The Trial of Our Faith
May 15th, 1960 @ 10:50 AM
THE TRIAL OF OUR FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-15-60 10:50 a.m.
You who are listening on the radio are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock message entitled The Trial of our Faith, or, The Christian Trial. In the Book of James to which we have come, it begins with:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes of the Diaspora, to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, greeting.
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers trials;
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
We learned from the first message delivered on this first verse that James, the brother of the Lord and the author of this epistle, was the pastor of the church at Jerusalem. And as the pastor of the church, he had a shepherd’s heart. He writes in the first verse after his greeting, "My brethren," and seeks to comfort his people in their hour of trial and need [James 1:2-3]. As we would hope for sympathy and encouragement in the hour of our desperate need, so this Christian pastor seeks to offer solace and encouragement and sympathy in the hour of his brethren’s great trial. You see, the Christian religion is a religion of sympathy and encouragement. "Bear ye one another’s burdens," says the Book, "and so fulfill the law of Christ" [Galatians 6:2], lest our friends, and our neighbors, and our families, and our people fall into despair. There is need for the sympathetic heart and the encouraging word. And the Christian religion is that. It’s not a faith of gloom and of despair; it is a faith that wipes the tears from our eyes, and for darkness offers light, and for discouragement offers hope and optimism.
Our dream is not a dream of devils descending a dreary staircase down to hell; but our dream is one of angels ascending and descending on a ladder of light, whose top touches the very throne of God [Genesis 28:11-13]. We may sow in tears, but we reap in joy [Psalm 126:5]. So the pastor of the church in Jerusalem writes to, "My brethren, my brethren," who are in trial, and he says that we are to receive these trials in the spirit of faith and conquest and optimism. He even says, "Count it all joy," gladness, when ye fall into divers trials; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience," endurance, hupomonē, a bearing up from underneath, "But let endurance," steadfastness of purpose, "have her own complete work, that ye may be mature," strong, entire, developed, "wanting nothing" [James 1:2-4]. That’s a remarkable thing, an unusual thing! "My brethren, look upon the trials of your life with gladness, and optimism, and joy, and faith, whatever they are, knowing that the trying of your faith worketh that steadfast purpose that leads us in the way to becoming mature and full-grown and entire as the stalwart sons of God" [James 1:2-4].
Now when James wrote this, it was not just language, not just sound, and syllable, and sentence; those trials were real. James wrote in the day when the watchword was, "The Christians to the lions!" He wrote in the day when the amphitheater consumed thousands and thousands of the humble followers of Jesus. He wrote in the day of the sword, and the fire, and the flame, and the crucifixion. And "My brethren" [James 1:2], here to whom he addresses his appeal, were those of his own race and of his own kind, who were ground beneath the nether and the upper millstones of Judaism and paganism. Having accepted Christ they were interdicted from the synagogue; and yet being Jews still they were not of the pagan, heathen nations all around them. And they had fallen into sore trial.
I read in a dispatch this week of our Baptist brethren in China. The day of the flame and of the sword, and the day of the dungeon and the prison, and the day of the fetter and the manacle, and the day of destruction and death and waste because of Christ, is here with us now. One of the able, fine, dedicated laymen in this church told me last Friday, "I do not think it impossible that such a day of trial and repudiation, anti-God, anti-Christ, I do not think that day is impossible in America." Swept before the awful powers of darkness and of death, how are we to receive them? Not only these that come in the wake of the awful enemy of Christ, the powers of death that ride so fearfully in this present age in this present hour, but these that come upon all of us; and it is of these mostly that James is writing: all of us fall into these trials, all of us [James 1:2]. We may see them fall upon others, and these upon still others, but by and by they come to us all; all of us are placed in this crucible of God. They are many kinds, he says, "divers trials," many kinds of trials [James 1:2]. And each one of us shall have his own. In our time, in our place, in our day, we ourselves shall experience that awful, awful testing of God.
