Good and Evil in the Churches
June 11th, 1961 @ 10:50 AM
GOOD AND EVIL IN THE CHURCHES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-11-61 10:50 a.m.
The pastor has been preaching through the Bible for about fifteen and half years and is now preaching in the Book of the Revelation. After the first six months, well, we have now finished the first chapter, and we are now beginning the second chapter. And the message today, entitled Good and Evil in the Churches, is a summary message of the whole church age, this whole administration. In the letters that Christ has addressed to the seven churches of Asia, we have a delineation and a description of all the churches of all time, and the first letter is typical of them all:
Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write: These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden lampstands; I know thy works…
Then He commends them [Revelation 2:2-3]; then in verse 4:
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee…
Then His censure:
Thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and turn, repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy lampstand out of its place, except thou turn, except thou repent.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
[Revelation 2:4-5, 7]
And that same reiterated sentence is found in the Lord’s judgment to all seven of them: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” [Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22]. What is this thing that the Spirit saith unto the churches? For one thing, it is this: that all of the churches of our Lord, and that all of the course of church history in this administration and era of God, that all of it is a mixed society. It is an inter-commingling of good and evil. Six of these seven churches our Lord condemned, He censured, He judged severely; one of the seven churches He had nothing good to say about. One of the churches He commended altogether, but that commendation was against a background of darkness and evil and iniquity. In all of the seven eras and periods of the development of the churches of Christ, there is inter-commingled in the congregations evil and iniquity. There is false faith; there is true faith; sometimes there is no faith. There are children of the kingdom; there are children of the evil one. There’s great sacrifice and devotion; there is apostasy and denial and blasphemy. There are wheat and tares, good and evil, light and darkness, all of the way through, in all of the churches and in all of the eras of the history of the churches, from the beginning to the ending.
One would think that in the first primeval church, in those primitive congregations founded by the apostles themselves and shepherded by their apostolic care, one would think that those churches would be paragons of purity and models of excellence. They are the opposite. The churches of the New Testament, the churches of the apostolic days, the first primitive churches were also filled with heresy, and with schism, and with false prophets, and false apostles, and every kind of corrupting evil under the sun, and the history of the church has been the same all of the way through and ever since. The ecclesiastical story of the churches of Christ in the earth is a story full of heresy, and schism, and sectarianism, and corruption, and defection, and denial, and false profession. The creeds of the church are nothing else but great protestations against the schisms and the heresies that creep into and prey upon the true faith of the Son of God. It is a saying, “Happy is the nation whose history is brief.” That’s because the nation whose history is brief would have no wars to recount. Happy would be the churches if their story was brief, but their story is long and involved and multi-formed because that story is filled with corruption, and heresy, and schism, and blasphemy, and denial. That is the preview of the churches that you will find in our Lord’s judgments and addresses to the seven of Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22].
That is no different from the thing the Lord had spoken in the mysteries of the kingdom in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. This kingdom, He says, is like unto a man that sowed good seed, and while he slept, an enemy came and sowed tares. And when the wheat came up, the tares came up, and the servants said, “Sir, thou didst sow good seed. Where did these tares come from?” and the master said, “An enemy did it.” And the servant said, “Shall we pull them up?” and the Lord said, “No, let them grow together until the end, the harvest, and then the reapers, the angels will separate them, and the tares will be burned with fire, and the wheat shall be gathered into God’s garner” [Matthew 13:24-30]. That’s the story of our Lord as He depicted our age. There has never been a sowing of God that was not oversown by Satan. There has never been a planting of the Lord in which the weeds of the world did not also grow and intermingle.
