Out of Tribulation-Hope
August 1st, 1954
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-1-54 10:50 a.m.
You’re listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message which is the evening message. I just refuse to get in a rut. Every time they print this program, they say, “At the morning hour, he’s going to preach such and such; and at the evening hour, he’s going to preach such and such.” And you would think by that, that I prepare a sermon for the morning hour, then another kind of a sermon for the evening hour. Well, I don’t do it. I prepare as earnestly and faithfully for the evening hour as I do at the morning hour. So, today, I’m going to preach the sermon for the evening hour right now; and this morning’s sermon, I’m going to preach tonight, and the invitation will be either one you want to sing.
This was the morning text: “Therefore being justified by faith” [Romans 5:1]. In our preaching through the Bible, we are in the fifth chapter of Romans. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein ye stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” [Romans 5:1-2].
Now that’s the morning sermon. This is the evening sermon:
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
And patience, experience; and experience, hope.
And hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.
And the announced sermon for tonight was: “We Glory in Tribulation.” And if I could turn it a little bit, I’d like to entitle it Out of Tribulation, Out of Trials – Hope.
Romans 5:3, 4, and 5. I read the text again: “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope. And hope maketh not ashamed, because of God . . .”
In Phillips’ [J.B. Phillips] translation, in his unique and wonderful volume, Letters to Young Churches, he translates that passage like this: “Trials and troubles give us patient endurance. This in turn will develop a mature character. And a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us.” And Weymouth [Richard Francis Weymouth] translates that same passage in Romans like this: “We exult in our affliction, knowing that affliction produces endurance; and endurance, rightness of character; and rightness of character, hope; and this hope never disappoints” [From The New Testament in Modern Speech, by Richard Francis Weymouth, 1903].
And then I wrote out here a literal translation of that Greek passage. See, it’s not beautiful when you write it out literally like they do in these published translations. But taking those Greek words just literally, one after the other, this is it:
“We rejoice,” or “we glory,” or “we exult in tribulations” – you could translate it “hardship, suffering, trouble” – “knowing that trials and troubles produce constancy” – or fortitude or patient endurance – “and constancy produces veteran character.” That is a character of veteran as opposed to that of a raw recruit. “And veteran character produces hope that never disappoints.”
Isn’t that a strange thing: out of trials and tribulations, endurance; and out of endurance, maturity of experience and character; and out of maturity of experience and character, hope? Or leaving out the middle of it: “We exult, we glory, in trials and in troubles and in hardships and in tribulations for out of these come our great hope” [Romans 5:3-5].
Why that’s the opposite. That’s contradictory to everything that I’ve ever thought for and everything that this world has ever thought for. Isn’t this the way of the world: we have hope when things are favorable, when things are propitious, when things are getting better, when things are looking up? In these favorable circumstances, in these fortunate situations, we have hope.
There’s a rising in the thermometer of our emotional experience, and we’re happier, we’re gladder, we are lighter; the thing’s going to be brighter and better. Everything is propitious; and out of these favorable circumstances, our people have hope. Now, that’s the world.
This, in Paul, is a diametric opposite. It’s when things are unfavorable, when they are unpropitious, when things are dark – it’s in the days of our trials and our troubles, says Paul, that we have our great hope: just the opposite, just the opposite [Romans 5:3-5]. Isn’t that strange? Isn’t that different from anything you ever heard of in your life? And the secret of that difference is the heart and the essence and the nature of the Christian faith; and it is my proposal today what that heart and that essence and that nature is this morning.
I can remember the last thirty years. For the most part, I can remember its development most distinctly; and as I review it, there has been a tremendous, unbelievable change in the outlook of the peoples and the nations of the world and especially for us here in America. I was eight years old in 1918, and I remember the blowing of the whistles and the ringing of the bells. I remember the rejoicing from one side of our continent to the other. The armistice was signed, and we had won the War [World War I]. Not long after that, the Kellogg Peace Pact was signed implementing that victory. It was a war to end wars. It was a war to make the world safe for democracy. And we had won it! We had won it!