There are different kinds, and each one has his own – to Abraham, to offer up his only son to God [Genesis 22:1-11]; to the rich young ruler, "Get rid of everything that you have, it divides between you and God" [Mark 10:17-22]; to Simon Peter who boasted, "All others may deny Thee, but never I" [Mark 14:29-31], and he wilted in the face of the trial that might bring death" [Mark 14:66-72]. Our trial may not be that. Nobody here would be called upon to offer his son unto God, nobody called upon to dispossess himself of everything that he had, nobody in danger of forfeiting his life because of the drive of a Sanhedrin against our Lord; nobody here like that, but all of us here in our time and in our day with our particular trial, it will come; it does come.
And he says they come suddenly and unexpectedly: "My brethren, ye fall into it, ye fall into divers trials" [James 1:2]. Like a band of soldiers walking and they’re suddenly ambushed; like a bird or an animal walking and the trap is sprung and the snare is closed, and they suddenly are fallen into the trial; that’s the way that it happens to us. Don’t you think, "I shall study, and I shall plan, and I shall prepare, and I shall make myself impervious to this thing that might come." However you plan, and however you try, and however you purpose, that trial will surely come suddenly. You shall fall into it. No sooner had they come and told Job, "The wind from the wilderness has destroyed your house, and your children are all dead," fast on the heels of that messenger, before he’d done his dreary tale, came another one, saying, "While the oxen were plowing and the sheep were grazing, lightning from heaven destroyed them all." And before he had done his message of despair, on his heels there came another, saying, "And while the camels were at service, they were taken away by robber bands from the wilderness" [Job 1:13-19]. Strange thing: they never come one at a time. When they come, usually they come in groups and in bunches and in gobs, these terrible, visaged visitations. And it’s a part of life that they come.
Now how shall we meet them? This pastor says courageously, steadfastly, with great endurance because, he says, God says our trials are purposive; they have in them the will and the mind of God to mature us, and to quicken us, and to make us steadfast and to be men of courage and strength and full-grown unto God. They are for the development of endurance and steadfastness that we might be mature and entire, wanting nothing [James 1:2-4]. These trials that come are for the purpose of developing character. A man’s muscles are developed by trial. Any day if you so chose you can go right across the street and see those fellows over there lifting those tremendous weights, and as they bend and bow lifting those weights, their muscles bulge and bulge and grow. A man’s mind grows by trial. Problems to work out, philosophy to think through, answers to find; a man’s mind grows by trial. God’s redeemed children grow in their souls and in their spirits by these trials that come from God.
I have heard, never did try it, I’ve heard many times of fellows who have taken cocoons, and the little butterfly is struggling to be liberated, and out of sympathy and out of a desire to help the man will take his pin knife and slit the cocoon, and the little butterfly emerges without struggle. And it will fly around feebly for a while and collapse and die. Whereas if the little butterfly had struggled, and fought, and persevered, and endured, and had broken the bands that bound him, he would have been strong and able and full of life. That’s the way God is with His people. The troubles we have, and the trials we have, and the difficulties we have, and the perplexities we have, and the problems we have, and the challenges we face, God just matches them against our spirits, and the courage of our souls, and dares us to overcome!
You know it’s an odd thing how these things are presented in the Book. In the holy ark of the covenant were two typical objects placed side by side, close together: one was the golden pot of manna and the other was the rod that budded, side by side in the holy ark; the food of heaven and the rule and the rod of heaven, sustenance and correction, sustenance from God, chastening from the Lord, both of them there side by side [Hebrews 9:4]. And it is thus in a man’s life in this Christian pilgrimage: strength from heaven, manna from heaven, bread from heaven, remembrance from heaven, God’s mercies from heaven; and God’s rod and God’s trials from heaven. And many times we don’t see their purpose, and we don’t understand, and we can’t fathom, and we can’t enter into, and we fall into despair and into discouragement. James says, "No, it is from God; it is from the hands of the Lord, and God has put us in the crucible to try us, put us under the correcting and chastening rod that we might learn to be obedient by the things that we suffer, might grow up unto Him full and mature and wanting nothing" [James 1:2-4]. And it’s our heavenly Father whose purpose it is to lead us and to make us. God has a reason.