That has been true from the beginning of the story and revelation of God and in its prediction and foreview unto the end. In glory, in the celestial courts of heaven, God planted good seed, and the harvest was Satan, and a third of the angels refused their first estate and fell with him [Revelation 12:4, 9]. God sowed good seed in the paradise of Eden [Genesis 2:8-9, 15-16], and the fruit and the harvest was weeds, and tares, and thorns, and thistles, and death [Genesis 3:17-19]. At earth’s first altar, there appeared by the side of the saint earth’s first murderer [Genesis 4:2-4, 8]. Before the Flood [Genesis 7:17-24], God had His sons, but the sons of the evil one far out-numbered the sons of God [Genesis 6:5, 9]. And the church and the history of the church is no different. It is just the same pattern and inter-commingling of evil from the beginning and in foreview clear to the end. Our Lord hath twelve chosen apostles, and one of them He pointed out as being a devil: Judas, the son of Iscariot [John 6:70-71], the only one from Judea, the only one who had polish and rhetoric, and who knew things, and was a manipulator and a financier and able, and who was the treasurer responsible for all of the group. He, out of the twelve, he’s a devil.
When our Lord was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-7], and appeared on an appointed mountain in Galilee, Paul says more than five hundred there were looking upon the risen face and form of the Son of God [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]. And Matthew writes that of that group who looked upon the face and the figure of the risen Son of God, Matthew says that some of them doubted! [Matthew 28:17]. Looking at Jesus, they didn’t believe! In the story of the first church you have Ananias and Sapphira [Acts 5:1-10]. And in the great revival meeting at Samaria under Philip the evangelist, down the aisle came Simon Magus, the convert who sought to buy office in the house of God—and that’s where you get the word simony, from Simon Magus—a convert in Samaria who sought to buy the gift of God! [Acts 8:18-24]. Demas [2 Timothy 4:10] and Diotrephes [3 John 9-10] are great public servants of Christ, and condemned in the churches of the New Testament. Wherever there is Christ, there is antichrist; wherever there is light, there is darkness; whereever there is wheat, there is tares; and wherever there is a sowing of God, there is a sowing of the evil one; and wherever there is good, there is bad.
Why? Why does God allow the sowing of tares among His wheat? [Matthew 13:24-30]. Why doesn’t God keep pure, and undefiled, and uncorrupted, His great and sacred institution in the earth? Why doesn’t God keep unpolluted His church? All we know is that there is an unanswerable question in the mystery of evil in this universe. In 2 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul spoke of the “mystery of evil,” and no man can enter into it, and no man can understand it, the mystery of evil! And the church is just a circle in the greater circle all around us; we are just a part of the mystery of God that stretches from eternity to eternity. And in that eternity and in that creation of God, there is the mystery and the presence of evil! [2 Thessalonians 2:7]. In the assembly and the church, celestial—in the host in glory—there was the archangel Satan whom God placed above all of the hosts of glory, and there was sin found in him [Ezekiel 28:14-15]. And he was cast down and he fell; and when he fell, one-third of the angels of glory chose to follow Satan and to fall with him rather than to follow God and adore the Trinity in heaven [Revelation 12:3-4].
It is the same down here in the celestial assembly in God’s churches in this earth. There is corruption, and there is schism, and there is heresy, and there is defamation, and blasphemy, and worldliness, and every kind of a thing that compromises the kingdom of God. The only thing that I can say about it is this: that this thing is a proof of the inspiration of the Holy Word of God [2 Timothy 3:16]. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and our ways are not God’s ways [Isaiah 55:8-9]. This universe is an altogether different thing from what a man’s wisdom would have made it. And had men been predicting, and fore-viewing, and prophesying about this world and its churches, they would have spoken of these golden ages we were going to bring into existence with the preaching of the gospel and the sowing of the Word. That is what men would have said! But God, who can see the end from the beginning, said it will be a mixed society, and it will follow a mixed pattern unto the end; it will be both good and evil [Matthew 13:27-30].
Well then, preacher, if the church, and the administration, and the power, and the working of God is not able to overcome evil in this world, and if there’s not going to be any triumph in the preaching of the gospel, then hasn’t Christianity failed? And hasn’t the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God fallen down and become of no effect? Hasn’t it failed? Yes, it has failed—if, if God had said in that Book that there would be no dilution, that there would be no admixture brought into the pure gospel message. Yes, it has failed if God had said that, in the circle of the churches, there will be never an intrusion from Satan. Yes, it has failed if God said that the pure message from heaven would not be soiled by the touch of the earth. Yes, it has failed if God had said that the truth that streams from the churches, the truth of the gospel message of the Son of God, is like a pure river of life that flows on unobstructed, its waters unpolluted, and that it shall grow and increase through the centuries until it becomes an ocean of outpoured blessings covering the earth. If God had said those things, then Christianity has failed, and the sunny pattern has come to naught, and is being torn apart now as it has never been challenged and threatened in the history of the world.
