LIFE AT ITS BEST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-23-55 7:30 p.m.
For our admonition tonight, the pastor is speaking on a text in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Romans and the eighth verse. And the title of the message is: What Life Can Be, what it can be.
In Romans 14 and the eighth verse: “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s” [Romans 14:8]. And that whole chapter is given to the Christian bearing: his attitude, his spirit. Just before I begin to emphasize that, in the tenth verse: “Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” [Romans 14:10]. In the twelfth verse:
So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore condemn one another any more; but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
And on and on it goes.
But this text, Romans 14:8: “Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s”—what life can be.
In the lifetime of your generation, the young men and women who are being graduated tonight from their high school, and largely in the lifetime of all of our people who have lived in the twentieth century, most of the life that we have seen and read about and watched has been fearful, and sordid, and terrible, and fraught with hatred and bloodshed and war. We have not been able to escape from the dark and lowering clouds that have pursued us through every year of this twentieth century.
And it is even so today. There’s not any man who reads the newspapers but that is deeply cognizant of the screaming headlines that announce the approach, the threat, the fear of communist aggression in the East and in the West. That fear somewhat is allaying now, but even in its allaying, our statesmen and our military leaders constantly warn us that we are not to let down our preparedness. We’re not to forget that at any time a group of men in the Kremlin, or in some other place, could launch an all-out and fearful and lurid attack against our free world. And you live in that sort of a world.
There has never been a time when the government of the United States has fallen to such a low depth in estimation as in our lifetime, in your lifetime. These investigating committees, of the Senate of the United States government, laid bare before the American public and across the headlines of our daily papers the unworthy men who, in the army and in office, sell out their country’s honor.
And you live in a day, maybe not any worse than any other day—the old timer possibly says it isn’t—but there never was a time, at least, when teenage crime and when lawlessness of every sort were so ripe and so universal. There’s not any city without its gangs. Oklahoma City was laid bare a week or so ago in one of the great magazines of our nation. But the juvenile crime in that high school and in that city are but typical of the teenage wantonness in all of our cities and among all of our teenagers.
When you review the world in its parts and in its portrayals, such as we see it now, we are inclined to think that life itself must be grounded in sordidness, in greed, in lawlessness, in crime, in delinquency. Life itself must be ignoble and unworthy.
Now, that is far from the truth. Life can be godly, and honorable, and noble, and blessed. And it is that nobility and it is that blessedness to which we direct our hearts and our attention tonight. Life can be noble in itself, in you, in us, personally lived by us, wherever we are and in whatever lot our life is cast. It can be godly. It can be as unto the Lord.
Our lives are determined by the things for which we reach out, the ideals that are in our minds, the things that we think are worthwhile. For example, we can give our lives to social snobbery. John Ruskin one time said to his nephew, “Set yourself, prepare yourself for the best society. Then don’t enter it.” Life can be given to superiority and to contemptuousness, as we look around upon others. We can be social snobs.
But, I don’t think there’s anyone here that would stand up to defend such an ideal, such an attainment. Who wants to look upon himself as better than anybody else? We might want to be better. We might try to attain godliness. But for one to look upon himself as being made of superior stuff from other people is an affront to God, and it is an illusion of one’s own worth. No, we’re not giving ourselves to that.
We can give ourselves to the goal of financial and monetary success, and we can decide in our lives that he is successful who achieves great monetary and financial position and honor. And, when I was a boy, that was the inculcation in all of our schools. There was the great Samuel Insull, and there was the great Falls. And there was the great Sinclair, and there was all the rest of those wonderful men, they said, who had achieved tremendous mercantile and utility empires. And they were heralded as paragons of excellence, and they were held up to us, as young people, as what it was to succeed.
Since then, and I won’t take time to expatiate upon it—since then, I think any schoolboy would know that about the sorriest kind of success is financial success, monetary success, economic success; just that. Some of the scum of Dallas, and I mean scum—some of the scum of Dallas are Dallas’ richest men. They are sorry and rotten to the core. They are an insult to everything God intended for the world. But they are some of Dallas’ richest men.
A lawyer one time said, “A man is worth what he’s able to make.”
