The True Riches
November 5th, 1961 @ 8:15 AM
THE TRUE RICHES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-5-61 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The True Riches. In our preaching through the Book of the Revelation, we have come to the end of the third chapter. This is the end of the churches. Next Sunday morning we shall preach on the rapture, the translation of the church [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. “I saw a door opened in heaven: and I heard a voice saying, Come up hither” [Revelation 4:1]. God’s people, taken out of the earth into glory; then follows of course these tragic, awesome, indescribable judgments of God upon the earth. The sermon next Sunday morning will be The Translation, The Rapture, The Taking Away of God’s People in the Earth. Then the following Sunday morning, I am going to preach on The Elective Purpose of God for Israel. I am going to preach on the Jew, then the following Sunday morning on The Double Meaning of Prophecy.
These three immediate sermons are to prepare us as we begin with the fourth and the following chapters of the Revelation. Then after those three sermons on the rapture, on the Jew, on the double meaning of prophecy – by “a double meaning of prophecy” I mean that it has an ultimate, definite fulfillment in the future, but the great spiritual principles by which it is pronounced of God apply through all time and in all ages; for the great truth of God never varies. What is true now was true yesterday, was true for and will be true forever; for truth and morality and spiritual well-being are founded in the character of God, and God never changes [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8]. Then after those three sermons we shall follow through the predictions, the unveilings, the revelation of the book to the end time: what God has in store for this world, for the nations of the world, for the lost and damned and doomed of the world, for the saved of the world. All of it was given in preview to the apostle John [Revelation 1:19], as God gave in preview to the prophets of the Old Testament the unfolding of the ages that were also before them yet to come.
Now before we enter into those prophetic messages and expositions of the Revelation, I have one other sermon to preach on the church. In the third chapter of the Revelation:
To Laodicea, unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God;
I know thy works, neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm,
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be truly, really, rich; rich toward God, rich in heaven, rich in heart and in spirit; truly, really, rich.
What a remarkable self-deception and self-delusion in these Laodiceans, and how true to all the ages throughout all the history of the world are these Laodiceans. To them, this is the true riches. They say three things about themselves, so our Lord quotes them: “Because thou sayest, I am plousios” – “plutocrat” comes from that word; “plutocracy.” “We are wealthy,” and all that is included in that word “wealth,” riches, they said about themselves. “Look what we have. I am rich”; that’s the first thing. The second thing, “I am increased with goods. Look what I possess.” And the third thing: “I have need of nothing” [Revelation 3:17]. All of those things they were persuaded of themselves; and when they added up all that they possessed, these are the things that they had. And to them that was a remarkable, a remarkable affluence. And compared of course with the rest of the world, they were rich, and they were increased with goods, and they had need of nothing. Just like the world today: compared to most of the people, an American is vastly, indescribably, unbelievably rich compared to any other people in the world.
Now that led the Laodiceans into a persuasion, into an interpretation of the meaning of life that also is characteristic of the ages of this world; yesterday, today, and apparently forever. Three things about it: first, they were persuaded that the real meaning of life was to be found in this world. Here were their riches, and here were their increased goods, and here they had need of nothing. They were “this worldly,” and their thoughts and their lives and their possessions were all in this world. A second thing in their persuasion: their great aims therefore, and their goals, and their visions, and their purposes, and the outreach of their lives all was toward material things; for these are the things that count – so the energy of their lives, and the outreach, and the drive, and the march always toward material things. Then the third is a corollary, a deduction, a concomitant, it always follows: therefore, and this is the third one, that which does not contribute toward the attainment of those material ends is worthless and valueless. God, and religion, and spiritual realities, all of these things, the intangibles and the heavenlies and the spiritualities, all of these are nothing, not anything to the soul, not anything to the life yet to come, not anything to God, not anything to religion, these things are valueless to a man, to a nation, to a philosophy, to a teacher, to a government that is driving toward materialistic ends.