But God said no such thing! And there is no hint of any preview that ever follows such a sunny, felicitous pattern as that! Every reference in the Word of God about the course of these churches and the history of the world, everything that refers to the estate of this world is diametrically the opposite of that, everything. When the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ was done, what was left? A little flock, a little flock, a little flock of believers [Acts 1:12-15]; but the great mass of the nation rejected Christ and rejects Him today. And when Paul preached, Paul said of his prodigious labors that he pours his life and his soul into that ministry that he might save some! [1 Corinthians 9:19-22]. Out of the great mass of the Roman Empire, a few turned and were converted; always it is that election, it is that calling out [Romans 11:5].
In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, in the story of the great conference in Jerusalem, James, the pastor of the church there at Jerusalem, said it was the purpose of God to take out of the Gentiles, to take out of the Gentiles, to take out of the Gentiles a people for His name. And to this James said, all of the prophets agree [Acts 15:13-15]. The very church, the very name ekklēsia, translated church, ekklēsia—ekklēsia, is “a calling out,” it is an election [1 Corinthians 1:2]. The great majority of the world will turn in adamantine unbelief, but out of those who turn, there will be some who will be saved; an election of God. And that is found all through the word of the Book. The Book describes us as being ambassadors in the world to a foreign court [2 Corinthians 5:20]. The Bible says that we are strangers and pilgrims in the earth; our home is in heaven [Hebrews 11:13, 16]. The Bible says that we are to be witnesses to the nations of the earth [Matthew 28:19-20]; and the Scriptures avow that at the end time, at the great consummation, it will be as it was in the days of Noah when the world was destroyed by water [Luke 17:26-27]. And it says it will be as it was in the days of Lot, when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah by fire [Luke 17:28-30]. There is always, in the fore-view and prediction in the Word of God, there is that mixture of good and evil, wheat and tares [Matthew 13:24-30], unto the end.
Well then, hasn’t the Christian message failed? No more so than the Mosaic administration failed. The Jews turned the Mosaic law and ruined it, and corrupted it, and denied it, and perverted it, and twisted it by their tradition, and yet the promises of God to His people were everlastingly yea and amen [2 Corinthians 1:20], had they been true to it. But their denial of it did not frustrate the providences and the economy of God, for the Lord God brought out of His people and out of that Mosaic administration, He brought out a people for His name [Acts 15:14]. And Christ came, and around Him were gathered those elect Jews who first were called apostles and evangelists and missionaries and founded the churches of Christ in the earth [Acts 1:8]. The administration did not fail; neither will God fail in this present administration. Though the world lies in darkness, in repudiation, in adamantine rejection, and becomes somewhat more fearful, and dark, and ominously threatening and foreboding with every passing minute, yet the economy, and the grace, and the providences, and the elective purposes of God will not fall to the ground through His churches. It will accomplish that whereunto God hath raised it up and whereunto He hath sent it [Isaiah 55:11].
Paul says that the churches—the people of this era and this dispensation; you—Paul says that when the branches of the old Mosaic administration were torn off, that on that same stump, on that same tree trunk, on that same stem, God grafted in this new thing, the churches of Jesus Christ [Romans 11:17]. When God tore off the original branches, His purposes were not frustrated [Romans 11:23-24]. And if God were to tear off these in-grafted branches, if the churches become Laodicean and God spews them out of His mouth [Revelation 3:16], yet will we not frustrate the purposes of God. There will be a remnant, there will be an election who will be saved, who will turn and believe, and that is the promise of God in the earth [Romans 11:5]. The only thing that God has promised is this: that in every day, in every age, in every dispensation, in every century, in every year, in all time, God will have His man [Romans 9:27-29, 10:14]. God will have His preacher, God will have His chosen representative in the earth, and the gospel message of saving grace will be preached in this earth forever and always! As long as this earth shall stand, God shall have His witness; that’s what God hath promised! [Matthew 24:14].
