The City Church

Acts

The City Church

January 10th, 1954

Acts 18:16

And he drave them from the judgment seat.
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THE CITY CHURCH

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 18:9-10

1-10-54     10:50 a.m.

 

 

In our preaching through the Word, we have come to the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Acts.  And this is the third sermon that the pastor has preached on the verse Acts 18:9-10, and the sermon tonight will be the fourth sermon on that text.  Used to, I felt a great compulsion to hurry.  In these last several years, I’ve just quit that.  When I come to a place in the Bible where so many things cry out to be spoken, I just stop; and if there are six sermons on one text, then we just wait before going on for those six messages.  So this morning, for the third time, Acts 18:9-10.  And if you have your Bible, look at it: 

 

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; for I have much people in this city."

[Acts 18:9-10]

 

"Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace; for I am with thee . . . and I – I have much people in this city" [Acts 18:9-10].

The Lord and the city:  somehow, the two go together.  I used always to think of the Lord as being out there on the mountainside by Himself, and that’s right [Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46; John 6:15]; and on the waters alone at night in Galilee, that’s right [Mark 6:47-48]; and in the little city of Nazareth, that’s right [Matthew 2:23; Luke 4:16-24].   But as you look at the Lord more closely, you will find in His heart the compassion for the big city. 

The Bible says that our Savior steadfastly set His face toward the city [Luke 9:51] – the Lord and the city.  The Bible says that the Lord deliberately, volitionally chose to die in the city [John 10:17-18, 12:1-50, 18:1-19:30] – the Lord and the city.  And the Bible says when the Lord came and saw Jerusalem that He we wept over the city [Luke 19:41], the city.  And from His throne in heaven [Ephesians 1:20-21], today He has compassion on the city.  "For I have much people in this city" [Acts 18:10]. 

And in the glorious, incomparable faith chapter – the eleventh chapter of Hebrews – speaking of the old patriarchs, the Bible says: "They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth . . . seeking a better country . . . Wherefore, God also is not ashamed to be called their God, for He hath prepared for them a city" [Hebrews 11:13-16].  And in the twenty-first chapter of the Revelation:  "And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven" [Revelation 21:2] – the city of God. 

The work in the city is hard and laborious and discouraging and difficult.  The reason the Lord appeared to Paul in the night in Corinth was because of the immeasurable, illimitable, indescribable discouragement of the missionary as he sought to build the work of Jesus in the city.  In Athens [Acts 17:16-33], he left discouraged, and in Corinth [Acts 18:1-18] the prospects were no easier nor the future any brighter.  After laboring there in the great city of Corinth, Paul purposed in his heart to leave.  It was then that the Lord appeared to him in the night in a vision saying, "Paul, not so, not so.  You’re to stay in this town in the heart of this vast city for I have much people in it" [Acts 18:9-10]. 

The discouragements of the city are not peculiar nor are they local.  They are vast enigmas to the spirit of those who work for Christ in any place, in any state, and in any country.  In the sixteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, Paul, writing to this church in Corinth, said, "I have determined to stay in Ephesus – the great capital city of Asia – I have determined to stay in Ephesus until Pentecost.  For a great door and effectual has been opened unto me, and there are many adversaries" [1 Corinthians 16:8-9]. And it’s always true: and there are many discouragements, many despairs, many adversaries. 

I’ve been pastor of most every kind of a church you could think of.  For ten years, I preached out in the country and in the small villages.  The work was easy.  There I’d preach a sermon Sunday morning, Sunday night, Saturday night.  All that weekend until I came back again, those farming people, out plowing in the field, thinking about the services, turning over in their mind what the pastor said, going home – no place to go – meditating on the Word.  When I’d come back, there’d be a multitude of things many of them would ask me about the sermon I preached two Sundays ago or a month ago if it were a quarter-time or a half-time church.  In the small towns where I was pastor, we’d have a revival meeting.  Everybody from the ends of the road, from the parts of the creek, from the head of the holler – everybody came.  And if we had a big preacher from the city, why, it was an event.  It was an epoch in the life of the small town. 

The city?  Why, they hardly know you’re here.  They pass you by by the thousands and the thousands.  They’re in a rush.  They’re busy.  They’re building empires.  They’re making fortunes or losing them.  They’re going to an entertainment: there’s a show; there’s a vaudeville; there’s a wrestling match; there’s a sportatorium; there’s a Fair Park; there’s an operetta; there’s an opera; there’s everything!  And the people in the city are engrossed; and the poor preacher, and the poor missionary, and poor Paul.  The work in the city is difficult, and the Lord appeared to Paul in the night saying, "Paul, but you’re not to leave.  You’re not to despair and you’re not to be discouraged for I have much people in this city" [Acts 18:9-10]. 

