The Sameness of Religion
December 4th, 1955 @ 10:50 AM
1 Corinthians 12:7-13
THE SAMENESS OF RELIGION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 12:7-13
12-4-55 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The One True Religion of the One True God or The Sameness of Religion. And if you will turn in your Bible to the twelfth chapter of the first Corinthian letter and leave it open there, you can follow the course of the sermon. In our preaching through the Word we are in the twelfth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, and this is the last message from this chapter.
Tonight, the sermon is entitled The More Excellent Way, at which hour, we enter the thirteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter.
Now the text is in the thirteenth verse of the twelfth chapter. But let us read the context, which will begin at the fourth verse in 1 Corinthians 12, "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit." Now remember, I am speaking on the sameness of religion, the thesis of which is that it never changes, that it has never changed. The true religion of God is ever the same.
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
There are diversities of administrations, but the same Lord.
There are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
Now the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
– that is what he is talking about: the oneness of this faith –
To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues;
But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
For the body is not one member, but many.
But they all make one. Then, you have the course of the chapter likening the body of Christ to the human body, with the many members making one.
Now the church in Corinth, founded by Paul, to which congregation he writes this letter, the church in Corinth exemplified, reflected the cosmopolitan city in which it was built. Any church, any First Baptist Church downtown, will do that – it will be just like the city. You will find in that church all kinds of people: learned and unlearned; wise and unwise; rich and poor; professional and laboring; white-collar and blue-collar, blue-shirt. You will find all kinds of people in a downtown First Baptist Church.
That church in Corinth reflected the metropolitan, cosmopolitan complexion of the great ancient city. It was filled with all kinds of people, and all kinds of people were in that church. There were Romans in it; there were provincials; there were Greeks; there were barbarians; there were bond-slaves; there were freedmen; there were wise and unwise; there were learned and there were unlearned; there were men in high social position. The treasurer of the city was a member of the church, and there were others like him who were in the church. And there were very unlearned and working people who were in the church – all kinds of people were in the church.
Now there were many, many diversities of gifts in the church. There were people who were gifted to do this, and one in an altogether different way, and another still, and yet another. And he mentioned some of them here – all these differing gifts.
But Paul says, "Though you are different in these nationalities and tongues and backgrounds, still you are one in God. And though your talents and gifts greatly, greatly are diversified, yet they are all one in the Lord." For he says, "However we are by nation, by language, by era, by generation; however we are by gift or endowment, we are all one in God. It is the same religion in all of us. If we have the true faith, it is always the same. It proceeds," he says, "from the same Spirit; all of it comes from the same Holy Spirit of God."
And the end of it – however diversified – the end of it is always toward that same holy end: the edification of us all, the building up and the strengthening and the encouragement of us all. And it all ensues in one same great, holy end: the service of God and the service of humanity, our brother man. It ensues in a koinonia, in a fellowship, in a communion. We all drink of the same cup. We are breaking bread of the same Body. We are all believers in the same Lord. We have all been saved alike, and, however we may differ, the religion is always the same.
He emphasizes it, "For by one Spirit are we all baptized unto the Lord into one body. And we have all been made to drink into one Spirit." [1 Corinthians 12:13] In these preceding chapters he emphasizes the same thing. In this section, way back yonder in the days of Moses, "They were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They did all eat the same spiritual meat, and they did all drink the same spiritual drink." And then turn the page, and he is saying the same thing again,
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the koinonia of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the koinonia of the body of Christ?
For we, being many, are one bread, and one body.
[1 Corinthians 10:16, 17]
Now I want to expatiate upon that this morning with the Bible before us. The first avowal is this: that however we are in outward circumstance, in soul and in spirit, in true faith and in religion, we are always one and the same. However our outward circumstance may appear, religion, true religion, is always the same in everybody. However we are outwardly, whether I was born in a generation a thousand years ago, or whether we are members of this generation, or whether we are members of a generation yet to be born, through all of the genealogies that are written in the course of the Book of the history of God, religion is always the same. However we differ on the outside, being rich or poor, dressed in rags or in beautiful garments, educated or not educated, learned or unlearned, however we are in nationality, in speech or in language, through all of the diversified ramified course, the vicissitudes of life and fortune that have overtaken the human race, religion, if it is true and genuine, is always and ever the same.
