This Is Real Religion
May 8th, 1960 @ 7:30 PM
THIS IS REAL RELIGION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-8-60 7:30 p.m.
We all get a record. Bless her heart. And were it not for showing up my singer and his choir, I would lead you in "This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine." You just do not know how good I am at that. Got your Book? Turn to James; turn to James. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the Book of James. And the message tonight is James 1:27. And we shall read beginning at the twenty-second verse; James 1:22-27. Let us all read it together. If your neighbor did not bring his Bible, you share your Bible with him, and let us all read it out loud, James 1:22 to the end of the chapter, almost toward the close of your Bible. Now together:
Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
The title of the sermon tonight is This is Real Religion. And the text is James 1:27, "Pure, real, honest to goodness, down to earth religion, undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit"; and I could pray that we are entering a new departure, one that is pleasing to God in the life and ministry of this congregation. I am praying it begins tomorrow night and throughout these weeks succeeding in the vista of the months and the years that lie ahead, that we shall build, according to the procedure we are outlining for tomorrow night. "Real religion, and pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit" [James 1:27].
Have you ever noticed, in the social eruptions of our modern generations, how they are linked with and identified with the common man? An election was won for a president some years ago in the United States with a slogan, "A full dinner pail." When the fascists took over Italy and when the national socialists, the Nazis, took over Germany, they used as their insignia a shirt, a common working man’s shirt. One had a brown shirt, and one had a black shirt. There’s not a schoolboy that hasn’t seen the insignia of the campaign and march and drive of the communist: it’s a sickle, a working man’s sickle, and it is a common, ordinary, working man’s hammer. These great social movements are identified with the common people and with the common man; and they minister to the great masses that move and surge in this modern world. But religion, religion, religion is somewhere in an ivory tower; it is somehow embossed with gold and chaste with diamonds. It is somehow musty in its cloister. It is given to metaphysics and philosophy and theological disputation. And the great masses of people pass it by. It’s not identified with us; it has no message for us. It has no meaning for us. Religion somehow has come to be taken as a world of fiction, and a world of make-believe. It’s not real. It’s not genuine. It’s not honest to goodness. It’s not down to earth. It’s about something else and something removed and mostly legendary mythological and fictional; it’s just a story.
I one time heard of an old cowpoke in West Texas, who went to the movies, first time he ever saw one, and it was in the days of the silent movies. And he was looking at one of those typical old fashioned, melodramatic presentations there on the screen. The villain came along, and he bound and tied up the hero. And he got on his horse, and riding by he swept away the heroine and rode furiously down the road. And when he did that, that old cowpoke stood up and pulled out his six shooters, and blazing away at the screen said, "You low down coyote, you can’t do that"; and riddled the screen with bullets. And while he was a-shooting one side and the other, some of his friends grabbed him and pulled him down and said, "Sit down guy, sit down. That ain’t real. That’s not real. That’s just make believe." And that’s the way people feel about religion: "It ain’t real. It’s not honest to goodness. It doesn’t concern us. It’s not down to earth. It’s fictional. It’s like a picture you see on a movie screen."
There was ambling down the street an old bum and hungry turned into a hamburger joint, sat down on the stool, looked at the hamburger man, and said, "Mister, if I show you a trick, would you make me a hamburger? I’m so hungry."
And the hamburger man said, "Well, show me your trick."
So he reached into his pocket and pulled out a little grand piano; reached into his pocket, pulled out a little stool; reached into his pocked, pulled out a little mouse and sat the little mouse on the stool, and the little mouse played a tune on the little grand piano. The bug-eyed hamburger man cooked him the hamburger. And that old bum gobbled it down. He’d never seen any trick like that. And when that old bum got through eating the hamburger, he looked across the counter at the hamburger man, and said, "Mister, I’m so hungry still. If I showed you another trick, would you cook me another hamburger?"
