IF THE NATIONS HAVE ANY HOPE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 12:2
11-4-62 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock message hour, the 11:00 o’clock hour message entitled If the Nations Have Any Hope. Our reading is in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians, the second verse. It is a text. This is not an exposition. It is not even a textual sermon. It is a subject sermon, one that I rarely, rarely ever preach, but I felt constrained to do so at this hour; If the Nations Have Any Hope. First Corinthians chapter 12, verse 2: “Ye know that ye were Gentiles,” or heathen or pagan, “Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led” [1 Corinthians 12:2]. You know that at one time you were heathen, you were pagan, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. And when Paul wrote that he was writing about our forefathers, our ancestors. They were heathen. They were pagan and they worshiped gods made out of wood and out of stone and out of metal. And that is ultimately and finally the tragedy of the curse of this world today. And we are not going to speak about the pimple on the skin but the blood strain in the heart.
There are many peripheral, many epidermic, many surface things that men discuss of why of the need and the want in this world. But ultimately and foundationally, what is wrong is that men, nations, families, peoples do not have God in their hearts. One half of this world every night goes to bed hungry. One half of this world is sick all the time. The people are in bodily illness. One half of this world is never fed aright or clothed aright or sheltered aright. Why? Is it because the earth is not fertile, and fecund, and prolific, and watered, and fertilized; we’ve run out of minerals and of substance and the earth is worn and unproductive?
No, my impression of this earth is that it has the mineral deposits, and the fertilizing, and the materials to produce above what ten times this population is now or doubtless ever shall be; Central America, India, vast, vast almost illimitable regions in Africa and in the Orient, yet the people starve, and they’re sick, and they live in squalor and poverty. Why? It is because they do not have God!
No small part of this world has now entered under the aegis of a government that is avowedly anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-church, anti-everything that is revealed in this Book and revered by the people of the Lord. It is under Soviet Communism. And communism has a built-in depression. They will never get over it. No nation ever is able outside of God! They deny God; therefore there is no dignity in a man. He’s a digit. He’s a number. He’s a piece of chattel property. He belongs and is assigned to a commune. The heart is taken out of him. There is no incentive. And the people starve, were it not that there is a little bit of what we call personal property assigned to the farmers of Soviet Russia. And each farmer is allowed a little tiny spot of land that he can call his own. And he can market that produce he raises on that tiny spot. Were it not for the produce of those tiny little spots of land that the farmer can call his own, Russia would starve to death!
There is no such a thing as a nation even being able to take care of itself outside of God and the dignity that comes to a man who is made avowedly in the image of the Lord [Genesis 1: 27]. Cuba was until recently the most affluent, the most prosperous of all of the nations of the Latin Americans. And today Cuba faces starvation every hour! Wherever there is a denial of God, there the people fall into need, and want, and distress, and poverty. And they are never able to rise out of it, never. If communism brings prosperity and dignity to a people, then there is no God, for it’s the Lord God that put this moral universe together. And when a nation denies God, they sentence themselves to want, and to need, and to distress, and to despair, and to poverty.
The breadbasket of Europe was Eastern Germany. Those great farms, those German farmers, they produced enough for all Germany and for nations beside. Today, stark need and want and poverty stalk up and down the great fertile lands of East Germany. Why? Because it has gone under the aegis of a government that blasphemes the name of God.
Now, another side of it: “Ye know that ye were pagan heathen, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led” [1 Corinthians 12:2]. One of the most pitiful things to look upon in this earth is a great, vast, multitudinous peoples like India.
We had an illustrious Baptist leader by the name of Dr. Henry Bennett. He was the son of one of our Baptist pastors in Arkansas. He was the illustrious president of Oklahoma A&M College, now called Oklahoma State. He was appointed by the president of the United States to administer the Point Four Program under the Marshall Plan; Point Four Program, seeking to encourage people, and to give them means, and technique, and instruments like agriculture whereby they could help themselves.
And upon a time Dr. Henry Bennett—who by the way was killed in an airplane when it fell in Iran just beyond Tehran, one of God’s great servants, a wonderful deacon—one time Dr. Bennett came back to Oklahoma and said in despair, in despair, “How can you increase the production of beef when every cow is a god? And how can you increase the production of pork when every pig is a devil, is a demon? And how can you increase the productiveness of an agricultural economy when every wooden plow is a piece of a sacred and ancient religious ceremonial?”
That’s my impression as I look at the lands of India and those great rivers, and those vast fertile valleys, and the abundant rainfall, and the prolific land. What is wrong is they don’t have God in their hearts! And if ever, if ever these peoples and these nations would turn to the true God, you would find an abundance created. You would find a blessing from heaven that would bring the very millennium to this earth.