You have a magnificent illustration of that in the philosophy of economic determinism, which you call communism. To the economic determinist, to Karl Marx, to Friedrich Engels, to Lenin, to the present party that governs the Soviet Union, to them there are no goals that are worth striving for except materiality, except material goals, except things that can be possessed in this life and in this world. Therefore things that do not contribute toward that end of material achievement, these things are worthless: the soul, human life as such, personality, God, religion, spiritual values, they are nothing because their philosophy of life is economically determined; their aims and their visions are in this world.
Now, our risen Lord has an appraisal the very opposite of that: “Thou sayest,” said the Lord, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not,” and this is the appraisal of the Lord to any people who build their lives in this world, whose goal and aim and vision and purpose is material, “thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” [Revelation 3:17]. Nor was that any different from the appraisal of our Lord in the days of His flesh. In the great Sermon on the Mount, He said that same thing [Matthew 6:19-21]. And in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Luke – I had you read under Brother Carter’s direction that passage, that we might be reminded the emphasis, and the revelation, and the appeal of our Lord never, never varied. “A man’s life,” He said, “consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” [Luke 12:15], and He sought to encourage us to be rich toward God [Luke 12:21].
Now, these teachings of our Savior, “Lay not up treasures in earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, where thieves break through and steal” [Matthew 6:19]; these teachings of our Lord are not fantastic, or far-fetched, or unreal, or other-worldly; they are very factual. They can be tried; they are experiential and empirical. All we have to do is to look at them and to judge them for ourselves. So let’s do it this morning; these admonitions of our Savior, to be rich toward God [Luke 12:31], not to lay up treasures in this earth [Matthew 6:19], let’s look at them for ourselves. They’re not so simply because the Bible and Jesus said they were so; they are so, therefore, the Bible and Jesus says them. “He is the way, the truth, and the life” [John 14:6], and these things are true; and truth can be demonstrated, it can be exhibited, it can be put on the witness stand to testify. So let’s look at it this morning, for the rest of the time we have, and see if these things our Lord says are true.
All right, first: wherever in this world people follow a philosophy and a goal and a vision of materialism, wherever they do their world turns drab and weary and meaningless. I have two examples of it. First, anywhere communism goes – anywhere, if it’s Russia, if it’s China, if it’s Yugoslavia, if it’s Albania, if it’s Bulgaria, if it’s Romania, if it’s Poland, if it’s East Germany – wherever communism goes the world turns drab, and weary, and colorless; and people lose their heart and their spirit, and they are oppressed and beat and live like slaves. For God said, “The life is more than meat, and the body than raiment” [Luke 12:23]. That is a concomitant, a corollary, a truth that you’ll never escape. Just look at it for yourself: these truths of God are demonstrable.
All right, I have a second illustration: on the other side, on the other swing of the pendulum, wherever materialism, worldly life, pleasure, wherever the things of this world are the great end objective, that same thing follows: there is a weariness, and a drabness that is indescribable. Now my second illustration is the ennui of the French court, or the nearest that we have to it in America is the glitter of the life in Hollywood. Why do those people who have so much and live in such a brilliant circle, why do they fall into narcotics and marijuana? And why is it that they are so often homosexual? And why is it that they fall into indescribable numbers of divorce? And why is it that so much of the adulation of Hollywood – and if you’ll look at these Oscar Awards, practically every one of them this last time were for female characters who were playing parts of prostitutes, and whores, and harlots – why is it that the life flows in that direction? Why is it that the home life of most Hollywood stars is a thing bannered across the headlines of the papers of the world? Why is that? I’ll tell you why: finally, you have to drink, you have to drink; you don’t have any choice but to drink. And then when that wears out, but the needle; and when that wears out, but the homosexual; and when that wears out, then the suicide. You don’t have any choice in those things because the life that is lived in this world is burdensome, and weary, and drab, even unto death.