God has said that the effect of the preaching of the gospel shall be that some will be called out. He will take an election out of the great mass of the peoples of the earth and some of them will be saved [Romans 10:16, 11:5]. No matter how dark the hour, no matter how discouraging the prospect, no matter how black the night that may fall upon us, God always will have His man. God always will have His churches. God always will have His preaching, and God always will be calling out an election to name those who belong to Him [Romans 10:16, 11:5]. And there never is any era, and there never is any time, God has promised, when that witness will not be in the earth. Enoch [Genesis 5:24], and Noah [Genesis 6:8-9], and even Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah [2 Peter 2:6-7]; God has His man, God has His preacher, God has His witness, God has His churches, and God has His people who are turning, who are repenting, who are being saved; an election, always in the purpose and in the choice and in the will of God! [Romans 10:16, 11:5].
I cannot tell you what an infinite, indescribable, immeasurable comfort and encouragement that is to my own heart. As I work with people in this city, not all will turn and be saved, but some will. As we gather here this morning, in this hour, there are thousands of us who have been down here at the First Baptist Church this morning hour. At the 8:15 service, we had a thrilling congregation. The church is almost full again at this 10:50 o’clock service. There are thousands of people in the city of Dallas who are still lying in bed. Some of them are out on the creek bank fishing. Some of them are out there for other reasons. Their children are undressed, playing in the streets, out somewhere unsaved, unconverted, without care, without concern, without conviction, without burden, lost! But in the midst of the thousands who turn Christ down and who say no to the invitation of the gospel of the Son of God, there is an election who are here. There are some who will turn and believe [Romans 11:5]. There are those who will open their hearts to the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God, and it is that way everywhere, and has been all of my life.
I haven’t been able to win all of the people to whom I have testified or witnessed. I haven’t won to Christ all at whose doors I have knocked. I haven’t been able to see come down the aisle, in rejoicing and gladness and in dedication, all to whom I have offered the gospel of Christ and have invited to the Lord, but some of them have. Some of them have; some of them have; some of you have. I baptized many of you that are in the divine presence today, and you once were lost. You once were in rejection, and blasphemy, and unbelief, and now you’ve been saved! God has His election, and God has His own, and God has His people, in every generation, and in every dispensation, and in every age; and God has it today, and He will have it until the end! [Matthew 24:14]. Some will believe, some will turn, some will be saved; some will be called and listen to the voice of God and follow Christ! And one of the marvelous things, one of the most glorious things mind could imagine that God hath done in this world is this: that always, always, always, there is that election; always [Romans 11:5]. You need not be discouraged, you need not tremble, you need not fear. God has never promised that they all would be saved in any time, in any dispensation, in any era, in any generation, but God hath given us some!
May I take two great, eloquent German preachers? May I read? Listen to them. Martin Luther, Martin Luther, one of his sermons:
This is not true, and is really a trick of the devil that people are led to believe that the whole world shall become Christian. It is the devil’s doing in order to darken sound doctrine and to prevent it from being rightly understood . . . Therefore, it is not to be admitted that the whole world, and all mankind, shall believe on Christ; for we must perpetually bear the sacred cross, that they are the majority who persecute the saints.
[quoted from Walch’s Luther, vol. II, cols. 1082-83, in The Apocalypse: A Series of Special Lectures on the Revelation of Jesus Christ, Joseph Augustus Seiss: Charles C. Cook, 1865, p. 214]
From an eloquent sermon by Martin Luther.
Bear with me as I read you one of the most eloquent sermons, a piece of it, I ever read in my life, from John Conrad Goebel in his sermons on the Augsburg Confession. Listen to this eloquent German preacher. Listen to him:
The idea of a golden age in this world before the resurrection of the dead, before the coming of our Lord is a near phantasm. Not only contrary to the entire Holy Scriptures, but especially contrary to the clear and lucid prophecies of the Lord Jesus Christ and His beloved apostles, when they speak of the times immediately preceding the day of judgment.
