Everywhere Preaching the Word
July 19th, 1959 @ 7:30 PM
EVERYWHERE PREACHING THE WORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-19-59 7:30 p.m.
Turn in your Bible to the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts; Acts chapter 7. We begin reading at verse 54, Acts 7:54; we read through Acts 8:4. Now we have it? Acts 7:54, together:
When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.
Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Now the next four verses of chapter 8:
And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.
One of the pivotal turns in the destiny and history of the Christian faith is found in the martyrdom of God’s first Christian deacon, preacher, layman, Stephen. He was not an ordained minister; he was a layman, he was a deacon. He and Philip were of the first seven who comprised the first board of deacons [Acts 6:1-4]. And the martyrdom of this man was the great pivotal center around which God scattered the message of the story of Jesus over the civilized world.
You find that emphasized so many times here in the Bible. Acts 8:4, “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. And Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” [Acts 8:5]. Then after a long story of the blessing of God upon the ministry of these men, it is picked up again in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts, and the nineteenth verse: “Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled to Phoenicia, to Cyprus, to Antioch, and they scattered the word of the message of Jesus wherever they went” [Acts 11:19]. It was a time, a day of great evangelism, a time of soulwinning, a time of appeal; and all the people shared in it.
One time there was a young fellow in our seminary talking to a Hard Shell Baptist, fellow that didn’t believe in missions and didn’t believe in the Great Commission, didn’t believe in evangelism. And the young fellow said to him, “But the commission to evangelize this whole world is given to all of us, and all of us are to share in it” [Matthew 28:19-20]. And the Hard Shell Baptist said to him, “Oh no, young fellow,” he said, “the Great Commission was given to the apostles, and it was completed in their day, and it was carried out by the twelve who were appointed of Jesus; and it is not incumbent upon us.” And the young fellow said, “Let us turn to the Bible and see.” So he turned to this passage: “At that time there was a great persecution against the church at Jerusalem, and they were all scattered abroad, except the apostles” [Acts 8:1]. These people that are up and down the highways, and the Roman roads, and the in the villages and the cities of the empire are laypeople; they are men and women forced out of Jerusalem by a terrible persecution. Wherever they went, there they left a trail of blazing personal appeal and evangelism. We’ll never win this world by preachers paid; we’ll never in this earth win this world by missionaries who are sent out by the boards of our conventions. Our only hope for the evangelization of the peoples of America and of this earth lies in God’s emissaries who are Christians, and thereby called to testify and to witness of the saving grace of the Son of God. You are an evangelist appointed, if God has saved you: laywomen, lay young people, laymen, all of us, wherever we are, sowing the seed of the Word of Jesus.
Now may I speak first of how God’s hand is in the tragedies that overwhelm us in this life. To these people, the death of that noble, noble man, Stephen, was a calamitous thing. “And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him” [Acts 8:2]. It was a tremendous loss to the church, the stoning to death of that pillar, that fortress, that giant in the household of the faith [Acts 7:59-60]. Yet, had it not been for the death of Stephen and the persecution that arose around him, there would never have been the scattering abroad of the preached gospel of the blessed Son of God [Acts 8:1, 4]. The Lord used that bitter persecution to make known the saving grace of Jesus throughout the whole civilized world. And had it not been for the death of this first martyr, there would never have been an apostle Paul. One of the old Latin proverbs says, “Had Stephen not prayed, Paul had not preached.” Paul never saw a man die like that man died. He never saw a man speak like that man spoke. And in those days that followed the martyrdom of the great deacon Stephen, Saul, who had watched him, who presided over the execution [Acts 7:54-60], who cast his vote against him in the Sanhedrin [Acts 22:20], Paul never forgot it; he never got over it. In the nighttime, he’d see his face. In the daytime, he’d think upon the noble character of that man whom he had slain. And when Paul was converted and became a Christian, he said to the Lord, who spoke to him in a vision, he said, “Lord, let me go back to Jerusalem and testify in the city of my fathers,” and when they said, “Yea, but that means death” [Acts 20:23, 21:4, 10-12], and when God forbade him to go because it would have meant his execution, Saul, who had been converted said, “But there where Stephen’s blood was shed, there do I want to die” [Acts 21:13-14]. The death, the martyrdom of Stephen, was used of God for the conversion, the complete changing of the great minister of Christ, the apostle Paul.
