two great schools of the rabbi: Hillel and Shammai.  Those two schools of the rabbis were set in opposition to the Sadducee.  The Sadducees were the liberals and the modernists; the Sadducees were the materialists.  All they believed in was this world and this life; and they were slaves of Rome, and sold out the nation to Rome, and did all they could to make money and to get rich off of the sacrifices and the traffic of the temple; that was Sadduceeism.  Phariseeism was the heart and the spirit of the Jewish nation that gave itself to the study of God’s Book, that gave itself to the study of the Law.  And it was a tragedy—in passing could I say—that he became proud in it.  Instead of being humble about it, that they had the oracles of God, they became proud about it.  Anyway, they had them.  And they diligently studied them.  And as I say, there were two great rabbinical schools; one Hillel, one Shammai.  The difference was this:  the school of Hillel believed that the oral tradition—the Gemara, the Mishnah—they believed that the oral tradition was the same as the Holy Scriptures, the revealed Word of God in Moses.  The school of Shammai said, “No, wherever oral tradition conflicts with the written word of the Scriptures, it has no validation, it has no authority in our life.”  Now of those two schools, the school of Hillel was far more influential and greater, and it was the school that has lived down to this present day.

Now in the school of Hillel, there were three great rabbis.  First Hillel, second Simeon—who could have been the one who blessed Jesus—and the third Gamaliel.  Of the three, Gamaliel was far and away the most illustrious and the most eminent.  Gamaliel received the title of Rabban, which only seven rabbis in all history have ever received, has ever received, have ever received.  And Gamaliel was a teacher of the apostle Paul.  Paul is proud to say that when he came to Jerusalem he sat at the feet of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3].  And the lad was brought up knowing the Scriptures and knowing the Law.  And he was a mighty man in the Word.  He knew God’s Book from the first syllable to the last.  And he preached it, and he knew it, and he exegeted it, and he made it known, and he interpreted it like no other man that ever lived.  And all that goes back to those days when he was taught the Scriptures, those days when he sat at the feet of Gamaliel, and those days when he pored over the Holy Word of God.  That’s a little brief summary of why it is that the Jew is alive, and his race is separate and distinct, that he stands today apart, and that he’ll always be here [Matthew 24:34-35].  It is found in the life and in the teaching of those children as they are brought up on the Word of God.

Therefore it is not unusual, nor are we surprised, to find that the apostle Paul says in the sixth chapter of Ephesians and the fourth verse that we who are Christians are to bring up our children in the love and in the nurture of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4].  I think we do a sorry job of teaching our children when I compare what we do to what the great ancient tribes did when they brought up their children in the faith of the Hebrew religion.  I think we ought to have a school.  I’d like to have a school.  I’d like to have a school where our children, who so choose, could come and study and learn, just like those children learned back there.  I’d like to have a school like the rabbinical schools all over this world.  If the child goes to public school, he also goes to the rabbinical school, and there is taught the God and the religion of his fathers.  Until something like that could be worked out, Mr. Souther, there is an incumbent responsibility upon our Sunday school, and upon our Training Union, and upon our missionary organization.  They work beyond what any of us dare to realize.  The propagation of this faith, and this virility and the dynamic and the power of our religion lies in this:  in the bringing up of those children in the love and in the nurture of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4].

One of our young women stood before a great convention; she had just been appointed to be a foreign missionary, and she was going out to be a missionary, an ambassador for the Lord Jesus.  This was her presentation to our great convention.  She stood there and said, “I have been appointed a missionary, and I’m soon to leave the shores of America for my appointed land.  But,” she said, “I’m not going to be a missionary, it is not I that is going.  It is my mother who is going.”  And then she told about how her mother had taught her the Word of God.  Then she said, “I’m not going, my father is going.”  And then she said how her father had contributed to the nobility of her life and to the bringing up, in the days of her childhood, as she learned the great elemental truths of the Christian faith.  Then she said, “I’m not going to be a missionary.  It isn’t I that is going, it is my pastor that is going.”  And she spoke of the days when she’d stand and listen to her noble pastor as he preached the unsearchable riches of Christ. Then she said, “I’m not going as a missionary.  It is not I that is going; it’s my Sunday school teacher that is going.”  And then she described how the Sunday school teacher had poured into her heart and life the great truths of the Word of God.  Missionaries, they come from these homes and from these Sunday school classes.  Deacons and preachers, God makes deacons and preachers out of our babies and out of our children.  And the future of this church now, and in the world to come, all of it, the whole bride of Christ, the whole message of the Lord Jesus, is made up in the teaching and in the training of these little children.

Dr. Samuel Palmer Brooks, my president when I attended Baylor University, one time in a chapel address, was talking about heredity and environment, heredity and education.  And Dr. Samuel Palmer Brooks, our great president, said, “I’m not saying that education is everything; but I do say this,” he added, “that you can take a child and make him a goose-stepping German soldier, or you can make him a cannibal, or you can make him a communist, or you can make him a Democrat or a Republican, or you can make him a Catholic or a Baptist, according to the way that you teach him.  You can make him to speak English, or you can make him to speak Japanese according to the way that you teach him.”  Environment education is not everything; heredity is much, I know.  But however the life is turned and to what great faith it is committed lies in the teaching that the child is taught in the formative days, in the plastic malleable days of his life.

And that is the tremendous obligation of father and mother, of Sunday school teacher, of church, of leader, and of pastor.  God has placed in our hands the highest privilege, the most incomparable opportunity in the world.  When these little children come down here, and these babies are placed in that nursery, and their names are entered on that cradle roll, that is the kingdom of God.  What did He say, “For of such,” it’s the stuff that the kingdom of God is made of; “For of such is the kingdom of God” [Luke 18:16], and of such is the church of tomorrow, and of such are those who shall guide the destiny of our people, of our church, of our faith, of our world.  Oh, what a responsibility!

Now, as we sing this song, as we sing this song, there are parents this morning…when your little child comes, you come with that little fellow, both of you come, both of you come, dad and mother, both of you come.  Both of you come.  There are families this morning to come.  All of you come.  One of you may already be in the church; that’s all right, all of you come, all of you come.  There may be a youth this morning, give his heart to the Lord or to join the church.  One somebody you, anywhere, anywhere, take the Lord as your Savior [Romans 10:9-13].  “Preacher, I’ve already made up my mind; I’ve decided for God and for Christ” [Ephesians 2:8].  You come, you come.  By baptism [Matthew 28:19], by letter, by statement, by promise of letter, by confession of faith, however God shall say the word and lead the way and open the door; this most important of all decisions that we ever make, while we sing this appeal, you come.  From that topmost balcony, from the last seat, anywhere, while we make this appeal, you come.  “Here I am, pastor, and here’s my hand.”  All right, while we stand and while we sing, you come.