And one of his auditors replied, “That means that John Milton was worth five pounds.” I’d say that our money, $15.00—for that’s what he received for Paradise Lost. For us to gauge and to judge a man by his financial success is to judge a man by the sorriest and the poorest standard you could ever use as a rule, as a measurement.
To make money, if God turns it that way, is fine, if you use it for a wonderful and blessed cause. But money in itself, and financial achievement in itself, is nothing, absolutely nothing! There is many a swine that is masked by the looks and the demeanor of a king, but he’s still a swine.
And we can give our lives to the persuasion that great success is to be found in things, things: “Look at this big fine automobile I have,” or two automobiles. “Look at this fine house I have. Look at this broad estate I have. Look at all of these furnishings that I have. And look at the office that I have. Look at all of the other things that I have.” We could be persuaded, and it is so easy to be persuaded in America, that the wealth and the abundance that a man possesses constitutes his real joy and happiness. And that isn’t so. Jesus said it isn’t so [Luke 12:15]. And all history is an amen to that. You don’t find joy, and peace, and gladness, and happiness in the possession of things. In themselves, they also are nothing.
I read one time where an oracle said to an Oriental monarch, who was surfeited and satiated with all of the things that he had, and happiness had fled away from him—the oracle said to the Oriental king, “You find the happiest man in the world and wear his shirt and you’ll find happiness.” So the Oriental potentate sent out his ambassador to search the earth for the happiest man, that he might take his shirt back to his king. And to the disappointment of the ambassador, when he found the world’s happiest man, he had no shirt on his back. Our joy and our happiness will never, never be defined in terms of the things that we can possess and hold in our hands. Real, fundamental, deep and everlasting joy is found by him who has found and does the will of God: living unto the Lord [Romans 14:8].
Now may I speak of our life in relation to others. Life can be little and mean and unworthy, as we live with people all around us. Stanton one time said about Abraham Lincoln—Stanton said, “He is a sorry, low clown.”
Stanton one time said about Lincoln, “He is the perfect gorilla.” Stanton one time said about Lincoln, “Why would anybody want to go to Africa to hunt anthropoids when the perfect ape lives in Springfield, Illinois.”If a fellow had said that about me, I would be insulted. Wouldn’t you? I would take it he didn’t think very much of me. Wouldn’t you? And I wouldn’t like it. Would you?
Do you know what Abraham Lincoln did? At the time of the most critical period in American history, that same Abraham Lincoln appointed Stanton Secretary of War. What a magnanimous and glorious man: Abraham Lincoln. And the day came when Stanton stood by the bed of his chief, who had been assassinated. And as he looked into the silent, still form of his fallen chief, Stanton said, “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever known”—big man of heart and of soul.
Now, we can look upon others with envy and jealousy. To some people, praise of others seems to be a personal insult. But life doesn’t have to be that way. We can rejoice in the success and the achievement that comes to other people.
Themistocles, who won the battle of Salamis, Themistocles was encouraged by the heroic lives of his contemporaries.
Young Thucydides as a boy sat at the feet of Herodotus and heard Herodotus, read the stories from the history. And Thucydides said, “Someday, I want to write history like that.”
Demosthenes became the orator that he was because he was set afire by the eloquent tongue, the tongue of Callistratus.
Handel, who wrote that heavenly music—Haydn said of Handel, “He’s the father of us all.”
Mozart said of Handel, “He strikes like a thunderbolt!”
Beethoven said of Handel, “He’s a master musician in all the kingdom of music.”
Mozart said of Haydn, talking to a critic, “If you and I were melted down, we wouldn’t furnish the material for one Haydn.”
Mozart said of Beethoven, when he heard the boy play, “Listen to that young man. Listen to that young man. Oh, he’ll make a name for himself, that young man.” Beethoven.
Or could I pull it down into the life, maybe, where we live it a little more closely? I saw Doak Walker and Kyle Rote beat Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice in the Cotton Bowl game. When North Carolina came over here, I saw those two boys beat him pitifully. Ah, Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice was at that time supposed to be the number one player of America. And when Doak Walker and Kyle Rote got through with him, he looked like a player on the secondary team. And when the Cotton Bowl game was over, I stood there to see what would happen after the whistle blew. And I watched that fellow, Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice, walk over to Kyle Rote and to Doak Walker and give them his hand and congratulate them on the superior game that they played. Life can be like that: unto the Lord [Romans 14:8], not condemning, but rejoicing in thy brother.
