The Certainties of the Christian Faith
January 8th, 1956 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 14:8
1-8-56 7:30 p.m.
Now, we left off this morning at the close of the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians; and we pick up tonight at the fourteenth chapter, and we’ll read through the eighth verse, and the text will be the eighth verse. And the title of the message will be The Certainties of the Christian Faith. Now this is the reading in the fourteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter:
Follow after love, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men but unto God, no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries, but only God knows.
But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification and exhortation and comfort.
He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edify himself, but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
I would that ye all spake with tongues, but I’d much rather that ye all prophesied; for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall it profit you except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds and you understand it, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?
For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
[1 Corinthians 14:1-8]
Now, in future Lord’s Days I shall speak further – I already have one time – about speaking in tongues, and that’s the subject of this entire fourteenth chapter of First Corinthians. But tonight, I want to take the text: "For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" [1 Corinthians 14:8]. What he’s talking about, as you so readily and easily see, is that when we gather together in the church, what we say has to be clear-cut and plain and distinct and affirmative and positive so that everybody that hears it will have a clear idea of what is said.
I don’t know why these Corinthians were that way. Some modern people are that way. They like an invariable confusion, and the more you can clutter it up and the more you can be clouded, why, the happier they are. Some of them do it by this so-called speaking in tongues. Some of them do it philosophically, ecclesiastically, learnedly, scholastically. But when they get through, you wonder, "What is it that that man was saying, and what did he mean, and what was the purport of his message?"
Now Paul says that in the church it ought to be like a trumpet that gives a certain sound that we might be called to the battle [1 Corinthians 14:8]. That’s a good thing there. Paul says a trumpet to him is not just a musical instrument – not just for revelry or carousal. It’s not just for amusement or pleasure. It’s not for the dance. Paul here says the trumpet is an instrument calling to the battle: that eternal conflict between night and day [1 Corinthians 6:14], between Christ and Satan [1 Corinthians 6:15] – Michael warring against the dragon and his angels [Revelation 12:7]. And the trumpet is a call to the conflict [1 Corinthians 14:8].
Another thing Paul would say using that figure here: that trumpeter has just one calling and one obedience. In Paul’s day the army was largely directed by the trumpet. No man had a voice great enough and large, loud enough to be heard all up and down the line. So in Paul’s day, as in all those ancient days, the commands were given by the trumpet. Now the trumpeter was not to invent things himself. He was not to amuse himself by its use. It was not of his own solicitude, or his own thinking, or his own fabrication. The trumpeter had one task and that was to obey the command of his chief, and when the command came, he was to deliver it with a blasting of a trumpet. The command came through him.
That’s what the preacher is to do. He’s nothing but to relay what God has said. These things that he says are not to be of his amusement, none of his invention, none of his manufacturing, but what the minister says is to be like the trumpeter in the army. He is to relay the command of the chief, and that’s all.
Then I say that other thing: "If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to do battle?" [1 Corinthians 14:8]. The message that is delivered is to be clear-cut. It is to be distinct. It is to be true. It is to be in obedience to the great commandment [Matthew 22:36-40]. It is to be altogether plain and understood.
Satan was asked what is it that he missed most from heaven and his reply was, "I miss most the sounding of the trumpets in the morning." Robert Browning [1812-1889] was a tremendously gifted and affirmative poet. He had a great Christian faith; and when Robert Browning died, why, they had a typical funeral service for him. And his great friend, Sir Edward Burne-Jones [1833-1898], a marvelous artist, attended the funeral service. And it is too somber and too stiff for Burne-Jones; and afterward when he was writing about it, the artist wrote this: "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 ripped the air with a trumpet!" [The New American Church Monthly, Volume 4, Issue 4, pub. 1918] That, he says for Robert Browning’s funeral service. That was Browning’s life; that was his faith. It was a call: he who never turned back but marched breast forward! That’s it: the trumpet – clear and distinct [1 Corinthians 14:8].
Now, in our generations – not just this one I’m in – in these last several generations, there has crept into the note of our theological world and of the great mass of our seminaries and of our pulpits and of our preachers, there has come into us a vast and illimitable and indescribable incertitude. There’s come into us this spirit: "Well, maybe so, but maybe not; it may be this, but it could be that. And if we understood all of these other things, maybe we might not be so dogmatic and so positive and so full of assurance."
Now, that thing came first from a philosophical background. Back yonder some years ago, Immanuel Kant [1724-1804] – an incomparably great intellect and a marvelous philosopher – Immanuel Kant said you can never know anything really. Never. All you can see is appearance, but whether the reality is like the appearance, we can never know. That’s what he taught the intellectuals of Germany.