I read in preparing this sermon, I read of a thing that I could just see. There was a father who doted upon his children, loved his children; there was a father who had a little boy born to him with a deformed foot. And the father took the little lad to the surgeons, and the surgeons cut, and they operated, and they tried, and after many attempts said to the father, "The boy’s foot is incurable. It’s deformed beyond our ableness to help him, and the little lad will never walk, never, never." And the father who loved the little boy, like you’d love your little boy – if you have a little boy, like you do love your little boy – the father grieved over the deformity in the food of his little boy. And he thought, and he studied, and he figured, and upon a time, he contrived an odd looking box with all kinds of screws tipped with felt. And he took his little boy’s foot, and put it in that queer looking box. And he began to tighten the screws, and to tighten the screws. And when the father would come in, in the evening, the little boy had been in agony all day; and the father would come to the little boy and tighten the screws. And the little boy would cry, and the father would mingle his own tears with the boy’s as he tightened the screws. That went on by the day and the week and the month, as the little boy cried and the father cry with him as he tightened the threads. But upon a day, the father came in and unscrewed those terrible clamps, took the boy’s foot out of the box and said, "Now, my son, stand up, stand up, stand up." For the first time in his life the boy stood up. That father may have tightened a screw just one thread too much, he might have; but our heavenly Father, never; the crucibles in which we’re placed and the trials that we bear all have a purpose in God.
There’s another thing God does for us in this business that we might be steadfast in endurance, that we might be teleios, you have it translated "perfect" [James 1:4] – "perfect" to us means "without sin," there’s no thought of that in this Greek word teleios, translated "perfect" – it means "grown up, mature, arriving at the purpose for which God has made us." There’s another great reason in it as we grow up unto the Lord, and that is that we might be purified in our motives.
Why do you worship God? Why do you love the Lord? Why do you come to this church? Why do you support this ministry? What is your hope in it? And what do you hope to achieve by it? These trials test us to purify our motives as we come unto the Lord. That’s why I had you read that first chapter in the Book of Job. God said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant, down there in that wicked, vile earth, there is not another man like him; righteous, one that fears God and cannot stand the presence of evil, eschewed evil" [Job 1:8].
And Satan answered, "Yes, why yes, I’ve observed him. Sure he fears God, and certainly he worships Thee and calls on Thy name and goes to church every Sunday. I never saw anything," says Satan, "pay off in my life like it pays Job to serve God. He’s the most prosperous man in this earth, and You have blessed him and hedged him about on every side." And then Satan, our archenemy and our arch adversary, said, "But You let me take away what he has, and he will curse You to Your face" [Job 1:9-11].
"Well," said God, "so that is what you think. Well, you just go down there and take away everything that he has, only do not touch him. Take away everything that he has, and I say he will still call on My name and worship Me and love Me" [Job 1:12].
So Satan went down – and you read the story – touched everything that he had, took it away, burned it up. When the last messenger came and said, "Not only are the stock gone, and the cattle gone, and the camels gone, and the asses gone, not only is everything burned up and gone, but the awful wind has taken away your seven sons and your three daughters; and they lie cold and still in death" [Job 1:13-19]. Job rent his mantle, and shaved his head, sat in sackcloth and in the ash heap and said, "They all were given me from the Lord, and the Lord hath taken it all back unto Himself again. Blessed be the name of the Lord" [Job 1:20-21].
And when God said to Satan, "See, did I not tell you that?" Satan says, "Oh well, for a man to lose his property is nothing at all, for a man to lose what he possesses. You let me touch him himself and he will curse You to Your face."
"All right," said God, "Go down and touch him, only do not slay him."
And Satan touched his body; and from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, he was covered with leprous, running boils and sores [Job 2:5-7]. And in his agony, in his agony, Job sat in the ash heap [Job 2:8] and said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust him" [Job 13:15].