In the paradise of God the river of paradise had many branches. The river of life followed many, many courses, but the water was always the same. And when they drank of that water, which is the Spirit of God, they drank of the same Spirit.
We never change, God never changes, and true religion never changes. It is always the same, through all generations and in all manifestations of life, if it is genuine, if it is spiritual, if it is true, if it is of God.
A man may be poorly dressed in rags on the outside, but on the inside he may be adorned with the apparel which is precious in the sight of God. A man may be high and exalted and on a throne, yet the man himself may be a meek and lowly disciple of the meek and lowly Jesus. He may be a Solomon in his kingdom or a poor Lazarus begging crumbs at the rich man’s table. But the religion is the same in them all, if it is true and if it is genuine. Outward circumstances make no difference in it, if it is genuine.
All right, a second avowal: differences in temper, in temperament, make no difference in real and genuine religion. We all drink of the same Spirit, and we are all born into the same kingdom, and we are all baptized into the same body of Christ, if we have the true faith and the true religion. However we may differ in temperament, we are always one and the same in the Lord.
We do differ in our temperaments, we are not alike at all. One of the most revealing stories in the Bible to me is this: Mary Magdalene, weeping at the tomb and seeing the stone rolled away, she goes inside, and the body is gone. In consternation and confusion of thought, with many, many forebodings, she runs to find Peter and John and says to them, "The stone is rolled away, and the tomb is empty, and the body of my Lord is not there."
And Peter and John run together to the tomb. And the younger man outran the older man – John outran Simon Peter and he got to the tomb first – but when he arrived at the tomb, he stopped and he just looked inside, not going in himself. But when Simon Peter got there, he did not stop; he just kept running right on inside the tomb and looking around, looking for the body of the Lord. That is typical. John – sweet, precious, beloved disciple of the Lord – just standing and gazing in awe and in wonder, but Simon Peter – hot and bold and impetuous – running inside the tomb and looking around for the body of the Lord.
Now a strange thing to me: if you ever go to the seminary, if you ever study theology, you will be introduced to generations, I mean generations, of critics, higher critics, men who study all about the sources and about the writings. And those critics for generations, I say, have been trying to exploit the differences in the disciples of the Lord. They say the Johannine gospel is altogether different from the Pauline gospel, and they say the Hebrews – the letter to the Hebrews – the Hebrews theology is altogether different from the other theology, and the message in the gospel of Jesus Christ is altogether different from the message and the gospel of the apostles.
There is not a word of truth in that. What you find in the Bible is this: Simon Peter had a certain temperament and, when he preached, he preached in a certain way and, when he spoke, he spoke in a certain way, and when he wrote, he wrote in a certain way. And Paul had a different kind of a temperament. And when he preached, he preached in a certain way and, when he spoke, he spoke in a certain way and, when he wrote, he wrote in a certain way.
And John was altogether different still. When he spake of the Lord, he spake of Him as if in a different way. Each man in his own personality, looking at Jesus and adoring the Lord and preaching the gospel, did it as he was empowered of the Lord. But it was the same religion, it was the same Christ, and they drank of the same Spirit.
That is the way with men today. Are you not glad they are not all like me? My soul, everybody’s ears would hurt if they were. We are different, we are not alike; thank the Lord for it. But I cannot be like somebody else, and I certainly do not want anybody to be like me.
That is the way with you. God made you in a certain way, and you look a certain way and you have a temperament of a certain way. That is all right; God made you like that. Some of you are like John, the beloved disciple: sweet and precious, just always that way. And some of us, we have fight day and night to be half-way Christian. We just get so mad and we boil over, and all kinds of things afflict and torment us, but that does not mean God does not love us. And it does not mean we cannot love the Lord. All of us, however we are in temperament, the religion is the same in all of us and these apostles. And he emphasized it there: however our gifts, it is the same Spirit.
Now we go on. Whatever dispensation, in whatever dispensation by which God is then ministering or governing His kingdom in the world, however the dispensation; the religion is always the same. It never changes. The Edenic dispensation, the Antediluvian dispensation, the Mosaic dispensation, the Christian dispensation, the Patriarchal dispensation, whatever the way by which God at that time and at that era in the story of His unfolding grace, by whatever dispensation the Lord is governing His people, the religion is always the same. As dispensation follows dispensation according to the appointments of God, the means of religion change. The instruments, the methods change, but the religion itself is never altered, it is always the same. The men of God who lived before the days of the flood drank of the same Spirit at which drank the prophets of God, and they themselves were saved in the exact way that we are saved today. There has never been any change in the religion itself.