And the hamburger man said, "Listen, guy, if you’ve got another trick like that I sure will." And that fellow reached in his pocket and pulled out a little canary. And he put the little canary on the grand piano, and while the little mouse played the accompaniment, the little canary sang a song. The hamburger man bug-eyed looking at that thing on the counter said, "Listen guy, what are you doing begging? Why with a trick like that you can make millions."
And the old bum said, "Oh, mister, it ain’t real, it ain’t genuine, it ain’t the real thing." He said, "You see that little canary, he ain’t really singing; this mouse is a ventriloquist."
"It ain’t real. It ain’t genuine. It ain’t the real article. It doesn’t have anything to do with us." And the world passes it by. And as long as it stays in a theological cloud, and as long as it lives in an ivory tower, the great masses of men will be listening to the socialist, and they’ll be listening to the fascist, and they’ll be listening to the communist, and they’ll be listening to the pink, and they’ll be listening to all kinds of ideologies, when we say that we’ve got the water of life and the bread of heaven in our hands, without which men thirst and starve to death. That’s why this pastor of the First Baptist Church in Jerusalem – and Lynn Landrum, I’m not casting any aspersions on the First Methodist church; there just wasn’t any Methodist church back here in this time – that’s why James, the pastor of the Baptist church in Jerusalem, was writing as he did in the Book: "Pure religion, real religion and undefiled is this, To visit" [James 1:26]. Outside these four walls, beyond this auditorium, up and down these streets, wherever people are, wherever somebody lives, wherever there’s a baby, wherever there’s a child, wherever there’s a family, wherever there’s anybody outside of God, there the people of the Lord are knocking at the door.
That was the message of God our Father and His method. "And they heard the voice of the Lord God as He came, walking in the cool of the day, to visit the man and the woman whom He made" [Genesis 3:8]. That was the thing that Naomi heard over there in the foreign land of Moab: "And turning her face back to Bethlehem, Judah, she said, For I have heard how God hath visited my people in giving them bread" [Ruth 1:6]. And that was the glorious Psalm number 8: "When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, and the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; what is man that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that Thou visitest him?" [Psalm 8:3-4]. And that is the great prediction of the coming King, as in Zechariah, "Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and be glad O Judah; behold Thy King cometh unto thee, lowly, meek. And His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth" [Zechariah 9:9-10]. And when that great prophecy was fulfilled, our Lord came visiting; "He came to seek and to save that which was lost" [Luke 19:10], He said, as He justified His visit in the house and in the home of the tax gatherer named Zaccheus [Luke 19:1-10]. And from city to city, and from town to town, and from house to house, and from home to home, and from street to street did the Son of Man go, winding His way among the people, telling them the good news, the glorious gospel of the Son from heaven. Sometimes it’d be by the seashore, sometimes it’d be in a house, sometimes in a synagogue, sometimes in an open field, sometimes on the busy city streets, sometimes in the great throbbing thronging temple; but everywhere, there did our Lord go, up and down, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of heaven, and saying, "Turn ye, for the kingdom of salvation and glory is at hand" [Matthew 4:17].
And that’s the way that He trained His disciples. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, He chose twelve [Matthew 10:1]. "And these twelve He sent forth and commanded them, saying, Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" [Matthew 10:5-6]. And when I turn to the tenth chapter of the Book of Luke, He chose seventy: "And these seventy He sent out, and He said, Go, go, and then He further said, The harvest is plenteous, the laborers are few; pray ye the Lord of the harvest, He will send forth laborers into His harvest" [Luke 10:1-2], visitors, out, away, where the people are, inviting them to the love and patience and grace to be found in Jesus in the kingdom of God. And when I read the teachings of our Lord, it is no less that marvelous same thing. "Go out," He says, in the fourteenth of Luke, "into the streets and lanes of the cities. Go out," He says, "into the highways and the hedges, and bring them in, that My house may be filled" [Luke 14:21-23]. That’s the way He taught them, and how different it is with us. We say, "Come up here all of you fishes and get caught"; Jesus said, "Launch out into the deep, and let down the net for a draught" [Luke 5:4]. We say, "Come up here all you acres and fields and get planted"; Jesus said, "The sower went forth to sow" [Matthew 13:3]. We say, "Here we’ve built a great house, and maybe some lost sheep will stumble in the door and be saved"; Jesus said, "The shepherd left the ninety and nine and went out into the wilderness to seek that one that was lost" [Luke 15:4]. And in the Great Commission and Commandment, "Go ye," He said, "and preach the gospel to every creature. Go ye," He said, "and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost" [Matthew 28:19-20]. This is our great exemplar; and it is our great teaching and commission.