Now may I stop here to say that all of the tragedies of life, and of the story of the church, and of Christian people, all of those sorrows, persecutions, that seem to be so devastating, they always are used of God for the propagation of His faith. We’re not to tremble before the exigencies of the time, nor are we to be afraid of what any tomorrow may bring; for the times are in God’s hands, and God uses these darkened days and these overwhelming tragedies for the building up of His faith and the preaching of His gospel.
I felt that especially this past week as I have preached through a Bible conference south of San Francisco, in California. I saw there some of the great, great laypeople of America. And as I listened to them speak, I could not help but be impressed especially, unusually so, by the things that had happened in their lives that God had used to turn them to a great ministry for Christ. For example, one of the men that was there is a famous dressmaker. Some of you women here tonight have dresses that are doubtless manufactured by this world famous man. He’s a Baptist layman, with a world famous industry. Upon a day, he said he was in Los Angeles, got a telephone call: his great plant had burned down in San Francisco. It meant the loss of everything, and his great far-flung empire. He came back to San Francisco in time to see the smoldering ruins of that great factory. Hundreds and hundreds of people employed in it, all of it destroyed; just a shell of charred remains. He was a nominal Christian; a member of a Baptist church there in San Francisco, but when he stood there and looked upon the destroyed ruins of his business, there came a despair in his heart like he’d never suffered before. Then friends began to call him, and to write him a note, and to stop him on the street, and to say to him, “We’re praying for you. We’ve heard of the disaster that has overwhelmed you. We’ve remembered you to God.” And he said, “A miraculous thing happened: God stayed back the terrible clouds, when it looked as though a veritable flood would fall. And we saved the records in the building that had been gutted by fire, and that were in steel cabinets, that would have been destroyed by the entrance of water. Right after they were removed, the heavens, the souse gates of heavens were opened, and the whole factory was filled with water. And God preserved the records.” Then he said, “There was the front of a balcony in the great building, where our patterns were stored and safely kept, and somehow,” he said, “the fire did not destroy the patterns.” Then he said, “The day after the plant was destroyed, I received a telephone call from a friend who had a big shirt factory in San Francisco, who said, ‘I am quitting. I am retiring. And you can have my plant, if you want it.’” He said, “Within a few days we had transferred all of our operations, having saved the patterns, and having saved the records, we transferred all of our operations into the new plant, and we are running better and finer than ever before.” And he said, “All of that was an answer to God’s appeal, when the people said, ‘I’m praying for you, and I’m remembering you.’” And he said, “From that day until this, I have devoted all that I have and all that I possess to the building up of the kingdom of Christ in the earth.” Had the tragedy not come, had the disaster not overwhelmed him, he would never have been the great layman and the wonderful Christian leader that you know today. God uses things like that to turn us mightily to God.
Then I heard a woman, she was an English woman, and she had given her life to be a missionary and had gone out under the China Inland Mission. And over there, teaching school, a nominal Christian, the war came, the Japanese invaded the land. She was taken before the Japanese. God miraculously spared her; put in a concentration camp for three and a half years. The tragedy of those years were indescribable as I listened to her describe them, speak of them. The food they had to eat, the water, what little water they had to drink, all of their life was miserable beyond any way that I could realize it. And may I conclude her story before I go back to the thing that impressed me so greatly? I asked her, “How did it end?” And she said, “The first inkling they had that the war was over, the Belgian consul, who was interned with them in that concentration camp, suddenly appeared with all of his formal attire; and he’d been dressed so meanly and poorly before. And a limousine, a black limousine drove into the camp and took him away.” Then she described the news. There were two thousand of them in that concentration camp; and the news that came, and how they had a religious service at sundown, reading from the Bible, the eighth of Deuteronomy—I wish you’d read that and see how that would fit on an occasion such as that—the eighth of Deuteronomy, and the twenty-third Psalm, and then they sang their national anthem. Then she was repatriated to England on a ship that had six thousand prisoners of war. And when the ship docked, there was absolute silence; nobody speaking, nobody moving, just looking at the homeland of England. Then when the ship docked, the prisoner of war that had suffered the most was allowed to go down the gangplank first. And when he went down the gangplank, he knelt and kissed the soil of England. And the six thousand sang their national anthem. She said, “There was not a man among the six thousand that was not in tears. Oh, the feeling of those tragic days!”