There will be change in instruments, there will be change in symbols, there will be change in methods. Way back yonder when I came before the Lord, I would have come before the Lord with a lamb and would have sacrificed it and poured out its blood as an expiation in faith for the sins of my family, my people, and of myself. Today I come before the Lord, I have no actual lamb, I pour out no actual blood. But the faith and the religion and the expiation that was typified, that was shadowed back there in the Day of Atonement of the Mosaic Covenant, is the same faith and the same expiation that, by actuality and reality, I have today as the means of the forgiveness of my sins in the Lamb of God who poured out His blood for the sins of the world. The religion back of it, the religion back of the means, back of the method, is always the same; it never changes.
In the twelfth chapter of the Book of John, John says that in the sixth chapter of Isaiah when Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple, and above Him stood the seraphim and they cried one to another, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of hosts; the whole earth is filled with His glory," [Isaiah 6:3] John says in the twelfth chapter of his Gospel that, when Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, that he saw Jesus. Jehovah of the Old Testament is the Lord Jesus of the New Testament. But God never changes. The Spirit of God never changes, and the methods of the religion, though they change outwardly, the religion itself never changes; it is the same all the way through.
Back yonder a thousand years before Christ, [Solomon] came before the Lord and, like all of us, he was conscious of transgression and sin, "There is no man that sinneth not." [1 Kings 8:46] And real religion begins, as I shall speak in a moment, religion always begins in a consciousness of need: we have fallen short. We have sinned, we have transgressed, we have gone away from God. And in our coming back to the Lord, wherever a man comes back, way back yonder in the thousands of years ago, or today or yesterday, every man comes alike; the religion never changes.
When David came before the Lord, he came saying, "Sacrifice Thou wouldest not; burnt offerings Thou desirest not. I would have given them, had You desired them." [Psalm 51:16] But God does not want them, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise." [Psalm 51:17]
Way back yonder in the Mosaic dispensation, when the outward implements and means of religion were there in the Temple, and the sacrifice of the lamb and the pouring out of blood, yet a man whoever got right with God got right with God by bowing down before the Most High and casting himself upon the mercies of the Lord. In the sixth chapter of Micah is one of the most magnificent passages in all of the prophetic discourse. Micah says,
How shall I come before the Lord, and how shall I bow down myself before the high God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
It has never changed. When Simon Peter was cursing the Lord, denying that he ever saw Him or knew Him, the Lord turned and looked upon Peter, and he went out and wept bitterly [Luke 22:61-62]. And when the Lord saw him next, He said, "Simon, lovest thou Me?" [John 21:15]
And Simon replied, "Lord, You searched the soul and You searched the heart and You know me like no one could ever know. You know that I love You."
Religion is ever the same, it never changes.
Now may I apply that specifically? True religion, always the same through all generations through all dispensations, the thing itself is never altered. It always follows the same course in every man and in every life. True religion begins in humility; it begins in a bowing before the Lord; it begins in a confession of sin; it begins in a sense of want, of lack, of need.
The self-sufficient man, the all-adequate soul could never find God, does not need God, does not seek for God, does not cry out for God. The man who finds God is the man who pants for Him as the heart panteth for the water brook.
He seeks God, he has a sense of lack and of need, and he bows down himself before the high God. And that is the same through all the generations and through all the centuries.
When Abraham spoke to the Lord in his intercessory prayer, praying for Lot and Lot’s family, praying for the cities of the plain and of Jordan, do you remember what he said? Abraham said, "Behold now, I have taken upon myself to speak unto the Most High God, I who am but dust and ashes; I deign to come into the courts of glory, I who am nothing, just dust and ashes." [Genesis 18:27] That is true religion.
When Jacob prayed at the River Jabbok in fear of his brother Esau, he began his prayer like this, "O Lord, O God, I Thy servant, I am not worthy of the least of Thy mercies." [Genesis 32:10] That is true religion. When Isaiah saw the vision of the Lord that I spake of a moment ago, he cried out saying, "Woe is me! For I am undone, for mine eyes have seen the Lord of hosts; and I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips." [Isaiah 6:5] The great story of Job closes like this, "O Lord, I had heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eyes seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and in ashes." [Job 42:5, 6] That is true religion.
