FORM AND GODLINESS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 3: 5
11-9-58 10:50 a.m.
You’re sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message from the first part of the third chapter of 2 Timothy. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the third chapter of 2 Timothy, and you can follow the passage as I read it:
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.
[2 Timothy 3:1-5]
Paul says that is the way it will be in the last days. Evidently, this apostle does not paint the future with rosy colors. Paul is not a smooth-tongued orator declaiming of the golden age into which this dull world is gradually glowing.
Without the King, there’s not any kingdom. Without the Lord of righteousness, there’s not any abounding righteousness in the earth. Except for the interposition of God in human history, this war-weary world will more likely sink into pandemonium than it will to rise to any golden age or any immediate millennium. All we have to do to verify this prediction of the apostle Paul – "in the last days, perilous times shall come" [2 Timothy 3:1] – all we have to do is to just open our eyes and look around us. Out of a multitude of dark, dreary affirmations of this terrible prophecy, we could just take one or two.
If you are interested in prostitution, I can tell you where they swarm by the hundreds: just go to the Church of the Magdalene in Paris. If you are interested in pornographic literature, I can tell you where you can buy it by the truckloads: just go to the Church of Notre Dame. If you are interested in emptiness and coldness, I can tell you where you can find it exemplified and emphasized: just attend the churches of England. These things are characteristic of a country and a people that have known Christianity for almost two thousand years, and they show no sign and no inclination of ever changing.
In regards to our own country of America, far more likely are we to lose what we now possess than we are to gain anything better. Our laws concerning liquor have been destroyed by the leadership of a church and churches; and our states, one after another, are beginning to pass laws legalizing gambling because of the leadership of a church. I received a letter this week, a very interesting one:
A new 1959 car for a nickel. Imagine! A new 1959 car for a nickel. You recognize a bargain. I have a bargain. I am a member of such and such church. They are offering four new Cadillacs, sixteen cars in all. For just five dollars, you can purchase six tickets; and six tickets on sixteen cars adds up to ninety-six chances or a little more than five cents per chance. I assure you that your returns will be put to the best possible advantage.
I have in my hand from this so – called "true church" these six tickets. If anybody is interested, you may have them after the service. This is a lottery. This is a raffle. This is legalized gambling. This is the church.
"In the last days, perilous times shall come . . . having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" [2 Timothy 3:1, 5]. If a certain church is able to elect a president of their choice, you shall find this thing and things far worse, multiplied in every hamlet and village and city of America. "In the last days, perilous times shall come" [2 Timothy 3:1].
I have not opportunity to speak by any length or way of the description Paul gives. I take just one: "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power" – the meaning, the Spirit, the dynamic – "thereof" [2 Timothy 3:5]. Having a morphosis of power. That word has been translated, been transliterated. It is an English word. A metamorphosis is a change of form; a morphos is the form itself. "Having a form, a morphos, of godliness." A form is necessary. It serves a useful purpose. For example, you cannot conceive – I’ve tried it; you cannot conceive – others have tried it – you cannot conceive of anything without a form. Just try it yourself. It is impossible. Anything that is to us has to be embodied in a form.
I have been interested in the struggle of Al Capp in his comic cartoons "Little Abner." In his fantasy and his imagination, he tries to draw pictures of the inhabitants of other planets. His last attempt was on "Pincus Number Seven," and he calls the inhabitants "pincushions." And they are weird, funny little things; but however fantastic his imagination, every one of them has to be peopled with a form of some kind. Nor can you conceive of anything without a form: if it is to us, it has to be embodied. It has to take a form.
Now, I said, a form in itself is not valueless. It is necessary. It is not a curse. It can be a great blessing. When I went to see my mother a few days ago, there in that beautiful yard is an English walnut tree; and I went out there and picked up those English walnuts from the ground – quite a happy turn of fortune for me ’cause they don’t grow around here that I know of – at least ways I don’t have any in my yard, let me say it that way. So I’m walking around and picked them up. On the outside is a hull, and on the inside is a shell, and on the inside of the shell is the kernel. Now the hull and the shell serve a wonderful purpose: the form in which the meat is kept and preserved.