And now my last: life before God. In itself, I’ve spoken; in us among others have I spoken; and now before God. One of our fine, fine laymen came back from a journey yesterday, and this is what he told me. He said, “The president of the United States, General Eisenhower, invited twenty Presbyterian laymen to be his guests in Washington, D.C. His wife is a Presbyterian, General Eisenhower’s wife. And when he joined the church, even as president of the United States, he joined the church in the faith of his wife. And they are Presbyterians. And he invited, just recently, twenty Presbyterian laymen to be his guests in Washington, D. C.”
And this man said to me—he said, “When we went to church, we had the communion service, the Lord’s Supper.” And he said, “I looked up to see who it was passing the elements to the Lord’s Supper to me.” And he said, “I received them from the hands of John Foster Dulles.” And he said, “I looked to my right, and administering there in the church were two other members of the cabinet of the president of the United States”—unto God, unto God [Romans 14:8].
Tuesday of last week, I was in the capital city of the state of Tennessee and saw Governor Clement inaugurated for the second time. And the message that he brought upon that occasion was a sermon from the Bible. You would have thought he was an evangelist of the Word of God.
And the week before, the governor of Oklahoma was inaugurated. He is a deacon and a superintendent of his Sunday school. And the governor of my native state of Oklahoma said in his address, “In assuming the responsibilities of being governor of Oklahoma, I do so with the feeling that I alone cannot perform the duties of this office without the help of God in heaven. As your chief executive, I consider this government a servant of God. And as your governor, with the help of God, we will run this government in such a way that the Christian principles we believe in will become more and more evident in its operation.”
I cannot but bow my knees before God our Father and thank Him that, in this sordid and greedy and fearful world, there are men in the presidency of the United States, in the governor’s mansion, in the office of principals in our high schools, at the head of our universities, leading great banks and vast mercantile institutions, there are men who walk humbly before God. Their trust is in Him. They look to heaven for that guidance without which no life could ever be lived, worthy as unto the Lord.
And young people, what I have found in them could I commend unto you. However life may turn, to be rich or poor, to be famous or unknown, to live in a big house or a little house, to drive a Cadillac or all your life a jalopy—however it turns, it doesn’t matter, just so that our life is lived unto God. And when you come to the end of the way, there will be the Master of all good workmen, with the sublimest benediction any soul could ever hear: “You have done well. Well done, good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” [Matthew 25:21], which is ktema eis aione, a possession into the forever.
All right, we are going to sing our song of invitation. Always, always at our services, somebody give his heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-13]; somebody put his soul and life in the trust of the Lord Jesus [Ephesians 2:8]; you come and stand by me. Somebody put his life in the church: “Pastor, tonight in this blessed fellowship before this great company of people, I want to put my life here in the church.” By letter, by baptism, by confession of faith, however the Lord shall say the word, you come. A family of you, or one somebody you, while we sing, while we make appeal, in the balcony around, anywhere, coming to the Lord, coming to us, as God shall lead the way, come, while we stand and sing.
I. So much of life you have seen and know
is violent, sordid and unworthy
A. The Communist drive
in the East and the West
B. Intrigue in our own
C. Teenage crime
D. Life can be godly,
honorable, noble and blessed
II. Our lives are determined by the things
for which we reach out
A. Social snobbery –
B. Financial and
1. Some of the
scum of the earth are the richest men
2. John Milton
C. Happiness in things
Oriental monarch seeking happiness
III. Our life in relation to others
A. Life can be little
and mean and unworthy
1. The noble soul
is bigger than such littleness
a. Stanton and Lincoln
B. Rejoicing in the pre-eminence
of others rather than being envious, jealous
1. Great men in
musicians of the past
IV. Life before God
A. President Eisenhower
joining the church
B. Inauguration of
Governor Clement and governor of Oklahoma
C. However life may turn,
live it unto God(Matthew 25:21)