Whenever you persuade yourself that America, the United States, has more resources and more natural productivity than the other areas of the earth, it’s because you haven’t read and you haven’t looked. All you need to do is to look at the vast resources of a Brazil, or the illimitable resources of an Africa, or the vast abilities that lie latent in the hands of a great peoples like China or like India. The difference lies in Almighty God. The difference between us and those nations lies in our people who worship the name of the Lord Christ.
These blessings that have come to us are not because our land is more fruitful or our resources are more extensive. But they have come to us because of our belief, our reverence for the true God. “Ye know that at one time ye were heathen, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led” [1 Corinthians 12:2]. But now in the providence of God, somebody preached to us the gospel of the Lord Jesus, and our forefathers, our ancestors turned and accepted the message of Christ. And we their children have received these gifts from their faithful and believing hands.
Now we stand at one of the most critical junctures in history. And what is our assignment, and what shall we do? I am not one to gainsay any of the efforts by which we seek to bring peace and prosperity to the earth. If we can organize the nations and that brings peace, wonderful. It doesn’t but bless those who think it will. If we can feed the hungry with the surpluses of our land, fine. God bless America as we share what we have with those who have nothing. All of these efforts, may the Lord sanctify and bless.
But as a minister of Christ and as a preacher of the gospel of the Son of God, I cannot do other than to avow the truth the Lord hath written here in this Book and the truth that I see written on the open pages of secular history. There are no ills that are ultimately cured, and there are no governmental problems that are ultimately solved, until they are solved in the knowledge and in the wisdom and in the commitment of the Lord God! What our peoples need, what our nations need is the true gospel of Jesus Christ. And without it the hope for peace and the hope of the world and the hope of the nations is a phantom. It’s a fantasy. It’s an evanescent dream. It’s a mist that melts away in the rising of the morning sun.
Then what is our assignment, and what can we do? Here are some things rapidly mentioned. One: some of us ought to go, some of us ought to go; from time to time, there ought to be, as there actually is, thank God, there ought to be down these aisles young men and young women, boys and girls, who feel in their hearts God’s call to a missionary endeavor, and they ought to prepare to go, there in other languages, and in other lands, and among other peoples, to build an indigenous witness for the Son of God.
And here again I have a deep persuasion that I know is true. No group of missionaries will ever be able to lead a nation to Christ. You can’t pay for that. But the missionary is needed to build an indigenous, native leadership who themselves guide the building of churches and evangelize the people. But that cadre must be sent. That missionary must be there to guide the work among peoples who do not even know the Bible. Sometimes their language not even reduced to writing; they need help and God hath called us to help them. And some of us can go.
One of the most dramatic of all the stories in church history happened in the last century when a white-haired, old veteran missionary from India named Dr. Duff, Dr. Alexander Duff, returned to Scotland, to his native land to die. And he was speaking to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland. And while he was making an appeal for young men to give their lives for India, he fainted in the pulpit. And they carried him to a side room, and when he opened his eyes there was a doctor stooping over him. And he said, “Where am I? Where am I?” And the doctor said, “You have had a heart attack. Lie still.” Then his memory returned and he said, “I was making an appeal for India. I haven’t finished my appeal. I must go back!”
“No,” said the doctor, “you must lie still. You’ve had a heart attack.” And the old veteran white-headed missionary said, “But I haven’t finished my appeal.” And he struggled to his feet. They could not detain him. And with a doctor on one side of him and the moderator of the general assembly on the other side, the old white-haired veteran ascended the pulpit steps. And when he did so the great assembly stood to their feet in reverence. When they were seated then he began to make his appeal again. Nobody responded. Then the old veteran said, “If fathers, and mothers, and homes, and families in Scotland have no more children to send, then I, aged as I am, I shall return myself and lie down on the banks of the Ganges River and die in India, that they may know there is one man from Scotland willing to give his life for the salvation of the people of India.”
And you just don’t read in history many more dramatic stories than that. Then all over the house young ministers stood up and said “We will go, we will go.” And when the old veteran laid down his life in his native Scotland, by that time those young men had finished their education and were on their ways to the great populations of that subcontinent of India. God from time to time will say, “Separate Me a Saul and a Barnabas for the work whereunto I have called them” [Acts 13:2]. And one of the signs I repeat so many times, one of the signs of the Spirit of God upon a congregation is this: that from time to time and often, the Spirit of God will say, “Separate Me, separate for Me this boy, this young woman for the gospel work whereunto I have called them.” Some of us can go.
