IT IS REASONABLE TO BE A CHRISTIAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-6-63 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the evening message entitled It Is Reasonable, It is Reasonable to Be a Christian. In our Bibles, all of us turn to Acts, the Book of Acts chapter 17, reading from verse 16 through verse 21, the Book of Acts chapter 17. And if you neighbor does not have his Bible, share yours with him. Let us all read the Word out loud together, the Book of Acts chapter 17, reading from verses 16 through 21. All of us now, out loud together:
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.
And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?
For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
Now, begin reading at the thirty-second verse and read to the end of the chapter, and you are going to come across Dionysius the Areopagite. All right, beginning at verse 32:
And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.
So Paul departed from among them.
Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
It is Reasonable to Be a Christian, and the thesis of the sermon arises out of the response of these learned intellectuals, these Athenian philosophers, to the preaching of the gospel of Jesus, the Epicurean and the Stoic in contradistinction to a member of the supreme court, an Areopagite. The court met on Mount Mars, Mars Hill, in Greek Areopagus, and it was called the Court of the Areopagus, and the Areopagite would be a member of that court. Dionysius, a member of that court, turned, trusted in the Lord, believed, and was saved [Acts 17:34]. But these Epicureans and these Stoic philosophers, when they heard of the preaching of Jesus and of the resurrection, the Epicureans laughed out loud. To them it was the most ridiculous, inane of all of the superstitious persuasions that an intellectual mind could conceive of, and the Epicureans laughed out loud when Paul preached. The Stoics were a little more courteous and generous; they bowed graciously, and smiling, said, “We will hear thee again of this matter” [Acts 17:32], and they walked away.
The Epicurean is a follower of the Athenian philosopher Epicurus. The Stoics are the followers of a famous Athenian philosopher named Zeno. Both of them taught together at the same time. Epicurus and Zeno taught in their prime about three hundred years before Christ. They are called Stoics, the followers of Zeno, because Zeno taught on a famous porch, a stoa, in the city of Athens. So his disciples were called Stoics from the fact that Zeno spoke and taught his disciples on the stoa. The Epicureans, of course, take their name from their founder, Epicurus.
The philosophy of Epicurus was very simple. It was downright, unadulterated atheism. Epicurus was an atomic scientist. The word “a” is primitive denial in Greek, tomos is “to cut,” so atomos, atom, atom means “uncut,” “indivisible.” After they take things down and down and down to the last indivisible particle of matter, the Greek philosopher called it an atom. Now, the Epicureans were atomic philosophers; they taught and they believed that the entire universe was made up of atoms. The coarser atoms were out there in nature, the finer atoms were in a human man’s body, and the finest atoms were his soul, and when a man died the atoms were scattered abroad, and that was all there was to it. It was atheism, materialism, hard and unadulterated.
That is Epicureanism. Of course they had a hedonistic philosophy. Hedonistic comes from a Greek word meaning pleasure. The Epicureans were hedonists; they believed that the ultimate end of all life was to have a good time. Their watch word was “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” So their ideal of all human life was pleasure, happiness, to have a good time. Of course a great Epicurean philosopher would supplement that and say, “The way to have a good time is to do it in keeping with the highest moral standards of the world.” But those were Epicureans; they were above all downright atheists, and they laughed when Paul preached about the deity of Jesus and the Lord God in Him, raised from the dead [Acts 17:32].
Now, the Stoics were a little different kind, but they were just about as atheistic as the Epicureans. The Stoics were pantheists—pan, “everywhere,” theos, “god”—pantheists: God is everywhere. Everything was God; you are God; the world is God; the universe is God; everything is God. They were pantheists, and they believed that this world had an impersonable, inexorable law, karma, kismet, like a Mohammedan believes; “Allah wills it,” and no man can enter into that decision.