And when Hegel [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 1770-1831] came along, he did the same thing. Hegel said all you can see is appearance, and all you can ever know is just things on the outside. But the inside of the thing, whether the reality is like the appearance or not, nobody knows and nobody can ever know. Well, that uncertainty and that spirit of questioning crept into all theology and crept into all the scholastics and crept into all the pulpits.
Consequently, when you talk to so many of the men of God today and ask them plain questions, their answers are dubious, and [circuitous], and filled with circumlocution, and they’re cast in philosophical language and hedged about with all kinds of borderline probabilities and possibilities. But not often do you hear the sound of the trumpet [1 Corinthians 14:8].
Ask about – ask about the inspiration of the Scriptures. "Is this the Word of God? Is it?"
"Well" – and then there’ll be a long explanation. "Well, maybe this and maybe that, and remembering this", and hedging there, and balking there, and extenuating there, and explaining there, and finally, you pick what’s left and you don’t recognize it.
"Is it inspired? Is this the Word of God?" Ask them.
Ask them, "Do you believe in an afterlife? Do you believe in the resurrection from the dead? Do you believe in heaven? Do you believe in hell? Do you?"
"Well . . ." and then there’s that long, interminable, philosophical, theological scholastic answer again, and finally you get the idea that hell is just an old-fashioned idea. Heaven is something that is nebulous and ephemeral. And whether there’s really a resurrection from the dead, "We haven’t quite made up our minds." Ask them.
Ask them. "What about the devil? Do you believe in the devil? Do you believe in a personal enemy that wars against God and wars against God’s saints?"
"Well . . ." and there’s that same long intellectual tirade of multiplication of words again. "Well," they say, "we know there is a miasmic, malignant, malevolent, diffused influence in this world, but whether there’s a devil or not, we don’t know."
Well, ask them. Ask them: "Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ of the Most High? Do you? Do you?"
"Well . . ." and there we go again.
"Is Jesus the Son of God?"
"Well, I’m a son of God, and they’re sons of God, and we’re all sons of God, and Jesus is a son of God."
"Yes, but is He the Son of God? Is He? Is He? Is He? What about the cross? Are we saved by the blood atonement of the cross?"
"Well . . ." and there it goes again. "We believe in moral influence. He died a great death, and He was a noble man, and the life that He lived and the death that He died inspires us to great and noble deeds. But as for the blood atonement of the soul, well, we don’t know."
"And what about the Christian faith? What about the revelation of God in Christ Jesus? What about it?"
"Well, over there in India they say Hindu, and over there in China they say Buddha, and over there in Japan they say Shinto, and over there in Africa and the Middle East, they say Mohammad, and we say Christ, and, well, he’s just one of many of the great religious leaders of the world."
Now, Fowler, you are an honest man. Have I exaggerated this, or is that the gospel truth what I’ve said? He won’t agree with me altogether, but he says there’s a lot of truth in what I’ve said. Only thing about Dr. Fowler is he hasn’t run across any of those graduates out of Union Seminary or Yale Divinity School or Chicago Divinity Schools. Been a long time since you talked to any of them.
Brother, you talk to them. Oh my, you’ll be so confused. You’ll be so lost. You wonder anything, everything. Is there any assurance? Is there any basis? Is there anything upon which a young fellow can really build his life? Is there? "If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for the battle?" [1 Corinthians 14:8]
Now, some of you children here, you go out here to the university, and you come back, and I talk to you and I listen to you. Why, you’ve been taught and taught and taught and taught this old Bible here is just a bunch of fiction just full of fables and allegory. Why, there’s not a man of any intellectual or scientific stature in the earth that would believe in a Genesis account of creation. That’s just some crazy ecclesiastic’s idea who lived back there before there was science, before there was truth, before there was knowledge; and for a man to accept the Bible as the Bible says it would be sheer ignorance. He’s untaught and unlearned. And by and by, it isn’t long until these kids grow up around us, and when they read the Bible, they might as well read Shakespeare [William Shakespeare 1564-1616], or Milton [John Milton 1608-1674], or Dante [Dante Alighieri 1265-1321], or Homer [Eighth century BC ] as far as it being an absolute ground of the truth and the faith upon which they can base their lives.
Now this is going to take just a little different turn for lack of time. At these 8:30 o’clock services on Sunday morning, the best God can help me, I try as clearly and as affirmatively as I know how, I try to sound a trumpet in the great revelations of God and the truth of the Holy Scriptures and Word of the Lord.