"Consider," God said, "My servant," to purify our motives, not doing it for what I get out of it, not doing it for reward or stipend or recompense; doing it for the love of God, that’s all, just for the love of God. My heart is with Him. The issue of my life flows to heaven. And whether it’s in prosperity and affluence, or whether it’s in poverty and in need, whether it is with my eyes or in blindness, whether it is in health or in invalidism, whether it is in life or in death, the issue of my life flows unto God: purpose of trial, to purify our motives [James 1:2-4].
I have hardly begun, yet I must close. These purposes, "when we fall into divers trials" [James 1:2], to work steadfast endurance, that we might be mature, entire, wanting nothing, I wish I had time this morning, I wish I had time this morning to speak of what trial does for a man’s gratitude, gratitude. It is the tried man that is the grateful man. These children of ours that grow up having everything under the sun are grateful for nothing; they don’t realize that they even possess it. If you grew up where you never had any electric lights, you’re very, very conscious of the fact you have electricity in your house. If you grew up where there was no water, you’d be very conscious of the fact that you have water. If you grew up on the very verge of hunger, you’d be very grateful that there’s a table spread at your house before which you can bring strength and nourishment to a hungry body. Ah, the tried man is a grateful man.
And I close with this: it’s the tried man that sees in the vistas and in the distance. Somehow the tried man has eyes of the soul and eyes of faith that can look and that can see. And the man who’s untried is somehow blind and never sees. I’d like to preach another sermon comparing Moses as he looked out from the throne of the Pharaoh and what he saw, there with the world at his feet, the power of an empire in his grasp, his word law, his commandment never to be interdicted, the slightest wish immediately fulfilled, youth, power, the prince, the heir apparent, the greatest empire in his grasp, as he sat on a golden throne in Egypt and looked out, what did he see? [Hebrews 11:24-27]. And then I’d like to compare it, as the tried man through the wilderness and the years, ascending to the top of Mt. Nebo, and what he saw from Mt. Nebo [Deuteronomy 34:1-4], the mount of difficulty, and interdiction, and sorrow, and tears, what he saw from Mt. Nebo compared to what he saw from the throne of Egypt. The years do that to a man. Trial does that to a man. The pilgrimage through the wilderness does that to a man. As he ascends the heights of Pisgah and looks out, what a different scene, what a different scene.
May I tell you one thing, and then I will close? I read of an old Scotsman. He’d come to this country in the youth of his life. And after a long pilgrimage and a long life here in America, the old Scotsman said, "Oh, that I could just see once more the hills of bonnie Scotland." Well, they decided to make it possible for him to go back to his native land and there to die and be buried in the bonnie hills of Scotland. Put him on the ship, about halfway over became most apparent, he wouldn’t make the journey to the other shore. One evening, as the sun glowed in the west, they brought the old Scotsman on the deck and let him look at the westerning sun. And they said to him, "Isn’t it beautiful?" And he said, "Yes. But nae so bonnie as the hills of Scotland." And he closed his eyes, and in a moment he opened his eyes and looked with a marvelous gladness in his face, and he said, "Look, there in the glow I see the bonnie hills of Scotland." And then his eyes in wonder and in amazement said, "But I didn’t know it was in the bonnie hills of Scotland, the prophets saw the horsemen and the chariot of the Lord [2 Kings 2:11-12]; but there they are, and we’re drawing near." And he closed his eyes and was within the vale. He wasn’t looking at the bonnie hills of Scotland; he was a-seeing the bonnie hills of glory. We’ll see them too some of these days in our hour, in our time, and in the dying grace God will give us. Look, look, the clouds rolled back, the heavens unfold, and there the glory of the presence of God our Savior. "Don’t you be afraid," the pastor says. "Don’t you tremble," the pastor says. "That’s God and the vision of the Lord."
While we sing our hymn of invitation, somebody you in this balcony round, down one of these stairways, you on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, would you take this pastor’s hand, "Pastor, today, I give my heart to God, here I am." At that early service, it was a gladness to see three come by baptism and one by confession of faith. May the Lord do it again and more this morning hour. Down one of these stairways, into the aisle and to the front, a family you, one somebody, you, while we sing the appeal, will you make it now? "Here I am, preacher, and here I come." While we stand and while we sing.