So these Stoics, not being believers in God—like a Mohammedan is—but being pantheists, they believed that everybody was caught up in the wheel of an inexorable fortune, and he had no control of his life whatsoever; so to be stoical in your attitude toward life is to accept whatever life may bring, and bear it bravely and impersonally. It is a great fine philosophy; it just does not have God in it. So when Paul preached Jesus and the power of the Lord that raised Him from the dead, the Stoics bowed and smiled, and courteously, generously, bowed out and walked away [Acts 17:32]. However, there was a man of the Supreme Court named Dionysius, an Areopagite; as he listened to the apostle Paul, God touched his heart, and he turned, and he accepted the one true God in the revelation of Jesus Christ, and he was saved [Acts 17:34].
Now, the sermon tonight is, was it reasonable? Was it reasonable? Is it intellectually feasible? Can a man who thinks, can a man who reads, can a man who studies, can a man who is a scientist, can a man who is learned, can a man in dignity and in self-respect, can a man be a Christian? Or being learned like an Epicurean philosopher, or being a disciple of intellectual pursuits like a Stoic philosopher, does he thereby become compelled to laugh and to make fun and to ridicule the faith of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. Is it reasonable to be a Christian?
Now the sermon tonight is an affirmative avowal, it is reasonable to be a Christian, and we are going to preach until the clock goes off of this radio. Then I hope I will stop, but we can stay here all night long preaching about this subject. First of all: the creation, the world around us, where did it come from? Where did it come from? How did it get here and how did I get here? Where did it come from? Did anybody make it or nobody make it? Where did it come from?
The Epicurean and the Stoic and the materialist and the atheist, he says it just happened. It just happened. Nobody made it; it just happened. The Christian, the theist, the believer in God, he says, he says, “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made” [John 1:3]. He says, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” [Genesis 1:1]. He avows, he avows that the whole universe declares the glory of God; and the firmament above us is the handiwork, the lacework of our blessed and omnipotent Lord [Psalm 19:1].
Is it reasonable to believe that the world is the creation of a personal God? O my soul, the overwhelming things of the design and the intelligence that one can find in the glorious universe all around him! We shall look just at one little piece of God’s lacework, the universe to which we belong. In the center of it is a sun, a burning shining orb, and around that sun are the spheres that whirl without a second of variation for the untold, uncounted ages. The Elgin Watch Company boasts, “We set our time by the stars.” And for the millions and the billions of uncounted ages, they have whirled around that sun, according to the mandate of God, without a second of variation.
The first orb we named Mercury. It whirls around that sun at thirty-six million miles out, thirty-six million miles that way, coming back and around thirty-six million miles this way, and coming back around thirty-six million miles that way, and it takes Mercury eighty-eight days to make that complete orbit around the sun.
Then the second planet out is named Venus. It is sixty-seven million miles this way, and it orbits sixty-seven million miles that way, and then swings back again sixty-seven million miles that way, and it takes seven months, it takes seven months for Venus to complete its orbit, for untold ages without a second of variation.
The third marvelous planet that God flung out into space is called Earth, ninety-two million miles this way, and swings in its course ninety-two million miles that way, and then swings back in its course ninety-two million miles this way, and it takes one year for the earth to make its full orbit around the sun, without a second of variation for untold ages.
Then the next great planet God flung out into space is called Mars. Mars is one hundred forty-one million miles away from the sun, and it swings one hundred forty-one million miles that way, and then swings around one hundred forty-one million miles this way, and then back again one hundred forty-one million miles that way, without a second variation for untold and uncounted ages, and it takes a year and six months for Mars to complete that circuit that orbit around the sun.
Then the next orbit that God made in space and the next sphere God threw out into space is Jupiter. Jupiter is four hundred eighty-three million miles this way, and it swings four hundred eighty-three million miles that way, and then swings back again, four hundred eighty-three million miles this way, and it takes Jupiter twelve years to make that orbit around the sun, for untold ages without a second of variation.
And the next great sphere that God flung out into space is Saturn. And Saturn is eight hundred eighty-six million miles that way, and it swings out into space in its great beautiful orbit eight hundred eighty-six million miles that way, and then back again eight hundred eighty-six million miles that way, without a second of variation for untold ages!