Then this eloquent preacher quotes Matthew 24:13, 1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 3:1, 2 Peter 3:3, and then he continues,
Nothing is there said of a golden age, but only crosses and tribulation which touch all the estates of the world.
Listen to this eloquence:
Concerning ecclesiastical affairs, it was predicted that in the last time, many false christs and false prophets should arise, and shall do great signs and wonders and deceive, if were possible, the very elect. Concerning heroes, it was predicted that love should wax cold and in the hearts of many and faith wane to such a degree that Christ Himself asks: When the Son of Man cometh shall He find faith on the earth? Will that be a golden age? Concerning matters of state, it was predicted that unrighteousness shall sway them, and there shall be wars and rumors of wars, nation arising against nation and kingdom against kingdom. Will that be a golden age? Concerning the family, it was predicted that the sons shall be against the father, the daughter against her mother. And that a man’s foes shall be those of his own household. Will that be a golden age? Concerning common life, it was predicted that there shall be distress of people on earth and trembling and fainting for fear and for looking after the things that are to come upon the earth, and tribulation such as was not from the beginning and never shall be again. Will that be a golden age? … Here on earth while the world lasts, we are in the Church militant …
[Die XXI Art. Aug. Conf. in Predigen Erklärt, pp.1256-59, quoted in Seiss, pp. 212-213]
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all get that in our heads? Here in this earth, we are in the church militant! We’re on the fighting line; you’re a soldier; you’re marching! Man, you’ve got foes; you’ve got the devil, you’ve got his angels, you’ve got hell, you’ve got evil, you’ve got blasphemies, you’ve got heresy, you have sectarianism, you’ve got corruption, you’ve got the world against you! “We’re in the church militant,” this eloquent preacher says, “and it doesn’t mean anything but cross-bearing, and tribulation, and trial, and toil, and labor, and work! It will be that way until Jesus comes. We are in the church militant, and have to suffer as God wills, waiting patiently for the true golden age and the kingdom of the adorable Trinity; not in this world here on earth, but in the future kingdom of eternal glory and blessedness.
Man, that’s preaching! That’s preaching. How we need a few more great German preachers like that man and like Martin Luther, these men who are reflecting nothing but the great revelation, and prediction, and prophecy, and preview, and foreview of God, who could see the end from the beginning, and that God hath done to keep us from being discouraged.
Lest you think Khrushchev is going to bury us, humph! He’s got God to contend with. I don’t deny that he’s got a billion people under the iron hand of the hammer and sickle. I don’t deny that things look fierce and are awesome and horrendous in prospect. I’m not denying that the world will continue to be full of wars and rumors of wars [Matthew 24:6], and men’s hearts failing them for what may come upon the earth. I am just avowing that God has His elective purposes, and He never fails! There is always His messenger, and His people, and His elect! [Matthew 24:21-22]. And God has a triumphant course; it involves the mystery of evil, into which I am not able to enter and no man can understand, but it’s His, it’s His. And here we are witnesses, and soldiers, and testifiers, and workers, and dedicated servants for God as long as we live, and as long as our children shall live, and as long as their children shall live, and until God shall say it’s enough and send the harvesters to divide the evil from the good and the wheat from the tares [Matthew 13:30]. It’s that way, a way of cross, and tribulation, and trial, and dedication, and work, until Jesus shall come again [John 16:33].
Now may I conclude? Always, always, God has His own; God has His people; God has His witnesses. And there may be places and times when it is darkness, and compromise, and corruption, and evil, and false, empty profession, but in another place and over yonder, it will be light, and glory, and revival, and evangelism, and the unction and power of the Holy Spirit of God; been that way all the way through. Never been anything else but that, and it is that way today.