When I turn to the Book of Acts to find how these disciples carried out that marvelous commandment and that glorious example of our Savior, they did just that. In the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, it says, "And they went everywhere, everywhere, preaching the gospel of the Son of God, everywhere" [Acts 8:4]. And in that same chapter, "And the angel of the Lord said to Philip, Leave this city and go [Acts 8:26]. And he went. And there came by one lost man. And the Holy Spirit said unto Philip, Go, join thyself to that chariot" [Acts 8:29], soul-winning one at a time, going out where the soulwinner ought to go and where the sinner is. And in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, we have that marvelous, incomparable delineation by the apostle Paul of how he wrought that marvelous, marvelous victory when he turned all Asia toward God. And he said, "Remember by the space of three years, day and night with many tears, I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you and taught you publicly, and from house to house." Think of that; "For three years, day and night, with tears, publicly, and from house to house, testifying to the Jew and to the Greek, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:19-21, 31]. It’ll never fail; it can’t be beat. There’s not a method, there’s not a plan, there’s not a campaign, there’s not an attack, there’s not a way that a man can devise or think of that is comparable to this marvelous outline given by our Lord and followed by our apostles.
I was preaching at a half-time church when I was in the seminary. And there came to see me a pulpit committee from a church in another community; and they said, "Pastor, our church is dead. Our Sunday school is disbanded. Our Missionary Society has quit. Our Training Union has disbanded. We don’t have any preacher. Our congregation is scattered, and the doors of our church are locked. Would you come on Sunday afternoon and preach to us? We have a great community and many young people, and they’re lost. Won’t somebody help?
I said, "I’ll be there on Sunday afternoon." And that was in the middle of the spring. And when summertime came, I said, "We’re going to have a revival meeting." And I went to a house in that community and knocked at the door. And when Mrs. Jenkins came to the door, I asked her if I could be seated by her side. And I asked for the loan of her boy, Jimmy, great, big, tall, gangling kind of a teenage boy.
And she said, "Well, the crops are laid by, you can have him."
So I said, "Jimmy, I want you to come with me, and we’re going to start at that church, and we’re going down every road in this community, every house in this country. And when we get to that house, gonna knock at the door, and I want you to introduce me to that family and tell them that I’m the preacher down there at the Jackson Grove Baptist Church, and that I’m holding a revival meeting, and that I want them to come down there and to go to the services. And then I’m going to say, ‘Are you Christian people here?’ If they say, ‘Yes,’ I want to read the Bible to them and pray with them. And if they say, ‘No,’ I want to ask them if I can read the Scriptures to them and kneel in prayer."
That old boy said, "All right." So we went to the church and started down one road. And when I got to the first house, he did just fine. And then when I asked the question, they said, "Yes sir, we’re Christians here." Well, I said, "May I come in and read the Bible with you and pray?"
"Yes, sir." So I read the Bible to them, and I knelt down and prayed, and that big, long, tall, gangling boy standing up there, I looked up there and I said, "You going to kneel down by my side?"
He said, "Preacher, I never knelt in my life."
Well, I said, "You’re going to kneel now, get down here by my side." And he folded up like a jackknife and got down there on his knees by my side.