It never varies, it is the same. When Daniel prayed his prayer before God, he confessed, saying, "We have sinned, and there is confusion of face and shame before us." [Daniel 9:8]
When Simon Peter saw the wonder of God, and it was revealed to him in the person of Jesus Christ, he fell at the feet of the Lord and said, "Lord, depart from me; I am a sinful man; I am not fit or worthy to be in the presence of the great high God." [Luke 5:8]
The apostle Paul in describing the marvelous gifts that God had bestowed upon him – his education, his background, all of those things that entered into being a member of the Sanhedrin and a rabbi and a chief one, above all of his fellows excelling – he said, "All of these things do I count but refuse, nothing, that I might know Him and the fellowship of His sufferings" [Philippians 3:8-10]. That is true religion.
The world teaches to be great and to conquer and to excel; that is the world. Jesus teaches to be humble, to be little in honor, preferring one another, these, "And he that would be greatest among you, let him be the servant of all" – humility, bowing down, yielded unto God.
Religion always begins in humbleness of heart, in yieldedness of spirit. The aspirations of true religion, its hopes and its joys, are all the same. They never vary, our hearts and our hopes, through all the generations. The true religionist has his face upward and outward and onward and heavenward and Godward.
Listen in the book of Hebrews to the orator’s, the preacher’s, description of those old patriarchs who, and he says,
They died in the faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
Truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
But now they seek a better country, that is, a heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city.
Wonder what city that is? Wonder what city that is? The orator-preacher there said that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob confessed they were pilgrims and strangers in the earth. They sought another country, they sought another city. Wherefore, says the orator preacher, God was proud of them, "He was not ashamed to be called their God; for He had prepared for them a city." What city? It is the city that the Christian’s heart is tuned for and is redeemed for. It is the city of the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven. It never changes.
The aspirations and hopes there are our aspirations and hopes today in a country on the other side of the great divide: the consummation of that kingdom of the Lord, visible and open; God’s answer to those who have faith in Him.
It was a prince who said in the seventy-third Psalm, "Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and whom do I desire on earth but Thee?" [Psalm 73:25] It was a king who said, "Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me." It was the intellectual Paul who said, "And all of it I count but loss, that I might have Christ." The aspiration is always the same.
Mr. Souther announced Tuesday night, I think it is, they are going to sing "The Messiah" here. One of the most beautiful stories of many, many beautiful that are told about that oratorio of Handel’s was when it was sung in the presence of the new crowned Queen Victoria. And they gave her instruction, "Everybody will stand at ‘The Hallelujah Chorus,’ but, you, the queen, you remain seated." And when they came to "The Hallelujah Chorus," the great throng stood, and she remained seated – that is, for a little. Soon, she rose to her feet also and said, "Oh, that I could take this crown and lay it at His blessed feet."
The press, the king, the queen, the patriarch, the prophet, the apostle, the evangelist, you and I – the aspiration is always the same. It is upward and outward and onward and heavenward; its face is toward God, and it issues in always the same thing. It issues in love to God and love to man, about a virile thing, a quickened thing, an actual thing, a living thing.
Now may I summarize briefly, and then it is through. May I summarize the basis for this sameness of religion? The first basis is this: it is the same religion, because it is the same humanity. Human nature does not change. The man of yesterday, the man of today, and the man of tomorrow is always one and the same; he does not change. Human nature is always the same. However you may dress it up, however you may instruct it, however you may educate it, however you may seek to mold and to turn it, human nature is always the same. It is a fallen, sinful, human nature.
High on the king’s throne, but he is a lost man. High up there in the councils of the earth, but he is a lost man. Down there hidden away in a cottage, but he is a lost man. Growing up as a little child, the sin of old man Adam is an inherited depravity that seizes upon us all. We all are a fallen humanity, all of us, all of us. And we all have to be saved, all of us.
All of us for himself have to be saved. My mother may be a godly woman and a Christian woman, and she is, but she cannot be saved for me. My father was a Christian man, but he could not trust the Lord for me. I, too, am fallen; I must trust Him for myself. And these blessed children of ours, when they grow to the age of accountability, however you might long and pray with God, I could not trust for him; he must do it for himself.