But she said in the days of that concentration camp, she went to a godly missionary and said to the missionary, “My life is so empty and futile.” Did you know you can be a preacher, and your life be empty and futile? You can be a missionary and your life barren and sterile. You can be a Sunday school teacher, you can be a leader in the church, you can be a deacon and your life be empty and barren and sterile. She went to this missionary and said to her, “My life is so empty and so barren. What can I do?” And the missionary replied, “What you need to do is to study, to give yourself to the Word of God, to be alone with the Lord.”
“Why,” she said, “I’ve been through all of these courses, and I’ve been through school, and I have my degrees in this Bible.”
“Yes,” said the missionary, “I understand, I know, but what you need and what makes your life empty and sterile is you don’t take time for God to yourself, with the open Book— open your heart to the teaching and the message of the Word of God.” She took the rebuke; and the days there in the concentration camp, she gave herself to the study of the Word, and to being alone with God, and letting the Lord speak to her heart. And as I listened to her—she spoke every day—as I listened to that China Inland missionary, there was a something about her, an intangible facet of character, there was a look in her face, and a tone in her voice, and the gesture of her hand that was different from any I had ever heard. And it came about through a great tragedy and a great loss in her life.
It is my persuasion that all of us, do all of us find God—if we ever find God—and all of us are grounded in the faith and made strong in the Lord; not in the easiness of our life, in the affluence of our life, in the luxury of our life, in the pleasures of our life, but we come to know God and we come to give ourselves to the will of God in the sorrows of our lives, in the disappointments of our lives, in the illnesses, in the death of our lives. These things are not to be looked upon as terrible scourges of God, nor are they to be received as though heaven were against us and God had cursed us. Rather, when the flat burns down, God has some greater thing for the man that owns it. When we are placed in a concentration camp, God has some greater lesson to teach us. When the work is heavy and we nearly are crushed underneath its weight, God is just teaching us not to lean upon our own strength, but to lean upon the strength of God; not to work in our own power and ableness, but to work in the power and ableness of the Holy Spirit. And the difficulties you have, and the burdens you bear, and the illnesses by which your life becomes infirm and sick, these things are of heaven to guide us into a greater work and a more blessed ministry for Him. We ought never to grumble; we ought never to find fault; we ought never to be bowed down as though we were forsaken and forgot. But all of these things that happen to us come from heaven, that God might make us the stronger in the work and the nobler in the faith.
May the Lord forgive me for every day I’ve ever grumbled and every time I’ve ever found fault. May the Lord forgive me for any hour I have ever doubted the mercy and grace of God. The Lord has a purpose, just like He did in the death of this martyr Stephen: he did more in his death than he ever could have done in his life. It was around Stephen that God made that great thrust of victory in the spreading of the gospel throughout the civilized world [Acts 7:54-8:4].
Now, I have a second thing to observe: “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” [Acts 8:4]. Doubtless some of them were selling Singer sewing machines; doubtless some of them were representing Standard Oil; doubtless some of them were over there for pleasure and touring, just looking around; doubtless some of them were making a living by selling things and doing lots of things that all of our people do today. But, they were doing that to make expenses; just to keep body and soul together. The great commitment of their life and the great devotion of their work lay in spreading abroad the message of Jesus. Incidentally a lawyer; mainly a Christian. Incidentally a doctor, incidentally a merchantman, incidentally an employee or an employer; but mainly and under God a servant of the Lord. And the rest of it just to pay the house rent, or the mortgage, or to help pay for the car, or to feed the family and to clothe the children; but the great commitment is the devotion of our service to Christ.
Oh, that the meaning and the immediacy and the urgency of that message of the Lord might rest upon our souls! O God, that it could, that it would! For the Lord will not use us and the Lord will not bless us if we turn aside from that great soul-winning responsibility and commission.
The nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus comes before the twentieth chapter of the Book of Exodus; and before the Lord gave the commandments and the oracles of heaven to the Jewish people, He said, first in the nineteenth chapter, “I have chosen you a peculiar people. You are to be a nation of priests unto the whole world, unto all the nations of the earth” [Exodus 19:5-6]. That is, God was giving Israel the oracles and the testimonies of God, that they might be the teachers of all the families of the earth; but instead of being the teachers and the priests of God to all mankind, they wrapped their robes around them with a holier and a better-than-thou attitude and looked upon everybody else as a Gentile dog! And the Lord took away their light and their testimony and gave it to a people who would bring forth the fruits thereof [Matthew 21:43].
Then the Lord God established these churches in Ephesus, in Smyrna, in Thyatira, in Philadelphia, in Rome, Laodicea, Philippi, Athens, Antioch; all through the civilized world, God set in the earth His lighthouses, His churches. And the Lord said to His churches, “You are to be witnesses of Mine, soulwinners, leading people to the saving faith of Christ.” And instead of that, they joined themselves with the state and with the empire; and they gave themselves to pomp and to worldly glory and to formalism and ceremony. And the Lord God said, “Except ye repent, and do the first works, I will take away thy lampstand out of its place” [Revelation 2:4-5]. They did not repent; for they loved the praise of men, and they loved the pomp and ceremony of their ritualistic temple services. And the Lord God took away their lampstand.
Where is Ephesus? [Revelation 2:1-7]. Where is the church at Thyatira [Revelation 2:18-29], or Laodicea? [Revelation 3:14-22]. God took it away. That has been the story of the churches of Jesus Christ ever since: God will establish them, and they will glory in God’s name, and they will testify to God’s grace; then they become affluent, then they become pompous, then they become ceremonial, then they become indifferent and reserved, they lose their soul-winning love and their passion. And God has to raise up a John Wesley and a Charles Wesley, who could not be allowed to preach in the pulpits of England; so they went out into the fields and into the marketplaces, and there did they proclaim the message of the Son of God.
And that thing in all of its tragedy is overwhelming our churches today. You listen to this, dear people, listen to this: I heard a man say—listen to this—I heard a man say, “I have just completed a survey of the Baptist churches of America.” He said, “I found 7000 Baptist churches, with 7000 pastors and preachers, who in this year had preached 516,000 sermons, without a single conversion, not a one, not a one!” Seven thousand churches, 7000 preachers, preaching in that year 516,000 sermons, and not a single conversion in the whole year with all the 516,000 sermons, with all the 7000 churches, with all the 7000 thousand preachers; my Lord, my soul, what does that mean? What is happening to us? He described one great Baptist church with a multi-million dollar building, with a large staff, and three full time paid ministers and one of them a world famous preacher, and last year they had two baptisms, two!
In one of the great cities of San Francisco, in one of the great cities of California—not San Francisco; this is a city in California of about 170,000 people—in one of the great cities of California, I went to the First Baptist Church, an American Baptist church, last Sunday night. I counted 86 adult people in the congregation. There was not a child present, there was not a young person present; there were 86 old people in the congregation at the service on Sunday night. The ceiling of that auditorium is made out of gold. I do not know what kind of gold; that’s the most beautiful auditorium, I think, I’ve seen in years. It is a brand new building. It was downtown; and they moved out and out and out, miles and miles and miles, and there is the First Baptist Church, an American Baptist church, on a Sunday night, way out there in an affluent neighborhood, 86 old people present, and that’s all. The church was roped off; all of that side was roped off, all of this side was roped off, and when you came into the congregation, it was just a little place there in the center where the people were to sit.
I went by the conservative Baptist church, miles and miles and miles out from the heart of the city; and they had a little handful. And then I went to the First Southern Baptist Church; they had one of the finest properties in the city, downtown, owned a whole block. And they went way out beyond where everybody has gone, way out there on the edge of town. And there they had a little handful of people in the First Southern Baptist Church. Then of course, I went downtown, and right in the heart of that city, with a spire, and a spire between spires reaching up to God, there was the Roman Catholic Church; been there for years and years. It’ll be there till Jesus comes again. You won’t find that church moving out. You won’t find that church giving the heart of a great city to the forces of darkness and evil. Down there in the heart of that city, that great cathedral looking building. And when I asked about the services, they have multiple services on Sunday to minister to the vast crowds that pour into its sanctuary.