We went down every road. We went to every house. We knocked at every door. And I want you to know; you’re not surprised when I tell you, that when I stood up to preach in that revival meeting, you couldn’t get in the house, you could hardly get in the churchyard. Half of the congregation had to listen to me preach outside the window and outside the door. Down the aisle came that long, tall, gangling boy Jimmy. And down the aisle came his mother. And down the aisle came his mother’s sister. And down the aisle came his brother. And down the aisle came his brother’s wife. And down the aisle came the whole Jenkins tribe and family and connection, clan, kinfolk, in-laws, out-laws, all of them coming down that aisle. And down that aisle came people from far and near, and we had the biggest baptizing in Barren River that that part of southern Kentucky had ever seen in their lives.
It’ll never fail; it’ll never fail: when you have a church visiting people, you will have a church going community, sinners and all. It isn’t because sinners are hard; it’s because God’s people are indifferent. Real religion, honest to goodness religion, down to earth religion, genuine religion is this: to visit [James 1:27], to knock at the door, to show yourself open-hearted and friendly, to be interested enough to invite, to pray for. God never lets a testimony given in His name fall to the ground. Somewhere, some time, like bread cast upon the waters, it brings an increase back to the glory of Jesus and to the saving of the soul. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to knock at the door [James 1:27]. The last picture we have of our Lord Jesus before those marvelous revelations in the vistas of the ages that are yet to come is this: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in and break bread with him, and he with Me" [Revelation 3:20]. And that’s the heart of the faith.
In that judgment day, many will say, "Lord, when did we see Thee hungry, and fed Thee, thirsty, and gave Thee drink, naked, and clothed Thee, sick, and visited Thee?" [Matthew 25:37-38]. And the Lord shall say. "Do you remember that time when I moved into the city of Dallas, coming from a little country community, and I was so lost, and I didn’t know the way? And I was uprooted out of my home, and out of my house, and out of my community and from my friends, and in my church, and among my family. I was a stranger in that great city. And do you remember that day when you knocked at the door, and said, ‘I’m from the First Baptist Church in the heart of Dallas. I see you have a baby; we’ve got a place for the baby. I see you have a primary little girl; we’ve got a place for that primary girl. I see you’ve got a teenage boy; we have a marvelous place for that teenage boy. And there’s a place for you, mother, and you dad.’ Do you remember that?"
"Yes, I remember knocking at the door."
Well, when you visited that family, you were knocking at My door. And when you invited them, you invited Me. Do you remember that day at an open grave, when we lowered into the heart of the earth the love of our life, and the hope and affections of our souls? Do you remember standing there and reading a word of comfort? Do you remember praying, and encouraging us in the hour of our loss and sorrow and tears?
"Yes, I remember standing there."
"That was My sorrow. Those were My tears that like showers of rain were falling on the earth. And when you comforted them, you comforted Me" [Matthew 25:40].
A parish priest of great austerity,
Climbed up in his high church steeple
To be nearer God, that he might hand
God’s Word down to the people.
In his day, God said, "Come down and die!"
And he replied from his steeple,
"Where art thou, Lord?"
And the Lord replied,
"I’m down here among My people."
[adapted from "Thre Preacher’s Mistake"; William Croswell Doane]
You know, we’ve got the opposite turn to religion. We go to a great convention – as we’re going to in Miami – and we’ll see a great throng of twelve, fifteen, seventeen thousand people; and they’ll stand and sing, and they’ll have a great address, and we’ll go from the hall and say, "This is the faith! This is real religion!" Jesus never mentioned it; He never referred to it. You and I will go to some pompous service, ritualistic, beautiful, marvelous accouterments and embellishments, everything just meticulously so. And after it’s over, we’ll walk out of that triumphant temple and that glorious hour and say, "This is the faith! This is real religion!" He never mentioned it! He never referred to it.