The world had a new day, and a new hour, and a new hope. The future was bright and glorious beyond compare. Not only had we won the war, and not only was the vista of the opportunities that lay ahead glorious indeed, but there was a flood of new inventions, a flood of new discoveries, a great world of wonderful new enterprise. The horizon of our frontiers were pushed back in chemistry, in physics, in mechanics, in geology, in astronomy. Below, beneath, in the sky, on the earth, underneath the water: everywhere there were new horizons, and a spirit of conquest and of bright optimism overwhelmed the whole world!
I can remember the great psychologist, CouÃ© [Ã‰mile CouÃ©], a Frenchman who came over here to America lecturing, and he had a little word that all of us were taught to say. Do you remember it? “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” And that little note was typical of the spirit and attitude of bright optimism that swept over the entire world. The future was to be better and better, and it was finer and brighter in prospect than anything the world had ever known heretofore.
That spirit of brilliant optimism entered into all of our school lives. The professors laughed at the idea that we might ever need God. That was an old medieval superstition that we had grown beyond. Like a snake sheds its skin, so humanity in its great growth had shed all of that theological baggage. Not only did you find that doctrine of inevitable progress – a corollary, an addendum to the accepted notion of evolution that we’re just going up and going on and going forward, and we’re “cared” with us: every rise is higher than any we’ve ever known before – not only was that spirit of optimism and inevitable progress found in the university professor and found in the chair of teaching and philosophy, but it was also found in the pulpit.
The whole color of the theology of the Roaring Twenties was typical in the typical, learned, scholarly preacher of the day. All of them classically preached outside of some of those fundamentalists. All of them preached of the inevitable progress of man and the human ingenuity and ableness to bring in the golden age. We were going to do it. That was the spirit of the Roaring Twenties as I remember it.
Hope? Everyone had hope. The price of land soared. Stocks went up. Everybody was speaking of the propitious hour and the golden state.
Then the Thirties [1930-1939] came. That’s when I began my ministry – the latter part of the Twenties and especially in the Thirties. It was a strange thing to me. I’s just a boy in my teens, and it was a strange thing to me. I hadn’t quite got on to the Stock Market and what it meant. I hadn’t quite got on to the business world and how it colored all our lives with its economic rise and fall.
I remember the first time I met a fellow selling syrup, and he was low and discouraged. Out there in that little country town where I’d preach, he’d come by in his car to sell the store syrup and the store didn’t buy any syrup. He was blue, and I happened to see him and walked over there and talkin’ to him. He said, “I don’t know what’s happened. I don’t know what’s happened.” But he says, “I’m not making any money, and I can’t sell my syrup.” Then I went inside the store, and he couldn’t sell his groceries. Went out there and visited among those cotton farmers, and they couldn’t sell their cotton – not even selling it for five cents a pound. And we entered what you know as the Great Depression.
Out of that Depression, there arose two sinister and terrible forces. Before, I’d just heard of them in language. Before, I’d just heard them referred to in economics. But these sinister forces that began to rise were militant and driving. One of them was called Communism and the other was its opposite – Fascism. And before those Thirties passed, on the east of us and on the west of us, we found our entire world embroiled in a world conflagration; and the Thirties ended.
Then, the Forties [1940-19]; and when the Forties came, America was plunged itself into that holocaust. And as we entered the War [World War II], the War ended for us in the beginning of the atomic age. When the prince and ruler of Japan was told by his lords – his ministers of state – that Hiroshima had been absolutely destroyed by a one atomic explosion and a few days thereafter Nagasaki followed in it its death wake, the prince and the king and the ruler of imperial Japan took upon himself to sue for peace.
And in the explosion of that atomic bomb, America won the war [World War II]. But it’s a strange thing. Ever since that day, there’s an undercurrent in all of our statecraft. There’s an undercurrent in all of our international relationships. There’s an undercurrent in all of the editorials, and in all of the commentations, and in all of the discussions. In all of current literature, there’s a reverberation: there’s an echo; there’s a sounding as though you listened to thunder in the distance, and it’s always there. Somehow, ever since we exploded that atomic bomb over Hiroshima, there has been a lingering fear, a dread, and an uneasiness in America.