So here we are in the middle of it, in the heart of it, in the center of it.  And how we doing?  How we faring?  Well, good.  Good!  As I look at our church and its ministry, Sunday morning: it looks good.  Our Sunday school and our preaching attendance and our financial program and the ministry of the organized life of our church, it looks good; and I’m grateful for it.  But I don’t think I could stand in this pulpit and say that this Sunday or last week or last year or any year I’ve been here, I’ve done my best.  Have you?  As fine as we do, and as good as we have done, and with all that we’ve poured into this ministry, we still can do better – much better, a lot better. 

I look at our Sunday school.  I’ve said before, repeat it now – I haven’t changed in that purpose.  I think any Sunday that we fall before three thousand in attendance, we’re not doing good.  We’re not doing as good as we ought.  We can do better.  All this week, Dr. Dobbins, speaking to us about our Sunday school, said it seemed to him we had a sonic barrier there. 

These fellas who drive these jet planes say that up to about 750 miles an hour, get a plane to go pretty good, but somewhere there’s a barrier there – a sonic barrier where they reach the speed of sound.  And when they approach that, the plane trembles and quivers, and it has a tremendous effort.  It has to break through the sonic barrier.  But once, he says, you’re on the other side of it, then future speeds are easy. 

But our Sunday school: seemingly we’ll get to twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine hundred – one time we went over three thousand, a few weeks, months ago, but we stagger at it.  We staggered at it.  The sonic barrier for our Sunday school seems to be about three thousand, and we quiver.  It’s hard, but we can do it!  The people are here.  They’re God’s people: "I have much people in the city" [Acts 18:10].  Our Sunday school – let’s rise to do it.  We can!  By this spring, every Sunday there ought to be at least three thousand down here being taught the Word of God. 

I look at our baptisms – the people we win to Christ.  We have another sonic barrier there – three hundred.  We’ll win 274, 271, 273, but we never get to that 300 and beyond.  We can.  We ought.  We must.  We should! "I have much people in this city" [Acts 18:10]. 

And in our leadership, there are not nearly, not nearly, all of our people in places of responsibility.  My impression of the church is that a few of us do practically all of the work – three or four hundred of us, five or six hundred at the most.  Out of the thousands that belong to this communion and fellowship, three, four, five, or six hundred of us carry off all of its responsibility.  And in the whole setup, as I look at it – grateful to God for it, thankful to heaven for the work that we’ve done – but oh, we can do better.  We can do better, and we must.  We can.  We shall, and we will.  Now how? 

I have two or three suggestions to make in the time that I have.  First: we will do it.  We will achieve it by keeping in us and with us and around us the spirit of youth.  You see, you expect me to say to pray and to visit and to win souls.  That’s right, but these are some things that we don’t ever mention but we must never forget. 

First, the spirit of youth: to be young, to be vigorous, to be active, to be alive, to be quickened, to be responsive – the church with a spirit of youth all through it everywhere, everywhere – the big day yet to come.  The great hour yet to arrive at: the spirit of youth! 

All this week, listening to my old professor teach that class – Dr. Dobbins – several times he referred to a church.  Stays in my memory as I try to pastor this downtown church in the city of Dallas.  There was a tremendous church in Louisville, Kentucky in the heart of the city, and it had a gloriously, eloquent pastor.  His name was Carter Helm Jones, and he was the pastor of the Broadway Church in Louisville: one of the richest churches in America, and one of the greatest, and one of the most famous. 

I heard Carter Helm Jones when I first went to the seminary: eloquent, oh!  He had everything that a polished orator ought to have when he stood in the pulpit to unravel, like a golden spool, his eloquent sentences about the Lord Jesus. 

Carter Helm Jones’ father was the chaplain to Robert E. Lee in the Confederate Army.  I remember one time Carter Helm Jones describing when his father, the chaplain, sent him to Robert E. Lee with a message.  Doctor and Robert E. Lee, in replying to that message, got on his horse, Traveler, and he picked up the little boy, Carter Helm Jones, and placed him in the saddle in front.  And so they rode together in answer to the appeal of the chaplain-father. 

Oh, he was everything; and the church loved him, and the people thronged to hear him.  So they came to the Broadway Church to listen to Carter Helm Jones.  And Carter Helm Jones grew old, and the church grew old, and they began just to listen to the matchless sermons of the brilliant orator.  And they lost their young people, and they lost their babies; and the church grew old in its age, in its heart, in its soul, in its outlook!  And the church died.  And you drive down Broadway in Louisville today and where that glorious church of Carter Helm Jones once stood, there’s an empty used car lot there now.  The church is gone.  The stones are gone.  The spire’s gone.  The building’s gone.  Everything’s gone!  Just a memory of some of us who knew it was there and who knew the great preacher Dr. Jones. 