You can test it for yourself. All right, let’s test it again. Our Lord says that the things of this world are a wearisome thing in themselves, and that when we make all values of material values, of the things of this life, why He says even the body, even the physical life is above that kind of a persuasion and that kind of a goal and that kind of a hope and a vision. Our Lord says, “The body even, the physical body, is more than the objectives of this life, and this life more than the things that a man possesses” [Luke 12:15]. I heard Eddie Rickenbacker, right after he had been rescued from the Pacific when he fell with those fellow airmen in the vast expanse of the ocean and lived on a life raft, I heard him speak here to the Texas Legislature in Austin. And one of the things he described was that on a raft, and having to throw overboard everything that was not vital, he said, “It is surprising how worthless, in a time like that, are the things we most cherish.” He threw them overboard; they all threw them overboard, got rid of them.
When I was a boy, I remember the cartoon “Mutt and Jeff,” and they were after diamonds, and had crossed the sea, and found them by the bushels. And on the way back they were shipwrecked, and the end of that cartoon was Mutt and Jeff were on that little raft in the middle of the ocean, burned by the sun, dying of thirst, and the diamonds were rolling off the edge of the raft, and falling into the sea; and they paid no attention whatsoever. That cartoon made an impression upon my boyish mind: diamonds, gold, stocks, bonds, land, glitter, this life, Jesus says, even compared to the breath of this body, those things are valueless. You can test it for yourself.
And then, of course, this third thing: compared to the ultimate life and the spiritual life they are even of less worth. The great reward, and the great benediction, and the great blessing is always up there and not here [Matthew 6:19-21].
There was a rich banker in the West; sent a check to his poor country preacher brother in the South, that he come and see him one last time. They hadn’t been together since they were boys. So, the country preacher and his family took the gift of his rich banker brother and made his trek out to the West. There, that poor country preacher looked at the broad acres of his banker brother, and looked at the blooded cattle, and looked at the wonderful bank over which he presided, and all the possessions that the banker possessed. And then, in an evening, the families were upstairs visiting together, and the two brothers were downstairs in the library, reminiscing about old times, talking about the old farmhouse, and about father, and about mother. And the banker said to his brother, he said, “Brother John, how has it been with you in these years?” And brother John replied, he said, “Well, it’s been hard for me, hard for me. I have barely had enough to support my family. It’s been difficult. I’ve been a country preacher all of my life.” And in that day, of course, paid by subscriptions, one fellow would subscribe a ham, and another would subscribe a gallon of molasses, and another would subscribe a barrel of flour, “We’ve had a difficult time, a difficult time. But,” he said, “I’ve preached the gospel, and I’ve won people to Jesus, and I’ve tried to edify the saints, and I’ve baptized my converts, and I’ve tried to help in the kingdom of God.” And then the banker brother replied, “Oh, brother John, brother John! When you gave your life to be a preacher, back there in the South, I said, ‘My brother John is a fool, he’s a fool.’ And during these years I have thought, brother John, you could have had all of these broad acres, and you could have had this great affluence, for you are more able than I. But oh, brother John, brother John! I have come to the end of the way, and I have sent for you that I might see you one last time before I die. Oh, brother John, I’ve come to the end of the way, and I am a pauper before God!”
Eternity is a long, long time, and you tell me whether our Lord is correct or not. In the age of the ages of the ages, as the eternities roll, you tell me, who has the richer inheritance? That poor country preacher, brother John, who gave himself to preach the gospel and to win converts and to give his life for Jesus, or, the banker in the West, who lived for his broad acres and the building up of his financial empire? Which one is richer toward God? That is a demonstrable fact.