Do you remember Cato the Elder? He ended every speech in the Roman Senate with his famous, famous appeal: “Delenda est Carthago” – “Carthage must be destroyed.” And at last, Carthage was destroyed. Scipio the Younger won the war and razed Carthage to the ground. Upon the day that he destroyed Carthage, Polybius, the great Roman historian, was by his side; and in the moment that Carthage was destroyed, Polybius records that Scipio grasped his hands and said, “A glorious moment, Polybius, but I have a foreboding that someday the same doom will be pronounced on my own country of Rome” [The Histories, Book XXXVIII, by Polybius (200-117 BCE)].
Five centuries later, Jerome, in a little monastery in Bethlehem, wrote this to his friend: “The Roman world is falling” [Jerome to Heliodorus, 396 CE].
The city which has taken the whole world captive is itself taken. Who could believe it? Who could believe that Rome, built up through the ages by the conquest of the world, has fallen – that the mother of nations has become their tomb?
Somehow, we of the western world, though we have not been party to it like England, like France, like Spain; somehow, that subject on the other side of the sea – that peasant, that coolie, that Oriental, those millions and millions that the western world has exploited for the centuries past in Africa, in China, in the Orient, in Indonesia – somehow those great masses of people that the western world has never looked upon except as instruments of exploitation, as means of aggrandizement – not interested in them, not interested in their souls, not interested in their salvation, not interested in their land or their people, only interested in exploiting them: dull people, peasant people, poor people, coolie people – people the Americans, the Britisher would hardly spit on – a colonist, a subject, a slave. And for the centuries has the western world exploited the poor, the helpless, the ignorant, the untaught, and the uncultivated. Once in a while, a missionary – once in a while. And I look on that stolid, dull peasant today, today and I redeem once again the immortal words of Edwin Markham in his poem “The Man with the Hoe”:
Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of the ages in his face,
And on his back, the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
How will the future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all land?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings–
When those who shaped him to the thing that he is–
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,
After the passing of the silence of the centuries?
[“The Man with a Hoe,” by Edwin Markham, 1899]
And that day has come. That hour has come. That dull, stolid, inept, untaught, poor coolie peasant of a foreign nation: there’s a driving force that has seized him, and it marches, and it fights, and it wars, and it’s a terror.
And I think back of the Roaring Twenties, and I think back of those days when the professor, and the pulpiteer, and the statesman, and the politician, and the commentator, and the editorial writer, and the whole world of the West was filled with vision of the coming golden age, and the fabric of their optimism in shambles lies around us today.
One of the generals, great of America said, “It’s a matter of time, a matter of time. When they think they can, they will.” A group of youth: “What matters today? We’re just cannon fodder anyway.” Somebody else: “Three sneers for everything and three cheers for nothing.” One of the men in our city: “If you don’t cease drinking, you’ll die.” He quit drinking. A friend said, “I see you’ve gone back to drinking.” His reply: “It’s not worth the living.”
Underneath – underneath, way down deep, there is a spirit of defeat and despair and fear, cringing, before what lies ahead in all of the life of our America. ‘Cause you see, ’cause you see, ’cause you see, our hopes are born in the world out of things propitious – out of things favorable, out of things fortunate, out of things happy, out of circumstances that give rise to the thermometer.
We’re like that. When things are wonderful, we’re wonderful; when things are happy, we’re happy; when things are propitious, we’re filled with hope. We’re like a weather vane: when the winds of the circumstances of life blow in a favorable way, we plot that way too, but, when the thing goes down, we go down. When a thing’s unpropitious, we lose heart. When the thing is undone and uncertain and full of fear, we cringe and are afraid. That is the world.