My dear people, everybody in this church has to stay young – everybody, everybody!  All of us have got to stay young – all of us.  Nobody here growing old!  Our faces may wrinkle, but our hearts never, never, never – still young: seventy years young, seventy-five years young, eighty years young.  "What do you mean by that, Preacher?"  I mean that in our outlook and in our vision and in our planning and in our work, all of us are like kids working for God. 

There’s a tendency among people as I pastor and look into it and maybe getting older myself:  A kid – nothing to him. Man, he’s got all of life ahead of him!  What if he makes a mistake?  And when you get older, you get more conservative: "I got to harbor this little bit I have. I don’t have but ten years.  If I were to lose it, I couldn’t rebuild it; I couldn’t reclaim it."  So you get cautious and very conservative and hard to enter into a new program. 

No!  No!  All of us young – all of us!  Deacons young: every deacon I have like he’s a sixteen year old – every one of them.  Man, if you had the spirit of a sixteen year-old and had the head of a seventy year-old man, what a board of deacons you’d have!  Ah!  Ah, our hearts are young; our spirits are young.  We’re not old – none of us, any of us, nobody among us.  We’re all like kids: "Let’s go! Let’s do it!  Sure we can.  Sure we can."  We’ve had that spirit, and it has remade our lives and our church.

Robert Browning – whom I grew to love down there majoring in English at Baylor – Robert Browning lived to be an old man in age, in years, but he lived an intensest life.  He was a young fellow in repartee – in going, in coming.  Oh, until he died, he was full of the intensest interest in everything.  He wrote that little poem "Rabbi Ben Ezra."  It starts off:

 

Come, Come, grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hands

Who saith "A whole I planned,
Trust God: see all, nor be afraid!

["Rabbi Ben Ezra," by Robert Browning, 1864]

 

And when they buried Robert Browning, they had one of those solemn, melancholy, cadaverous, sepulchral, funereal services.  And he had a friend – an artist by the name of [Sir Edward Coley] Burne-Jones.  And I copied from Burne-Jones what he said about that funeral of Robert Browning:  "I would have given something" – said his artist friend Burne-Jones – "I would have given something for a banner or two, and much would I have given if a chorister had come out of the triforium and rent the air with the blast of a trumpet!" [Memorial of Edward Burne-Jones, vol. 1, p.57, 1906 ]  That’s it! 

"I got religion, Preacher.  I got religion.  Look how solemn I am and morose I am.  Look at me, Preacher.  I am the most sober, decorous, conservative, stiff, starchy, and removed critter you ever saw!  I got religion, I got religion!"  Listen, even in a funeral service, man, we’re not dead!  God’s just moved us from this life to a bigger one and a better one to come!  [Philippians 1:21-23]  You who remain behind, stay with the stuff.  To you from groaning, from falling hands, we throw the torch.  You hold it high!  I’m just gone to another land and another country to work for God.  To be young in your heart, in your spirit, in your interest. 

Got more kids down here.  Come on down!  Come on down! I beg you to come on down.  They’re going to be over there skating; they’re going to be over there playing in that gym; they’re going to be in these activities buildings; they’re going to be in these craft rooms.  Come on down.  Come on down. 

Well, Preacher. Charles Evans Hughes one time said in his old age, he said, "You know I can do as much as I did as a young man for about one hour a day."

Come on down.  Come on down.  Come on down.  Give us that one hour.  Come on down.  Eight of you take it by relays: you corral, you corral them for an hour then turn them over to somebody else.  You turn them over to somebody else but stay young with them.  Get these kids down here, meet with them, play with them, eat with them, be with them.  Sleep with them – go out to the camp with them.  Come on, grab a hold; be with them.  Our church, why it’ll blossom!  These kids’ll say, "Listen here, I don’t know of a honky tonk, I don’t know of a Pappy’s Showland, I don’t know of a sportatorium that’s half the fun as going down there to that downtown First Baptist Church.  Play with them, stay with them, and watch your church.  Watch your church. 

Problems?  I know.  A headache? Mmm.  It’s like death to keep up with them, but do it; do it.  Oh, what it will mean to the church!  Stay with them, stay with them – young, all of us young!  All of us young.

Now my time’s done.  I want to say one or two other things.  What keeps our church vibrant and alive?  The spirit of youth, the spirit of movement – of conquest, of attack.  Not afraid?  No, sir!  Lord appeared unto Paul in the night and said, "Be not afraid.  Be not afraid" [Acts 18:9].  There’s not any problem we can’t whip.  There’s not any task, if God wants it done, we can’t do!  We can if He wants it done.  To move, to move, to attack, to advance!

One of those Greek warriors came to Leonidas and said, "Sir, the barbarians are like the sands of the sea in number, and when they shoot their arrows, the very sky is darkened!"  And Leonidas, the Spartan chieftain said, "Fine, fine!  Then we’ll fight in the shade!"  We have many problems to face, I know; I know.  The world has never been malleable and pliable in the hands of God’s servant.  It’s always been hard like flint, and bitter, and unresponsive. 