All of us can hold the ropes, all of us. All of us can hold the ropes, all of us. If a child were perishing in the well, whose would be the reward? The man that held the rope or the man that went down into the well? Both of them would share alike, both of them praised alike, both of them used of God alike to save the life of the child that had fallen into the well, he that held the rope and he that went down into the pit. That’s what William Carey said to Andrew Fuller. “You hold the rope while I go down into the well.” And Andrew Fuller stayed in England to find support, while William Carey went out to India to be God’s servant and God’s missionary to those people. All of us, all of us can help hold the rope while these give their lives into the ministry of saving God’s lost in the earth.
One of those Chinese converts was asked, “What you going to do when you get to heaven?” And he said, “First, I’m going to walk through those streets of gold and find my Savior and bow down at His feet and thank Him for saving my soul.” “Then what are you going to do?” And the Chinese convert said, “And after that I’m going to walk through the streets of glory and find the missionary that brought me the message of God. I’m going to grasp his hand and thank him for bringing me the message of Jesus.” “Then what you going to do?” And the Chinese convert said, “I’m going to walk through the streets of glory once more, and I’m going to find the man that gave the money that made it possible for the missionary to go. And I’m going to thank him for his part in saving my soul.”
“You, you, we were heathen, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led” [1 Corinthians 12:2]. This is our fathers. Somewhere, sometime to Northumbria, to the land of the Scots, to England, or Wales, or to Ireland, maybe some of us from the northern parts of Germany, and to the pagan in those Teutonic forests, and to those who worshiped gods of Thor and of Oden, in the islands of the British, somewhere, sometime there came a missionary who preached the gospel of the Son of God to our people, and they were saved.
And all of us who were reared on the western plains of this great heartland of America; even in my age I can remember the pioneer Baptist preacher, sent out by the Spirit of God, supported by the people of the Lord, who came to those fringes of the far western frontier and preached the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. How much, how much we owe to the man who went and to the man who made it possible for him to go.
What else can we do? We can build in this critical and tragic hour; we can build a great bastion for the Lord right here. One of the pitiful things of America is to see our people debauched. They are tramps. They are bums. They are sorry. They are no account, live for themselves, have no other god but pleasure, to be entertained. Oh, how spongy and how putrid is the cultural and civilization of our beloved America! And we don’t honor God in our worldliness, and in our pleasure madness, and in our lust for materialities; the things, the things, the endless things. But we honor God by being straight, and tall, and reverent, and God-honoring, and Christ-serving! This is a people God can bless.
In my reading this week, in an altogether different kind of a book, in my reading this week I came across an experience of a preacher who was preaching the gospel in Minneapolis. And when he was done his sermon, he said a fine-looking, upstanding stalwart of a businessman came and spoke to him and said, “All of the joy and gladness and prosperity I know in this life I owe to you.” And the preacher looked at him and said, “Man, who are you? I’ve never seen you before. I never saw you before.”
“Oh yes,” said that man. “Yes, in Toronto Canada where you’re pastor,” he said, “Walking along, a bum, my two daughters first left, then my wife left, and in the rags and in gutter, passing along down the street, I heard singing. I went inside and there you were. And you were making an appeal for what you call a faith promise; that if a man by faith would promise to give a proportion faithfully to God, God would bless him, put him on his feet, and make him strong for the Lord.”
And he said, “In my unbelief and rejection, I just thought I’d try it. And I took one of those cards that you passed out, and I filled it out for a proportion that I’d bring to God every Sunday. Didn’t mean a thing in the world,” he said, “because I didn’t have anything. Didn’t have any job, didn’t have any proportion to give, but I thought I’d just try it to see if you were correct. “Preacher,” he said, “the next morning I had a job.” And he said, “The next week I had a raise.” And he said, “Every Sunday, according to what I wrote on that pledge card, I took a proportion of what God had given me, and I took it down to your church.” He said, “I continued to get raises, and I continued to advance in my work.” He said, “I got me a new suit of clothes. I cleaned up. My wife first came back, and my two daughters then came back.” And he said, “We have moved to Minneapolis where I have a thriving business in this city. And that’s what I mean when I say all that I have I owe to you. And that’s why you don’t recognize me. I was a bum! And when you saw me in the audience, I was in the gutter. But now God has blessed me, my home, my family, and my wife.”
These then honor God, and God honors for their sakes our people and our nation. What can we do? We can build here in our land a bastion for the Lord. You can where you stand. We can where we are.
And a last and briefly stated thing: and we can join our hands and our hearts with our brethren across the seas in one great intercession unto God. The Lord has His own, even in lands of darkness and deprivation. The Lord has His own. And we belong to them, and they belong to us, and together we belong to a great confederation; one that is dedicated to the Lord of glory.