Oh, oh. What a difference. What a difference. Out of trials and tribulations and hardships and sufferings, out of defeat and disappointment, out of despair, out of death: these, out of these arises our hope. Why, Paul, I can’t believe it. Can you? Can you? Can you?
That’s an autobiography there. He’s talking out of his own soul and his own life’s experience. “Five times,” he said, “Received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods; once was I stoned and left for dead . . . a day and a night have I been in the deep; in perils of my countrymen, in perils of robbers . . . perils in the sea . . . perils in the wilderness” [2 Corinthians 11:24-26]. With our perils and tribulations and trials: out of these rise our hope, our hope, our hope [Romans 5:3-5].
You know, you never can forget that it’s in a prison epistle, the Epistle to the Philippians, that Paul said: “Rejoice in the Lord, and again I say, always rejoice” [Philippians 4:4] – in stocks and chains and in prison.
How could I ever forget? It was in a dungeon with his feet tied to the stocks that the Good Book say that he sang and prayed praises to God [Acts 16:22-25]. Out of our tribulations, out of our despairs, out of heartaches – out of these our hope, our hope [Romans 5:3-5].
Another reason for it: “And not only so, but we exult, we glory, in trials and troubles because they work endurance; and endurance works mature experience; and mature experience works a hope that never disappoints [Romans 5:3-5]. These externalities: there for today then they perish with the passing hour. These fortunate circumstances: they last for a year then they’re gone forever. They rise and fall, but the hope that comes out of trial and trouble and tribulation, this hope never disappoints because – because God, because the love of God is in our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit [Romans 5:5].
Because of God, his hope, his assurance, his optimism was not grounded in anybody’s peace pact or in anybody’s economic good fortune or in anybody’s worldly prosperity. It was grounded in the character and in the nature of God, and God doesn’t change and never disappoints [Romans 10:11]. Out of our troubles and out of our trials and out of our tribulations, our hope’s because of God, because of God.
It was a dark day, wasn’t it, when Joel prophesied drought, disaster, invasion destroying his people [Joel 1:1-2:17]. In Joel 3:16, this is what he wrote: “The heavens and the earth shall shake; but the Lord will be the strength of His people.” The Psalmist in 42:5: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou, hope thou in God.” In the Book of the Hebrews: “God, who could swear by none greater, sware by Himself . . . that by three immutable witnesses, wherein it was impossible for God to lie . . . that the heirs of promise might have a sure hope, which hope we have as an anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast” [Hebrews 6:13, 6:18-19] – never moved, never moved.
In the trial and the storm of the sea, the anchor is thrown out to hold the ship. Hold it how? By grasping the great, immoveable rocks that undergird the great stanchions of the sea, and the anchor holds. “Which hope we have as an anchor to the soul,” [Hebrews 6:19] grounded, holding onto the great expanse of the underlying Rock that undergirds the stormy sea. Our rock, our hold, our hope in God – in God, in God.
You never forget the beautiful words of Sidney Lanier in the “Marshes of Glynn.” Do you remember them?
As the marsh-hen secretly builds her nest on the watery sod,
Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God:
I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies
In the freedom that fills all the space ‘twixt the marsh and the skies:
By so many roots as the marsh-grass sends into the sod
I will heartily lay me a-hold upon the greatness of God.
[“The Marshes of Glynn,” by Sidney Lanier, 1878]
I close. Did you ever notice, did you ever think, did you ever see how the New Testament closes? How does it end – this glorious record, this incomparable story? How does it end? How does it close? Why, you would think so marvelous a story closes in a blaze of light. Such a marvelous record closes with consummated triumph. Such a marvelous revelation as you find in that incomparable Book closes with victory!
Does it? Does it? This is the way it actually closed.
It closed with the apostle Paul with his head on the headsman’s block writing, writing: “Timothy, oh, Timothy, one more time that I could see you to put in your heart once again this trust, Timothy, committed to thy care” [2 Timothy 1:1-4, 4:6-9]. Ends with his head on the block.
How does it end? How did it end for Simon Peter? Ended for Simon Peter crucified – nailed to a cross!