Our religion is spiritual, but it has to be embodied in a form for it to be of any value to us. I could have never known it unless it had taken some kind of a human instrumentality and a medium through which it is made known unto me. Our religion is exactly illustrated by our human life: the man is a spirit [1 Corinthians 2:11]. He is a living, quickened, soul, the Scriptures say [Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13; 1 Peter 3:18]. The real man lives on the inside [Romans 7:22; 2 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 3:16]; but for the man to live at all as we know it, he must have a body. One man described us as "half dust and half deity." We are matter and soul, body and spirit; and the spirit has to be embodied if it is to live. It is so with the church of Jesus Christ. It has to have a body. It has to have a form to do its work in the earth.
Now, realizing that the form is necessary and that the form is vital and that it can be a blessing under God and to us, the tragedy lies when the form is an empty shell "having a form of godliness, but denying the power and the Spirit thereof" [2 Timothy 3:5]. Walking among those walnuts lying on the ground, I picked one of them up: it was so light. I looked at it closely, and a little ant – they can just bite out there; little ants here don’t bite, California little ants take a hunk out of you – one of them stuck his head out and bit me! There was a little aperture in there, and the ants had been going inside and they had eaten the heart of it. The hull was there, and the shell was there, but the heart of it was gone.
There’s not anything more dreary or more desolate than a vacant, empty house. Even we who have around us these whom we love cry in agony when the body alone is left: "I must bury my dead out of my sight" [Genesis 23:4]. How much more true is that of the church of the living God? It falls, like the human body, into decay and into corruption when the Spirit is taken away and nothing abides but the form [Revelation 2:1-3:22]: "having a form, a morphos, of godliness, but denying the power thereof" [2 Timothy 3:5].
Now, "a form of godliness." This is a form of godliness: the ordinances which lend so many of our churches to liturgical services. Around the Lord’s Supper they build the recurring worship of the Lord, and around the ordinance of baptism they build the means of salvation – call it a "sacrament." And the churches more and more and more add to the liturgy, add to the rite and the ritual and the ceremony, until finally it becomes a liturgical, ritualistic, ceremonial service – that is all: a form of godliness.
A form of godliness is to be found in church attendance – people going to church. That is a form of godliness. One of the poets said:
They do it every Sunday,
They’ll be all right on Monday;
It’s just a little habit they’ve acquired.
[Author and Title Unknown]
To go to church. How much of it is meaningless?
I passed, this August, by Wellesley College. The president of Wellesley College said, "Ninety-eight and eight-tenths percent of the students who come to Wellesley belong to a church, and the same percentage have no knowledge and no idea of the religion to which they claim allegiance." That is a form of godliness.
This is a form of godliness: the liberal and the modern church. They have advanced in this enlightened age until they know more than God. They speak of the Lord Jesus, but they deny His deity, His Godhead, in which lies His power. They speak of the Holy Spirit, but they deny His personality wherein lies His very existence. They speak and extol the Holy Scriptures, but they deny their infallibility wherein lies their meaning and their power. They speak of redemption, but they deny substitution wherein lies its essence and its meaning. They burn the golden grain and keep the husk and the chaff. They kill truth and then profess to reverence its sepulcher. They use words of orthodoxy and of scriptural language and literature, but they empty every syllable of its meaning and its pertinency. They profess to believe in the revelation of God, but they deny its actual deliverance from heaven.
How can a man eat at a painted feast of a banquet? How can a man warm himself by a painted fire? How could a man drink who is athirst at the edge of a mirage? "Having a morphos of godliness, a form of it, but denying the Spirit and the power of it" [2 Timothy 3:5].