I went to an Associational Baptist Meeting one time and the preacher – Oh! Everything was going to the dogs!  Everything was in the hands of the Devil, and he left me with the most woebegone feeling you could describe.  Dr. Andrew Potter, our executive secretary, got up and he started off his speech with a little sentence.  He said, "My dear brother, the world has always been bad."  That’s right.  It’s always been bad.  It was bad yesterday, and it’s bad today, and it’ll be bad tomorrow.  It’ll always be unmalleable in the hands of God’s people.  That doesn’t matter.  That doesn’t matter.  Attack! Go on! Move out for the Lord! 

And the times are distracting – oh! – with the threat of atomic war, and with the threat of worldwide conquest under Communism, and now with the worry of a recession and a depression.  But the world has always been full of worries and distractions.  When I was preaching in the thirties, they used to say, "Oh, if we could just get out of the thirties, we’ll be all right."  But the forties were fiercer than the thirties!  I don’t know what the fifties are going to be.  It doesn’t matter. 

A fella compiled a little table.  He started at 16 BC and went clear through to 1954; and in those years, we’ve had 3,180 years of war and 267 years of peace.  And from the fall of the Roman Empire until now, the wars have been getting fiercer, and more vicious, and more intense, and longer, and involving greater destruction and numbers of men.  It’s always been that way.  It’ll continue to be that way.  I think God’s Book says that wars are determined until the end [Daniel 9:26], until the final Armageddon [Revelation 14:14-20, 16:13-16, 19:11-21]. 

The day will never be propitious; the hour will never be favorable.  We must take these things in our hands – whatever the discouragement, and whatever the time, and whatever the hour, and whatever the day – and move, advance, go on, go on!  We have a thing to do for God; and if He wants it done, if He wants it done, the resources, and the ableness, and the wherewithal, and all that it takes, God will place in our hands.  Let’s just do it.  Let’s just do it. 

This last week, I was reading like a lot of times I do.  I like to go back read about those old days:  Paul, the prophets, those Greeks and the world in which they lived.  This last week, just for my own soul’s good, I read once again the story of Leonidas, the King of Sparta, and the Battle of Thermopylae.  The Persians came across.  Under Darius and under Xerxes, the Persians came across.  Like the world filled with locusts, they came by the hundreds of thousands.  Brother of Aeschylus – the great tragedian Aeschylus – the brother of Aeschylus held on to a galley with one hand, and it was severed with a Persian scimitar.  He held on with his left hand, and it was severed with a Persian scimitar; and he held on, then, with his teeth. 

Leonidas, there in the pass of Thermopylae, he had six thousand Greeks with him and he could have held that pass indefinitely, but a traitor showed the Persians a secret trail over the cliffs.  And Leonidas found himself with the enemy in front and the enemy behind.  He prudently dismissed all of his Greek allies and kept his three hundred Spartan warriors by his side for it was against the law of his country that a Spartan soldier should ever flee in the presence of the enemy.  So Leonidas stood there with his three hundred Spartan soldiers – attacked in the front and attacked from behind – and they stood there ’til the last man was cut down.  And the Amphictyonic Council inscribed this epitaph above their graves at the pass of Thermopylae:

 

Stranger – stranger, report this word we pray thee

To Sparta, that here we lie in this spot 
Faithfully keeping their laws.

 [Herodotus 7.228]

 

"Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" [Revelation 2:10].  Some people say that means hang on to Jesus, and if you hang on you’ll be saved.  No!  What Jesus said:

 

Be thou faithful in spite of death, if it costs you your life, and I’ll give you the crown.

[Revelation 2:10]

I’ll give you the desire of your heart.  I’ll give you the achievement heaven intends as reward and recompense for your effort.

[Psalm 37:4-6]

Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.

[Matthew 25:21, 23] 

I have much people in this city.

[Acts 18:10]

 

Oh, blessed church, fellow members, it is our golden day.  It is our opportunity.  Our time has come.

All right, may we sing our song?  May we sing our song? While we sing it: anywhere, everywhere, somebody you, somebody you give his heart to the Lord.  You come and stand by me.  Somebody you, put your life in the fellowship of the church.  While we sing the appeal, you come and stand by me.  Is there a child here today?  Is there a family here today?  Somebody you today, anywhere?  In that topmost balcony, from side to side, anywhere – while we make appeal, while we sing our song, today would you make it now?  Would you make it now?  Into that aisle and down here to the front, and stand by the side of the pastor: "Pastor, here’s my hand.  I’ve given my heart to God, and in the fellowship of this church today, today, now I put my heart and my life."  Will you do it?  Will you do it?  While we stand and while we sing.