Now, tonight, in just a little while, I want to take just two things, just two things. First, about the Bible, about the Bible. We so often have the opinion and the impression that these men of science laugh out of court the Genesis account of creation, that all of these things that are written in the Word of God, these things are written by men who had no idea of the great truth of God written large in His universe. That’s because we’re not told the whole truth. We’re just told the truth as an infidel sees it. We’re just told so-called facts as an unbeliever looks at it. You listen to these men. These are the greatest scientists that ever lived. Listen to these men.
Sir John Herschel [1792-1871], the incomparable English astronomer – listen to this man: "All human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more and more strongly the truths contained in the Holy Scriptures" [Evolution or Creation, Townsend, Prop. Luther Tracy, 1896] Listen to these men. Professor James D. Dana [1813-1895], incomparably gifted naturalist, appointed United States geologist and mineralogist, a skillful scientist with a remarkable capacity for research. Listen to this man. "The grand old Book of God still stands; and this old earth, the more its leaves are turned and pondered, the more will it sustain and illustrate the sacred Word" ["The Bible Work, The Old Testament"; J Glentworth Butler, D.D., 1887]
Listen to these men. Sir Charles Lyell [1797-1875], professor of King’s College, an English geologist of the highest, greatest stature. Listen to him. "In the year 1806, the French Institute enumerated no less than eighty" – eighty – "geological theories which were hostile to the Scriptures; but not one of them" – not one of these theories, not a one – "is held to-day." Eighty of them yesterday all mocking the Word of God, not a one of them held today. Old Francis Bacon [1561-1626], way back yonder, contemporary of Shakespeare, said, "There never was found in any age of the world either religion or law that did so highly exalt the public good as the Bible."
And I copied this out of John Selden [1584-1654]. He was an incomparable jurist, a lawyer of tremendous stature. It was John Selden that Oliver Cromwell invited to answer in the days of the Commonwealth, and when John Selden could not do it, he was imprisoned. They asked John Milton [1608-1674], the incomparable poet, but they first asked John Selden. Listen to this great man, an intellectual giant, listen to him: "I have surveyed most of the learning that is among the sons of men, yet at this moment, I can recall nothing in them on which to rest my soul, save one from the sacred Scriptures, which rise as much in my mind. It is this," and he quotes Titus 2:11-14:
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world,
Looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ,
Who gave Himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
He [John Selden] says, "That’s the only place in all literature I have ever found a sentence upon which I could base my soul and my life."
Young man, don’t you forget when you walk in the company of men who exalt that Book and believe in inspiration of its every syllable and its every word, you’re walking in the presence and in the company of some of the finest, greatest intellects and scientists in this world. It was true yesterday. It’s true today. It’ll be true forever. For the same Lord God that wrote His name in the universe around us wrote His name in the Book of Life – this Book that I hold in my hand. The sounding of a trumpet [1 Corinthians 14:8], distinct and clear: the revelation of God in the word of the Book.
Now, I have one other that I want you to bear with me as you listen to it. I have one other. You know – every school boy knows – the basis of western civilization is Greco-Roman art, literature, and law. There has never been in any generation, in any age, in any people, in any nation, in any civilization, there has never been such an aggregate of stars: stars in philosophy, stars in political science, stars in literature, stars in art and language and architecture and painting and poetry. There has never been – not in any generation, not in any millennium – such stars as the Greco-Romans produced.
You don’t find an orator to excel Cicero [Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106-43 BC] or Demosthenes [384-322 BC]. You don’t find an architect to excel Phidias [0-430 BC], the creator of the Parthenon. You don’t have any poets to excel Sappho the woman [625-571 BC], Euripides [480-406 BC], Aristophanes [446-386 BC], Homer [Eighth century BC] – an endless number of them. You don’t have great men of politics to excel a Pericles [5-429 BC] and the Golden Age [Golden Age of Athens, fifth century BC]. You don’t have great conquerors to excel Julius Caesar [100-44 BC]. You don’t have men of literature beyond Virgil [Publius Vergilius Maro, 70-20 BC] and Ovid [Publius Ovidius Naso, 43 BC -18 AD], and Horace [Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65-8 BC] and Juvino and Plutarch [46-120 AD] and a thousand others.
And you can go on endlessly. What would you say about the thinking men in philosophy and in science? Hippocrates [Hippocrates of Cos, 460-371 BC , Pericles [5-429 BC], Thales [Thales of Miletus, sixth century BC], the Stoic Zeno [Zeno of Elea, 0-430 BC], Socrates [469-399 BC], Plato [429-347 BC], Aristotle [384-322 BC]. Somebody told me that to this very day in Oxford alone, there are more than six hundred courses taught on Aristotle alone – just Aristotle in Oxford today. You never arise above those men; never will, never will.