How is it that people fall into the forms of religion having never known its changing, heavenly power? How do they get that way? The answer is very simple and very plain: they get that way by heredity. They are born into it. Their fathers belong to such and such church, and the family belongs, and they belong. Now, that isn’t all bad. That’s not a whole evil. We pray and look forward with glorious anticipation that our children will follow us; but this thing of "birthright membership" is not only unscriptural, but it is in every way perilous. That makes possible the state church. We are born as a citizen of a nation; we are baptized and christened into a church. No new birth, no regeneration, no change – just brought into the church as an unconscious infant and grow up a member of it having been baptized into it when a babe.
If grace ran in the blood, if it were a matter of generation and not regeneration, then that would solve all of the problems that we have in the world. Just take them in as they are born a citizen of a nation. But the trouble is, Ishmael is no worthy son of Abraham [Genesis 17:15-22]; and Esau is no worthy son of Isaac [Genesis 25:21-34, 28:6-9; Hebrews 12:15-17]; and Absalom is no worthy son of David [2 Samuel 13:24-39, 14:21-33; 15:1-18:33]; and because a man is born into a church does not mean that he knows God [Matthew 7:21-23]. "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" [2 Timothy 3:5].
How is it that we get into that way? Sometimes it comes through following others. Upon a day, these all came, and this one followed after. These all joined the church, and this one also came into the fellowship. We are untouched by God, unchanged by the power of the Lord, never know the dynamic, saving grace of the Holy Spirit of God. We just became members and were such nominally from the beginning and have been nominal members ever since.
Sometimes they become members of the church through respectability. "Do you think that I am not an upstanding citizen? I have joined such and such church." And they put on their church clothes like they put on the rest of their garments, and they take them off as easily. Church is a matter of putting something on and then take it off. To be respectable, you wear clothes; to be respectable, you go to church. The cross is no longer that harsh, dark, tragic instrument of death. It is a piece of jewelry, and it is worn around the neck, or as a ring, or as a bracelet – as a matter of adornment and ornament. We are there because of respectability. "Do you think I’m a heathen? No. I belong to the church."
Sometimes we belong to the church because of personal gain. It pays us to belong. We get out of it things for which we are in this material mundane task and work. We get a reward, a stipend, from it. I read this week about Emperor Maximilian who was a great iconoclast. He had a zeal for destroying gold and silver images, and he prosecuted that destruction of the silver and golden idols with great force. He signed a decree that they were all to be melted down. Well that is very commendable, don’t you think? To melt down images of gold and silver before which people bow down?
You know, it’s a funny thing about these images. Just what do you think the cultured, educated Greek was doing when he bowed down before his god Neptune, and Jove, and Jupiter? Just what do you think he was doing? "Oh," you say, "he is an idolater. He bows down before Neptune. He bows down before Pallas Athena. He bows down and worships at the shrine of Jupiter. He is an idolater."
If you had talked to one of those literate, educated, glorious Greeks of three hundred years before Christ and asked him, "Is that god?" He would say, "Why certainly not. Neptune is the god of the sea; this is just a representation of him. Jupiter is a god of Mount Olympus, and he reigns up there above the clouds. This is just a representation of it. We are bowing down before the representation." Yet you call him an idolater.
Yet there are citizens by the millions who bow down before images, and just because it has the name of a church on it, you don’t say, "They are idolaters." They bow down before images of gold and images of silver, and when you ask them, "You are an idolater, aren’t you?" "Oh no," they say. "We are not idolaters. This is just a representation of God. This is just a representation of the saints."
When God says, "Thou shalt not make any image, any representation of Me – nothing in heaven and nothing in earth" [Deuteronomy 4:15-19] – you call the ancient Greek an idolater because he bows down before his representation, his image of god Jupiter or god Neptune, but these are not idolaters. You show me the difference. I’m very happy to listen. "Having a form of godliness" [2 Timothy 3:5] but denying the commandments against it.