You and I will go listen to some marvelous oratorical theological preacher, who rises from one glorious peroration to another; and after we’ve been swept away by the oratory, we leave and say, "This is the faith! This is real religion!" He never referred to it; He never mentioned it. But our Master did have something to say about a cup of cold water given to a thirsty man [Matthew 10:42; Mark 9:41]. He did have something to say about seeking a lost sheep [Luke 15:3-7], or a lost coin [Luke 15:8-10], or praying and waiting in hope for a lost boy [Luke 15:11-32]. That’s real religion. That’s down to earth religion! That’s religion that a man can get a hold of. That’s religion a man can put his teeth in! That’s religion a man can see! Coming down that aisle with a family, "Look pastor, I found this family without Jesus, and I taught them the way of life everlasting. And here they are, pastor. They’ve been saved." You can see that. You can see it in the home and in the life and the profession; you can see it in heaven and in earth! That’s the real thing. That’s genuine religion.
A Sunday school teacher to a lost, to an absent little girl, had mailed to the child the fifth card – you know those little absentee cards, "We missed you Sunday" – the fifth one for the fifth week. After she had put it in the mailbox, walking down the street so proud of herself for what she had done, she happened to meet the mother of the little girl. And seeing the mother, she spoke so amiably to her and said, "Oh, I have just mailed the fifth card to your little girl, that we missed her at church, at Sunday school, on the Lord’s Day."
And the dear mother replied, "Thank you, sweet of you. But after a long illness, yesterday, we buried our little girl." It may be all right, it may be pretty good religion to send somebody, or to drop a card; but pure, honest to goodness, real religion, undefiled before God and the Father is this, to knock at the door.
You, not what you’ve got, you; not what you have, you; not what others can do, you, pure religion and undefiled is this, to knock at the door [James 1:27]. Their griefs are our griefs. Their sorrows are our sorrows. Their burdens are our burdens. Their woes and trials are our woes and our trials. We are identified with the people. Wherever they are, we are. If they’re on the brink of hell, let’s build us a church on the brink of hell! If they’re in the slums, let’s go to the slums! If they’re passing down these streets, let’s go down these streets with them. Wherever the folks are, let’s be, inviting to Christ, loving for Jesus’ sake, identifying our cause with the cause of the people. It’s an amazing thing what happens when people know you love them, and you’re interested in them, and you are identified with them. Their hearts open up like a flower that blooms, and their souls reach out in hunger and thirst like a starving, thirsting man. And they’ll listen, and they’ll come, and they’ll be saved.
I don’t say everyone that you invite will turn, nor do I say everyone we preach to will be in God’s kingdom some day; but I do avow that God will give us a multitude. There’ll many, many that turn. You did. My family did. I did. And they will. Ah, that Lord God in heaven will give us the interceding, loving spirit to care, to pray, to go, to invite, and to rejoice in the house of the Lord at the souls that He does give us, trophies of grace to lay at the precious feet of Jesus.
Now, if we have prayed, and if we have done our best, if we have knocked at the door, if we have made appeal, may the Holy Spirit place upon it His imprimatur, His seal of favor and benediction in somebody you, coming to our Lord. Will you do it tonight? In this balcony, somebody you; on this lower floor, somebody you; into the aisle and down to the front, "Preacher, tonight I give my heart in faith and in love to Jesus; and here I am." "Preacher, tonight we’re putting our whole family into the fellowship of this church." Would you come? Would you make it now? "Here I am, pastor, here I come. Here’s my whole family; here we are." As God shall say the word, shall open the door, shall lead in the way, make it tonight. If it’s a battle to fight, let Him win it for you. If it’s a civil war inside your soul, take sides with God. Don’t wait to win, then call on His name; call on His name now, and let Him win the battle for you. He will see you through. He never fails. He never lets us down. Trust Him. Give your life to Him. Start now. Will you? Will you? As the Spirit shall lead, into that aisle, down to the front, "Here I come, preacher, and here I am. I give you my hand; I give my heart to God." Or, "Here we are, pastor, putting our lives in the fellowship of the church." Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.