When the church at Antioch was waning in its piety, the church at Milan was experiencing great spiritual blessings from heaven. When the churches of Alexandria and Carthage were falling into the decrepitude of empty ceremonialism, the churches of Gaul were battling against the imperial vices of the Roman Empire and were winning converts from the rude and crude barbarians. When the church at Rome fell into emptiness and into ritual and a godless blasphemy—a profession that had in it color and drama, but no power of God—when the church of Rome fell, Ireland was turning to Christ in beauty and in glory, worshiping the Holy One of Israel. When Mohammed, God’s avenger against the idolatry of the Christian churches—when Mohammed was cutting to pieces by the sword the churches of Egypt, and of Syria, and of Asia Minor, at that identical time the scholars of Iona in the little isle off of Great Britain were studying the Word of God, and they were preaching the gospel to the Anglo-Saxons, and converted your forefathers and mine.
When the papal court at Avignon in France fell into vice and debauchery and disgraced the name of religion, at that identical time there were preachers in the Teutonic cities of Germany who were studying the Word of God, who were writing and preaching sermons, and who were doing deeds of honor and glory to Jesus the Christ.
When the fields of Italy were filled with rotten stubble, the fields of Bohemia were whiting unto the harvest. When France fell into the darkness of superstition and despotism, the morning star of the Reformation was rising in England. When the Unitarian defection closed the churches of New England and America, and emptied the Bible and the message of Christ of all of its content and meaning, the pioneer preacher was pressing across the Alleghenies. He was preaching the gospel in the wilderness of Kentucky and Tennessee, and he pressed westward to the prairies and the heartland of America, came to my little town in the far West where I grew up as a boy, and pressed to the golden shores of the Pacific Ocean, founding our churches, building our institutions, holding revival meetings, bringing into the hearts of men the kingdom of heaven.
And here in this city there may be drought and ceremony, empty and meaningless, in places and in hearts. But in this blessed congregation, there is the spirit of worship, and devotion, and soulwinning, and dedication, and revival. And it is that way all through God’s administration, and it will be that way until the end: never everybody converted, never everybody saved, never everybody loving Jesus. There will be tares, the oversowing of Satan, wherever God’s truth is preached [Matthew 13:24-30], but there will also be an election [Matthew 13:11-17]. There will also be those who love Jesus. There will also be a true preacher of the Son of God. There will also always be a congregation gathered round who loves the message of the Holy Book, and the divine inspiration, God-breathing [2 Timothy 3:16], that comes with the breaking of the bread of life [2 Peter 1:20-21]. There will always be some who will turn and be saved. As the old prophet lifted up his voice to say:
Turn ye, turn ye!
As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,
but that the wicked turn ye, turn ye, for why will you die?
And some will always turn, some will always be saved. God has an election in the earth. And as Paul says to those blessed Corinthians: study, strive, learn, pray, agonize [1 Corinthians 15:58, 16:13], to make sure your calling and election [2 Peter 1:10].
O Lord, that God should have remembered me; that the Lord should have put my name in the book; that God should have touched my heart; that God should have spoken to my soul; that God should have opened the door for me—O Lord, in God’s calling and in God’s election, that God should have included me. How could you thank Him enough? How could you praise Him enough? How could you reward Him enough? What shall I say and how shall I come before the great high God, that He should have blessed us and called us, spoken to us, and bid us to come? Oh! The blessedness of the day and the hour in which you live. Look at you in America, where the church door is open; in America, where the gospel is preached; in this blessed church that does no other thing than to open the Book and read from the sacred page and make appeal in the name of Jesus.
And you are here, you are here; God sent you here, and He called you, and He bids you, and He welcomes you. Then come. Then come. Some of you are in this balcony who ought to come. There is a stairway there and on either side; there is a stairway here and on either side; come, come. This is God’s day, and God’s time, and God’s now, and God’s hour; come, come, come. And on this lower floor, in the throng and press of people on this lower floor, there are you. God hath sent you here. This is your day. This is God’s time. Come, come. “Preacher, here I am, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God [Romans 10:9-10]. Here I am. Here I come. Here I stand.” Come, a family, all of you come: “Preacher, here is my wife and these are my children. All of us are coming into the church.” As God shall say the word, shall open the door, shall make the appeal, make it now, make it now. On the first note of that first stanza, step out into that aisle and down here to the front. If you are on the back seat of that balcony, there is time and to spare for you to come. As God shall say the word, shall lead the way, shall open the door, make it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.