My last appointment in this preaching through Japan—an assignment given to me some years ago—my last appointment was in a little town of about twenty thousand on the tip end of Kyushu, the southern most island, a little town named Ijuin. God blessed those services there. Oh, if we could have done then what we are attempting to do now! I never held a service that there were not from a hundred to a hundred fifty to three hundred who came forward accepting Christ as their Savior. Those days are passed, but then all that great nation opened their hearts to the one true God. Their god had just abdicated. Their emperor stated he was a man like any other man. That was the most golden opportunity to present the Lord Christ that the world could ever know.
Well anyway, at the end of the journey, I preached there for about two and half months through those islands and had come down to my last appointment, and to the last service, and to the last revival meeting in this little place of Ijuin. And after the service was over and the people were dismissed, some of the leaders of the church wanted to talk to me. So we went back into one of the Sunday school rooms, and we all sat in a circle there. And the English teacher in the high school was the translator. He was a fine Christian young man and a member of the little Baptist church. After we talked about how to build a church, how to finance it, and to organize it, and many, many other things concerning the kingdom and the work, why, the young fellow—they always referred to him as “one of the Odori boys”—their mother so faithful, so faithful, she had several boys, and they were so faithful, and this young fellow was the superintendent of the Sunday school and the leading young man in the church. When everything was done and we’d been there far past midnight talking about the things of how to build a church, that boy began talking to me and he didn’t have, he didn’t stop for a translation, and he just began to pour out his soul and did so with tears. I had no idea what he was talking about. He didn’t stop. And when finally he had just poured out his soul, why, the English teacher translated what the young fellow had said to me. And just briefly this is what that Odori boy was saying to me.
He said, “In the days of the last war,” and this was not long after it, he said, “In the days of the last war, we who were Christians were looked upon as being sympathizers with America and traitors to our country.” And he said, “We suffered great persecution, great persecution.” And he outlined some of the terrible things that he and his mother and his brothers had to suffer in those days when they were looked upon as traitors to Japan because they were Christians and because they attended that little Baptist church. “But,” he said, “God was with us, and we were faithful to the Lord, and the Lord was faithful to us.”
Then he said, “I want you to know that I think someday in our day that persecution is coming back again.” He said, “This time I think it will come through a communist infiltration, an overwhelming of our country. I just have the feeling,” he said, “that we are going to have that same awful visitation again, this time under the heavy hand of communism. But,” he said, “I want you to go back to America, and I want you to remember, when that day comes there will be some of us standing over here in Japan faithful to our Lord unto death! And we know that you will be standing no less faithful to the Lord in your native America.”
I stood up, and being a gentleman, as you know the Japanese are, he stood up immediately. I took his hand, and I said to the English teacher, “You tell this Odori boy that whatever may come, communism overwhelm Japan”—and someday it may, they’re so close to Red China. They’re so close to Soviet Russia. Oh, the Lord spare them! But someday that may come, and the destiny that lies for our native America I do not know. It lies in the elective purpose, in the imponderables of Almighty God. But I said to him through that English teacher, “You tell this Odori boy that while he is faithful to God in Japan, even unto death, we who name the name of Christ, we shall be faithful unto the Lord unto death, even in our own and native land of America”; joining hands with our brethren across the seas; one great avowal, one great commitment, one great determination, one great consecration, one great offering of ourselves unto God, and may the Lord take it; some of us our lives as we go, some of us standing by the stump holding the ropes, whether there or whether here, faithful to the Lord unto death.”
And God speed our church and its witness. The Lord bless and sanctify our support in prayer, in Sunday-by-Sunday giving [1 Corinthians 16:2], offering unto the Lord in token all of our souls and lives, to the praise of His glory in this world and the world that is yet to come.
Now while we sing our song, somebody you this morning give his heart to Jesus, putting your life in the fellowship of the church, while we sing our song, while we make our appeal, as God shall open the door, shall lead the way. If the Lord has spoken to your heart, would you come? Maybe somebody this morning to give his life in a full time Christian ministry of Christ in a church, in a foreign field; don’t know what the Lord will do with us. It’s in His will.
Talked to Mrs. Feazer this morning; they’ve invested their lives here in America all their days. January, they’re going to Taipei, they’re going to Formosa to be pastor of one of our mission churches over there. What a wonderful thing! The man is retired. Now in his retirement he’s going over there to be pastor of a church. Oh, if the Lord calls, don’t know what He will do, but it will be blessed. It’ll be blessed. It’s for us to respond, to give our lives to the call of the Lord, and to put your life in the church: “Pastor, this is my wife. These are our children. All of us are coming.” Or one somebody you, to be baptized into the body of the Lord, or to come by letter, or promise of letter, or statement; as the Spirit shall say the word and lead the way, make it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.