How did it end, this story in the New Testament, how did it end for the Christian church? Persecuted unto death with a cruel Roman Caesar set to exterminate the new community of the faith [Nero Claudius Caesar (37-68 CE)].
How did it end? It ended with the last of the apostles, the apostle John, on a little isle called Patmos [Revelation 1:9] – barren, and sterile, and alone – sent there to die of exposure, and privation, and starvation. That’s how it ended. That’s how it actually ended, the story of the first Christian century.
How did they write? How did they write? Listen to Paul: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God and our Savior Jesus who is our hope, unto Timothy, unto Timothy,” [1 Timothy 1:1-2]. And again, Titus: “Looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” [Titus 2:13].
How did it end? How did it end? Before he was crucified, Simon Peter wrote to the Churches of the Dispersion, to the pilgrims of the east [1 Peter 1:1]. How did he write? “Blessed be the Lord God of Jesus Christ who has begotten us unto a lively hope . . . knowing that your faith – the trial and tribulation you go through – is more precious than gold” [1 Peter 1:3, 7].
How did it end? How did it end?
The sainted John on the lonely Isle of Patmos, sent there to starve, to die of exposure and privation – lonely John lifted up his eyes and saw a vision [Revelation 1:9-11], and in those visions, he saw the triumphant Son of God [Revelation 1:10-18]. And in those visions, he saw wars to the end. He saw Armageddon [Revelation 13:13-16, 14:19-10]. He saw the horror and the terror that lies ahead for the human race, his nation, his people [Revelation 6:1-19:21]. He saw it all in his visions.
Then in the twentieth chapter, he saw an angel come down from God out of heaven and bind Satan in a bottomless pit [Revelation 20:1-3]. Then, in the twentieth chapter, and the twenty-first chapter, and the twenty-second chapter, he saw a new heaven and a new earth, and the kingdoms of the earth are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ [Revelation 11:15, 21:1-22:21]. And he, he in starvation and exposure, he in dying in internment; but in his heart and in his vision, high and lifted up, the glorious King of all Kings and the Savior of the world.
Out of tribulation, out of trial, out of despair, out of starvation, out of the sword, out of martyrdom, out of crucifixion, out of death: hope, hope, hope that never disappoints [Romans 5:3-5]. God, God, God.
I don’t know what tomorrow brings though I think sometime America will suffer an ultimate destruction. I think some day, the bomb we dropped on Hiroshima – only a thousand times more terrible – I think it’ll be dropped on us. I don’t think there’s any escape for them. America’s too drunken and too sinful and too debauched and too forgetful, but shall out of despair, out of its ashes, out of its death, out of its Armageddon, out of its defeat – there shall come a new and a living day with a new and reigning Lord.
And in His time, in His will, though we perish, though our nation suffers, though the world is burned with fire, there shall arise phoenix-like a new heaven and a new earth, and over it shall a King Immanuel reign forever and ever and ever. Out of trial, out of tribulation, out of despair, out of defeat: hope, hope, hope – a hope that never disappoints because God has given us the promise, the earnest, of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and the assurance of an ultimate victory yet to come [Romans 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14; Revelation 20:1-22:21].
All right, Billy, quick – what are you going to sing? All right, the evening appeal: “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” number 425. Number 425. And while we sing it, while we sing it, somebody you, anybody you, give your heart to the Lord: you come and stand by me. Put your life in the fellowship of this church: come and stand by me. Anywhere, somebody you, while we sing the song: “Preacher, I’ll make it now. I’ll make it today.” You come; you come. “I believe in the Lord, and I believe in His assured triumph. I believe in His coming Kingdom, and I accept Him today as my Savior. I give Him my life. Hidden in His hands, my soul to keep forever, and here I come; here I come.” A family of you, as the Lord shall say the Word while we make appeal, would you make it now? Would you do it today? By letter, by statement, by promise of letter. This is God’s hour. It is our time. While we sing, would you come? While we stand, while we sing.