So we belong to the church for personal gain, and sometimes we belong to the church to salve our conscience – just an easy way, just an easy out. "What do you mean by ‘join the church to salve our conscience’?" Always in the back of a man’s mind there is an uneasy feeling that there may be something more to this life than what I see here in this world. There could be a God who judges. There could be a wrath to come. There could be something else and something other, and there is an uneasiness in an ordinary, normal man’s mind about death and about the grave and about the eternity to come; and yet, the man doesn’t want to change. He’s worldly, and he likes it; and he stays in those worldly habits. What can he do and how shall he turn in order that he might find a religion that would salve his conscience, and ease his conscience, and at the same time allow him to follow all of his worldly practices and to continue just exactly as he is?
For example, over there in Nigeria they told me that for every one convert a Christian wins, the Moslem wins ten and that all Africa is gradually going Moslem. Everywhere, they win ten converts to our one. Well, I said, "I cannot understand that;" and they said to me, "The reason is very simple, very plain. These native Africans with their multiplicity of wives, these native Africans with all of the things that go with it, they find it easy to transfer from their pagan, heathen worship into their Moslem worship without any change of life whatsoever." So they flock into the Moslem church from their pagan, heathen ways for it involves and entails no change whatsoever.
That is an identical thing that happens in the citizenship of the great mass of America. "Where can I find a church to which I can belong and keep all of my worldly habits and follow all of my worldly affinities and predilections? Is there one?" And Satan bows, "Oh yes, I have one. Come, look! There is a cross. There are beautiful vestments. Here’s a little doll house at the further end. There are all the rituals and the beautiful ceremonies. Come, just as you are, dirt and all, worldliness and all. Come, and join, and go out a respectable citizen: ‘I belong to the church.’" Nothing about repentance [Matthew 4:17; Mark 6:12; Luke 13:3-5; Acts 2:38, 3:19, 17:30], nothing about change [Ephesians 2:1-10, 4:17-32; Colossians 1:21-23], nothing about regeneration [John 3:3; Titus 3:5], nothing about the power of God [Matthew 19:25-26; 1 Corinthians 1:18, 4:20; 2 Corinthians 4:7-11; Ephesians 3:16, 20; Philippians 3:8-11; Colossians 1:11, 29; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:7-8] – "having a form of godliness, and denying the reality thereof" [2 Peter 3:5].
You know, it’s hard to persuade yourself that brass is as good as gold, that glass is as fine as diamonds; but it can be done, and it is done. And you keep deceiving yourself, and you will achieve it. It’ll come. You’ll get to the place where you’ll be perfectly at ease in the church when in reality you have never known God or the power of Christ or the regeneration of the Holy Spirit of Jesus.
My dear people, I must quit; and yet, I need how much to make an appeal to our hearts. When you think of revival, tell me, don’t you think of a prodigal who is turning back home? Don’t you think of a drunkard who has been rescued out of the gutter? Don’t you think of an alcoholic who is turning away from the bottle? When you think of revival, don’t you think of these who are hard and away from God turning to the cross of Christ finding Jesus as Savior? That is revival. My dear people, we never think of revival in terms of church members: God’s people searching their souls, coming under the power of the Holy Spirit, and giving themselves to the reality of religion. That’s the kind of a revival we need.
I don’t see much difference between church members and people who are not members of the church. I don’t see much difference in so-called Christians and people of the world who are not Christians. We are pretty much alike: talk alike, act alike. I don’t know. God’s people must come back to God. Judgment must begin at the house of the Lord [1 Peter 4:17]. Something must happen to us.
I could not but be amused, half amused, at the reaction of B. H. Carroll in an address that I read this week in preparing this message. In one of the volumes of his sermons that he published a long time ago, he says – now I have copied it from him:
I was present when by actual count there were 487 Christians; and those were representative Christians, supposed to be the very pick of many churches, and they kneeled down and prayed for missions, and got up and took up a collection for missions. The collection amounted to nineteen dollars and thirty-five cents! I never felt in my life like I felt when I witnessed that . . . "Why," I said to myself, "I would give nineteen dollars to accommodate a worthy desire of one of my children; I would give nineteen dollars to accommodate myself . . . I would give nineteen dollars to put a little piece of furniture in a little corner of my house;" and loving God, and  of them present, and stating that they loved the lost world, and giving nineteen dollars . . .