All right, let’s go back to that civilization. The Greco-Roman civilization that ought to be the halcyon days of all mankind, it was a Christless civilization. It was a Bibleless civilization. It was a churchless civilization. They had no Lord. They had no Christ. They had no church. They had no gospel. If ever art, and science, and literature, and the genius, and philosophical insight and grasp of men could ever achieve a glorious civilization, the Greco-Romans ought to have done it. All right, let’s look at it: the greatest civilization that mankind has ever wrought before Jesus Christ. Let’s look at it.
One of their poets was named Lucian [Lucian of Samosata, c. 125-180 CE]: a tremendous poet, a satirist, a wit, an ingenious writer. Listen to Lucian. Listen to him.
If anyone loves wealth and is dazzled by gold; if anyone measures happiness by purple and power; if any one brought up among flatterers and slaves has never had a conception of liberty . . . if any one has wholly surrendered himself to pleasure, full tables, carousals, lewdness, sorcery, and deceit – let him go to Rome.
Let him go to Rome.
The great teacher of Rome was Seneca the Stoic [Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 1 BC-65 AD]. His greatest sentence was, "Admire only thyself." He taught Nero. He lived a life of shame and contempt and in 65 AD, about the time that Paul was beheaded, he committed suicide cutting his arteries in the hands and his legs. That’s Rome’s greatest teacher whom these people say we ought to substitute his precepts for the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29].
The typical – the typical Caesar is Nero [37-68 AD]. Nero: dramatist, self-styled; poet, self-styled; great political leader, self-styled; great artist, self-styled – Nero. He took a notion in his heart to build him a golden palace and to enshrine his name forever in a marble-built city of Rome. So he set fire to it, and in July, 64 AD, for six days and six nights, Rome burned, and Nero on the Tower of Maecenas stood there and watched the flames devour the city.
The woe-stricken people without home, losing everything they had, seeking a culprit said, "Nero did it, he did. Nero did it." And to avert suspicion from himself, Nero said, "The Christians did it." And they took them to their arenas, tied Christian women on the horns of raging bulls who dragged them to death, fed them to wild beasts that tore them apart. And Nero took those Christians, bathed them in pitch, tied them to stakes of pine, set them up and down the streets of Rome; and fantastically dressing himself in the attire of a charioteer, he drove wildly and furiously through the city at night lighted by the bodies of the burning Christians. That’s their Caesar.
Have you ever been to that Coliseum? The winds that moan through that vast and colossal ruin, what could they tell you about a Christless civilization? Down there in that pit below, even the women and the girls give the sign of death, thumbs down. And after the poor gladiator has bathed the ground with his blood, the slaves come in, turn the red-dyed earth over, cover it with sand that the gory, monsteral spectacle may continue on.
And what do I see? What do I see? I see a Christian martyr with a lion standing over him satiating his horrible thirst in the blood of God’s sainted disciple. And when the lion roars and drinks of the blood, the crowd roared too asking that the amusement go on. That’s the Christless civilization.
Labor and slavery: these are copied from their works. A mechanic’s occupation is degrading; a workshop is incompatible with nobility. A purchased slave – a laborer bought – a slave is better than a hired one; and everywhere, thousands of prison-like hovels grew up hiding the millions of slaves – more slaves in the Roman Empire than there were freedmen.
This is the world at its highest and at its best without Christ and without the Bible and without the Book. This is what art, and science, and literature, and philosophy, and man’s genius is able to bring to pass. That’s what the world is without our Lord, and without our Bible, and without our gospel, and without our Christ.
In one of those books that I read, on the inside of it was a philosopher named Marius [Gaius Marius, 157-86 BC] and he’s seated up there in that coliseum and he’s looking down on those terrible bloody combats in the arena. And Marius the philosopher turns toward his friend, and he says, "What is needed – what is needed is the heart that would make it impossible to look upon such bloody spectacle." And he says, "And the future will belong to the people that can create such a heart."
Who did it? Who did it? Who made the Coliseum a ruin? Who forever banished crucifixion, the instrument of slave death? Who forever put the seal upon the gladiatorial combat? Who preached the love of God and the righteousness of Christ Jesus? Who did it? Who did it? You know who did it. All around that Greco-Roman Empire, little colonies of heaven began to spring up as men began to preach the unsearchable riches of the Lord Jesus Christ [Ephesians 3:8].