Now, the Lord makes appeal to us. First, there is a joy and a gladness and a victory in remembering our Lord. The stewardship He has placed in our hands, there is a gladness in that beyond anything in this world. As you know, I was in Philadelphia this last August; spent several days there. And in Philadelphia, I wanted to go above all other places to one place, to John Wanamaker’s store; I was surprised at how big it is and how beautiful it is, one of the great stores of the world. That man, John Wanamaker, was a Baptist Sunday school teacher and superintendent. When he was appointed postmaster general of the United States, he took it upon one condition: that every Sunday he could go back to Philadelphia and teach his Sunday school class. I haven’t time to recount the experience; maybe I can in the second service. I haven’t time to recount the experience, but as a boy he had an unusual gladness, an unusual gladness, in giving to God, when he was a boy. And he said, “And all the rest of my life I found my greatest, highest joy in giving to God.” And as he became famous, and rich, and all blessed in God, he never forgot that great, infinite joy of remembering that what he had belonged to the Lord. And he blessed God in his life, and with all that he possessed.
A second thing: and there is peace and quiet and gladness of heart when we do it [Luke 6:38]. And I had several things to say of that, maybe I can say them in the second service. And then, this third, I want to take time to speak of. And this third: and there is a glory and a gladness in anticipation – by anticipation I mean as we look to the end of the way, and as we look to the ultimate toward which all of our life inevitably moves. For what is the end to be for us? Defeat and despair? Oh, no! The end of our lives is to be glory, glory, heaven, all of the things God hath in store for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. And now, may I speak of that?
There was a man who had a dream; and what an unusual vision. He saw a guide escorting a couple to an abyss, and it was short. And the guide called it a grave. And the older couple, as they came to it, came with dread and foreboding. On the other side was the celestial city and the gates of pearl; but oh! such dread and such foreboding. And as the guide escorted them, they were cumbered down with all kinds of things. And the guide said, “Where did you get all these things, like a pack rat? Where did you get all of these things? Where’d you get all of that stuff? Where’d you get all of that junk?” And the couple replied, “Junk? Stuff? Why, this is what we’ve given our lives for. This, this is the treasure of this world. Stuff? Junk?” She said, “These are my jewels.” And he said, “These are my bonds and my stocks and my deeds. Junk?” And the guide said, “Put it all over there on the heap. Put it all over there on the heap. Put it all over there in the heap. You can’t take stuff like that with you. Why, we’ve got streets paved with that stuff. And the very foundation of our city is made out of those little bitty jewels like you have. Put it all on the heap. Put it all on the heap.”
And with great reluctance, they put it all on the heap, and crossed over with sadness and with foreboding; for all that they had was in this life, and they were saved as if by fire; just barely [1 Corinthians 3:11-15].
Then the guide escorted another couple up. Ah! as they drew near to that inevitable day, they lifted up their eyes, and that abyss was just an incident, just a small darkness before the dawn. Lifting up their eyes, there was the celestial city; glad to leave behind all that they possessed in this world. And when they crossed over that dark abyss, a great throng met them at the gate of the city, to welcome them home. And they were astonished, astonished! And there were faces they’d never seen, and there were people they’d never heard of. And they greeted them, and welcomed them. And they said, “We were,” and named those faraway lands, “and a gospel messenger preached to us the hope in Jesus, and we were saved. And when we came to this celestial city, we looked on God’s account book, and found that you had made it possible for the messenger to come. And had it not been for you, we would never have made it.”
And there were children there who had grown to men and women, that they taught the Word of God. And there were others there whom their lives had wonderfully blessed, that great throng welcoming them to the celestial city.
That’s what God wants us to do: take what He gives us, and use it to be rich toward Him. Send it over, send it before you, use it for God, invest it in things that cross over on the other side. Don’t leave it here for the dump. Don’t leave it here for the junk heap. Don’t leave it here, the stuff of this world, don’t. Ask God, “Lord, how do I turn it into coin of heaven? How Lord, do I use it for Thee?” And send it over, send it before you. And then it becomes an eternal inheritance, and you are truly rich. Ah! That the Lord shall bless His people in these days of prayer and searching, as we do a great and a magnificent thing for God.
Now, Brother Till, while we sing our song, while we make our appeal, in this throng in the balcony round, or somebody you on this lower floor, while you are here, while you are here, give your heart to Jesus, put your life with us in the church. And as the Spirit of heaven shall guide in the way, shall whisper the word, do it for God. Come, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.