All of us are fallen – all of us – and we have to be saved – all of us. And the instrument of that salvation is the same: it is the brooding of the Holy Spirit of God over the lost. In the beginning, "And the earth was without form and waste and void, and the Holy Spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep," [Genesis 1:2] bringing light and order out of diffusion and chaos. So it is over this humanity. The Holy Spirit of God broods over a lost, lost world, and the Lord pleads, and the Spirit speaks. He talks to your heart, and in His power are the powers of regeneration, the new creation, and that is the work of God. And it is the same in all dispensations and in all eras and in all generations: we are saved alike by the regenerating power of the Spirit of God.
And finally, the great holy end of all of the faith and the love and the intercession and the prayers, the holy, consummating end of all, it is the same, whether anciently reaching out, whether yesterday reaching out, whether today reaching out, or tomorrow reaching out, looking for, hoping for, praying for, that great denouement of all of the tangled sorrows of humanity, the day of a new heaven and of a new earth in which shall dwell the new humanity living and reigning forever in the presence of God our Savior. Abraham rejoiced to see His day, and he saw it and was glad. Abraham, 2000 years before Christ, lifting up his face, and look, look, there is our triumph, our victory. Isaiah lifted up his face and looked. There was our triumph and our victory. Our fathers looked and were glad. And we stand where they stood, with our faces raised and upward – the same faith, the same hope, and the same final consummation – all of us drinking of the one and the same Spirit, all of us quickened and alive to the one and the same hope.
May we pray? Dear Lord, we are a part of a vast, vast pilgrimage of God’s sainted children making their way from this world to the world that is to come, with songs on our lips and with harps in our hand, with our faces turned toward the Promised Land, marching, marching. O, who will come and go with us, our faces toward the sunrise, toward the heavenly Jerusalem, toward God?
O Lord, may the hope shine in our souls, as the light of the glory God shined in the face of Jesus. And as we grow older, may that precious hope burn the brighter as we see our victory almost won. Whether in youth and vigor, whether in age and death, the same hope, the same faith, the same God, one bread, one body, one Spirit, one faith, one koinonia, one fellowship, one glory in Jesus.
And our Lord, as we make the pilgrimage, may there be those who this day will say, "And I will join that happy throng. Here I come and here I am, trusting the Lord Jesus." And we thank Thee, Lord, for answered prayer, in Thy saving, keeping name. Amen.
And while we sing the song, while we make the appeal, this morning, one somebody you give his heart to Jesus; would you? Into the aisle, down to the front, "Pastor, this is my hand; I have given my heart to God. In humility, in confession, I am looking to Jesus." Would you come, somebody you, into the fellowship of His church? "My letter, my life, to be with you; here I come, here is my family, all of us coming."
Or one you, while we sing the song, would you make it now? In that topmost balcony around, anywhere, would you come, while we stand and while we sing?
SAMENESS OF RELIGION
in Corinth reflected cosmopolitan city in which it was built
Diversity of gifts
The religion is one and the same, however manifest
The source is one – the same Spirit
The same end – the edification of the whole
sum total is one – the body(1 Corinthians 10:1-4,
II. The sameness of religion
Diversity of external circumstances, but the same religion
centuries, nationalities, languages
river of paradise has many branches, but water of life the same
circumstances make no difference if the religion is genuine
Differences of natural temperament make no difference in real and genuine
Peter and John at the tomb – one stops, one rushes in
for years have tried to exploit differences in the disciples and their theology
personalities, preaching styles, but same Christ
However the dispensation, the religion is always the same
The means of religion, methods change, but religion itself never altered(John 12:41, Isaiah 6:1-3, 1 Kings 8:46, Psalm
51:16-17, Micah 6:6-8, Luke 22:61-62, John 21:15)
III. However the dispensation, true
religion of God follows the same course
Begins in humility, confession(Genesis 18:27,
32:10, Isaiah 6:5, Job 42:5-6, Daniel 9:8, Luke 5:8, Philippians 3:8-10)
Aspirations, hopes, joys the same(Hebrews
11:13-16, Psalm 73:25)
of the Spirit in each life – love of God, love of man(1 John 4:7-8)
IV. The basis for this sameness of religion
nature does not change – fallen
of salvation the same – the Holy Spirit(Genesis
consummation the same