And when they came to those early Christians and said, "Bow down and worship the emperor or it’s death," Theophilus replied, "I will honor the emperor not by worshiping him but by praying for him." And they put him to death. And in the reign of Trajan [53-117 CE], one of the great rich nobles in Rome became a Christian, and on Easter day, on Easter morning, he freed 1,250 of his slaves. And all over the Roman Empire those little poor congregations gathered money together in order that they might buy the freedom of the slaves.
And Paul wrote over there to Philemon saying: "I’m sending him back to you Onesimus [Philemon 1:12-16]. I’m sending him back to you, and if he hath wronged thee or oweth thee ought, lay it to my account [Philemon 1:18]. I, Paul, have written it with mine own hand. I will repay" [Philemon 1:19]. The love of God; the care of Christ; the preaching of the gospel: that’s where we came from.
It’s not philosophy that makes us great. It’s not literature that makes us great. It’s not science that makes us great. It’s not all of those marvelous things that the ingenuity of man can contrive in any field. What makes us great is the love of God and the grace of Christ in the human heart that makes us love one another and worship and adore Him, our only Lord and Savior, our God.
Tell me, fellow, do you have to be uncertain about that? Do you have to equivocate about that? Do you have to stumble and extenuate about that? Do you? In the great truths of God in Christ Jesus, can’t you stand up? Can’t you say it plain? Can’t you do it distinctly? Can’t you do it like Paul says – like a trumpet? [1 Corinthians 14:8] Like a trumpet: "This is the truth of God. This is the revelation of Christ. This is the Book, and this is the way, and these are His people, and we are the sheep of His pasture" [Psalm 95:7, 100:3]. Can’t you? We know that we know that we know.
I have to quit. Should have a long time ago. But, oh, God help us. When somebody asks you, "Do you believe in Jesus? Do you? Do you believe in the Book? Do you? Do you believe in the world to come? Do you? Do you believe in Christ, God’s only Son? Do you? Do you believe He saves the lost? Do you? Do you believe He can change the human soul? Do you? Do you believe in His cross? Do you believe in His blood atonement? Do you?"
When you’re asked, oh like a trumpet, clear and distinct: "This is the true Word of God and the true revelation of Jesus Christ." And say it humbly, prayerfully, but say it oh so positively and so affirmatively: "This we believe, God helping us."
All right, let’s sing our song. I think the song is, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness" ["My Hope is Built," by Edward Mote and William Bradbury, c. 1834]. And while we sing the song, while we sing it, somebody, you, give your heart and your life to this affirmation. While we sing the song, would you come and stand by me? Would you? Would you?
Anywhere, somebody you, in this great throng, in the balcony, from side to side: "Preacher, by God’s grace, I accept Jesus for all that He said He was, all that He promised to do. I trust Him. I believe in Him. Glad to take my stand by His side," or into the fellowship of His church. While we make appeal, a family of you or one coming by baptism, or by letter, or statement, or promise of letter – however God would whisper the word of appeal, would you make it now while we stand and while we sing?
THE CERTAINTIES OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 14:1-8
A. Corinthian world would have tongues, various voices, incoherent utterances, invariable confusion, but never alleviating or enlightening the intellectual darkness, much less contributing to spiritual education
B. Paul uses figure of trumpet in battle
1. Not just a musical instrument, but a battle cry
2. Trumpeter has one calling and obedience – obey the command of his chief, and deliver that command
a. So the preacher
3. Trumpet to give a clear, distinct, meaningful, understood sound
A. The uncertain sound – not sure of anything
B. A reflection of modern philosophy
1. Emmanuel Kant, Hegel – only reality in appearance
C. Note of uncertainty has crept into religious thinking of the modern world
1. Not sure about inspiration
2. Not sure about the future life, resurrection, heaven, hell
3. Not sure about the devil
4. Not sure about Christ – is He the Son of God?
5. Not sure about the cross – blood atonement or moral influence?
6. Not sure about the Christian faith – is it one among many ways?
III. Science and the Bible
A. Sir John Herschel, Professor James D. Dana, Sir Charles Lyle, Francis Bacon, John Selden(Titus 2:11-14)
B. When you walk in the company of men who exalt the Book you’re walking in presence of some of the finest intellects and scientists in this world
IV. First century Rome
A. The height to which humanity, without a Bible and a Christ, ascended
1. Lucian, Seneca, Nero
2. The Coliseum
3. Labor, slavery
B. This is the world without Christ
1. Marius the philosopher
C. What makes us great