["Having the Form, But Denying the Power," sermon by B.H. Carroll]
That is like all of us. We need a coming back. We need a resurgence of the Spirit of God. We need a dedication. We need a revival. We have the form of religion. I verily am persuaded that the form of religion in this blessed church is patterned after the model of the inspired Word of God. Our ordinance of baptism is from the Book. Our breaking of bread is exactly as God would have it in the Book. Our church membership is exactly as God would outline it for us in the Book. Our giving ourselves to the ministry of the Word – in the center of the church is the pulpit for the preaching of the Word of God. I am at peace in my heart that the form we have is of God.
I am not at peace in my heart of the power of the Spirit of God among us. We don’t win many lost people to Christ, and a church that doesn’t pray for the conversion of sinners has the form and not the power. We need God.
I must close. Let’s pray, then we’ll sing our hymn.
Our Lord, oh, that same serpent that has crushed to death by its coils the faith of other nations and other peoples, Lord, I see that same dragon down the city streets of America. I see his forked tongue in my very face every time I stand up to deliver the message of God. Oh, the worldliness that is so much in us and among us, and, Lord, in me too. How I need to ask God to take all of me, and how our church needs that God should move in power among us. How all of us need a baptism from above. Lord, how empty a shell and useless without the kernel. How dreary a house without an occupant. How dead, dead the body, when the spirit is gone; and how vain and futile the ministrations of a church when they have the form and not the power.
O Lord, help me, and help our church, and help our people; and may from heaven itself there come a baptism from above – a moving, an unction, an endowment, an enduement, a pouring out from heaven. Lord, look upon us in our weakness and make us strong in Thee. May there be a new spirit of dedication, of committal: "Here I am, Lord. By Thy grace, help me to be what God wants me to be." And, our Lord, in the appeal that we make this hour, may there be those who come saying, "Today I give my life to Christ." God, look upon it. And today may there be those who say, "We put our lives in the fellowship of this church not just for the sake of respectability, or just for the sake of belonging, but we love the Lord and we want to be numbered among God’s people." Do it, Lord, and give us a harvest. In Thy blessed Name, amen.
Now, in this moment, while we sing our song, somebody you to take Jesus as Savior, somebody you to put your life in the fellowship of the church, while we sing the song, would you come? In this balcony around, the stairwell at the front and the back, in this lower floor, this press of people – into the aisle and down here to the front. Would you take the Pastor by the hand, "Today, I give my heart to God" or "Today, I’m putting my life in the fellowship of this precious church"? One somebody you, a family you, as God shall say the word and lead the way, would you come? Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
I. 2 Timothy 3:1
Paul does not paint the future with rosy colors
for the interposition of God in human history, this world is more likely to
sink into pandemonium than rise to any golden age
verify this prediction of Paul, look around us
to the Church of the Magdalene in Paris for prostitutes
Go to the Church of Notre Dame for pornographic literature
churches of England empty and cold
In America, under leadership of the church liquor laws have been destroyed,
II. 2 Timothy 3:5
Form is necessary, serves a useful purpose
form in itself is not valueless
Mother’s walnut tree
Our religion is spiritual, but has to be embodied in a form for it to be of any
value to us
1. Illustrated by our
human life – we are matter and soul
Tragedy lies when the form is an empty shell
Form of godliness in ordinances – liturgical, ritualistic, ceremonial service
of godliness in church attendance
Form of godliness in the liberal, modern church – speak of Jesus, but deny His
deity; speak and extol Scriptures, but deny infallibility
III. How do people fall into the form of
religion, never knowing its changing power?
By heredity; they are born into it
Birthright membership unscriptural, perilous
Makes possible the state church
For gain – pays to be in religion
Maximilian showed great zeal against idolatry
To ease, salve the conscience
Where can I find a church to which I can belong and keep all my worldly habits?
IV. The need is revival
We think of a prodigal returning home, a drunkard rescued out of gutter
We need the people of God coming under the power of the Holy Spirit and giving
themselves to the reality of religion
H. Carroll’s address