What’s the matter with us? I’ll tell you what’s the matter with us: we’re interested in a life of ease. “Give me a place out on the edge of town where the people just come automatically.” What few that choose to come, all of them well-to-do, all of them affluent, all of them able to build these fine buildings. “Let’s move out on the edge of town and be at ease in Zion. And then let the state be damned. And let the city drop into the abyss, and let the great masses of men go untaught, and unsought, unwept over, unprayed for, unsaved, and lost.” That’s what’s the matter with us.
Why, you could cry, you could weep, you could lament, you could sob, you could wring your hands: the seeking note has dropped out of our congregations. And that great sacrificial ministry, “O God, give me Scotland, or I die!” or as Hudson Taylor prayed, “O God, give me China, or I die!” Who prays, “O God, give me the city of Dallas, or I die! Give me Texas, or I die!” The seeking note is gone out of our ministry; we are now cultured or scholastic, or we have the tokens and devilments of intellectualism. Where’s the fire? Where’s the fury? Where’s the furor? Where’s the passion? Where’s the agony? Where’s the appeal unto God? Oh, oh, oh! I must close.
I preach to myself more than to you. The Lord teach us in His way, the Lord keep us on our knees, the Lord put in our hearts a care, a burden, a concern, an intercession. O God, make this church what it has been, only thrice so. I could not describe to you how men all over this nation hear of you. “We have heard that in the heart of the great growing city of Dallas there is a Baptist church that doesn’t close its doors on Sunday night. We’ve heard that. Is that true? We have heard that in the heart of the great growing city of Dallas is a congregation to whom God adds each Sunday people who are being saved. Is it true?” And they take heart, and they go back to war again, and to battle again to be faithful all over again. Bless you. What you do here not only counts for God in our city, but it counts for God in this whole earth. May the Lord speak to us, and lead us in the way, and give us one continuing victory after another.
I do not tell them unless it is a minister that would understand. Dr. Freeman wrote me a letter last week that I read this evening. Our church led the state in baptisms again. I’m grateful for that. But I tell you truly, for every one we win to Christ, we should have won a hundred; we should have. And we could have had there been in us that spirit of witnessing that you found in these who went everywhere preaching the word, testifying to the grace and love of Christ Jesus [Acts 8:1-4]. God help me to be better and do better, and us all.
The time to begin is now. I know somebody tomorrow I could invite to the Lord. Lord, bless that invitation. And in this week, there’ll be somebody you’ll meet you could speak to about the Lord. God bless your testimony and mine. Now may the Holy Spirit honor the message that was brought tonight. Somebody here to give his heart in faith to Jesus, would you come? Into the aisle and down here to the front, is there a family here tonight, is there a family here tonight who’d put their lives with us in this blessed and precious church? Would you come? In the throng in this balcony round, coming down a stairwell at the front or the back, you come. On this lower floor, in this throng of people, into the aisle and down here to the front, and to the pastor, “Pastor, tonight I give you my hand. We’re putting our lives with this congregation,” or, “We’re taking Jesus as Savior.” As the Spirit of the Lord would say the word and open the door, would you come, would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.
PREACHING THE WORD
I. The witnessing community of the church
A. All Christians are
to be ministers, soul-winners
1. Never win the
world with paid preachers, missionaries alone
2. Tendency of
the paid clergy to be at home in Zion
II. The blessing of tragedy
A. The tragedy
1. Death of
Stephen (Acts 8:2)
2. Havoc in the
church (Acts 8:3)
persecution (Acts 8:1)
B. The purposed
1. Here in Acts
a. Scattering of the
seed of the Word (Acts 8:4)
b. Philip to Samaria,
Gaza, Ethiopia (Acts 8:5, 26)
c. Conversion of Saul
d. Hellenists to Antioch
(Acts 11, 13)
2. Speaking to us today