Then the next great sphere that God flung out into space is called Uranus. And Uranus is one billion, one billion eight hundred million miles out in space that way, and it swings one billion eight hundred million miles that way, and then it swings around one billion eight hundred million miles that way, and then back again one billion eight hundred million miles that way, and it takes sixty-four years for Uranus to make that orbit around the sun, without a second of variation for untold ages!
And the next great orbit that God flung out into space is called Neptune, and Neptune is two billion eight hundred million miles that way, and it swings out into space two billion eight hundred million miles this way, and it swings back into space two billion eight hundred million miles that way, without a second of variation for untold ages!
And the next great sphere that God has flung out into space is named Pluto. And Pluto is three billion, three billion nine hundred sixty million miles that way, and it swings around three billion nine hundred sixty million miles that way and then back in three billion nine hundred sixty million miles that way, and for untold ages without a second of variation, swinging in the orbit around the sun.
The most fantastic, phenomenal, unbelievable workmanship of the Almighty God mind could conceive of, and yet, I heard Gagarin and I heard Titov as they said, and translated in English, “We made an orbit around the earth—that little bitty Earth, that one right there—we made an orbit around the earth…” And they said, “There is no God. We were one hundred miles, we were one hundred miles above the earth, and we did not find God, just in a little old tiny pinpoint there going around the earth, and we looked a hundred miles up and we did not find any God.”
At the same time those orbs—of those spheres were going billions of miles that way and billions of miles that way and billions of miles that way—and yet, he is going a hundred miles around the Earth, and he says, “I did not see any God. I did not find any God; therefore there is not any God.” Can you imagine the unreasonableness of a man who persuades himself of the position of atheism? And he calls himself a scientist. I am like somebody said, “All Gagarin, all Titov had to do to find God is just to step out of his capsule, and he would meet Him in just a minute.”
It is reasonable to be a Christian. [It is a] strange thing, how people are about that God. The Lord God says there are three heavens [2 Corinthians 12:2]. There is the heaven of the birds and the clouds above us; that is the first heaven. There is the heaven, of the starry spheres, the great Milky Ways. And then there is the heaven of God, above the heaven of heavens, where the Lord lives and has His throne [Revelation 4:1-2], and where heaven someday shall bring to us our love and lamented dead [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]. Oh, the marvel of the wonder of the glory of God! It is reasonable to be a Christian.
I can find that same divine handiwork of the Almighty in all of those purposes and designs by which the whole world of creation reaches up to fulfill its elective destiny in the wisdom of Almighty God. There is the fin on a fish, the design of the Almighty. There is the wing on a bird, the design of the Almighty. There is the hoof on the horse, the design of the Almighty. There is the hand of a man, the design of the infinite wisdom of God.
And I see that same purposive reaching out to fulfill the great elective call of God in all life and in all history. A little seed planted into the ground will struggle to achieve that purpose of God. Put a rock on it, may be crushed, may be hurt, may be killed, may be starved, may almost die of famine and drought, but it will be struggling, it will be struggling to fulfill the purpose God put in its soul. And so with all human history, there is a movement, there is a struggling, there is a march, there is a reach in all human history toward that great rendezvous with Almighty God.
As Paul could say in Romans 8:28: “For us who love God and for us who are called according to His purpose, all things work together, contrive together, combine together, for good.” There is an ultimate and final goal towards which history and human life and all mankind shall someday reach in the destiny and in the rendezvous and in the elective goodness of the Lord our Savior. It is reasonable; it is reasonable to be a Christian.
It is reasonable to be a Christian. I speak now of God’s Holy Book that I hold in my hand. Where did it come from? Where did it come from? Who was its author? “Why, just men,” says the atheist and the infidel and the philosopher-pseudo and the unbeliever. “It is just a book of men; inspired, yes, just as Gandhi was inspired, as Shakespeare was inspired, like Sappho was inspired, like Euripides was inspired, like Aristophanes was inspired, like Homer was inspired, like Shakespeare and Milton were inspired. This is an inspired Book, yes, but no different from the other books written by talented and gifted and lofty-minded men.”
Oh, my soul, when I turn from the myths and the fables of Homer, and when I turn from the dramatic, fictional creations of a Shakespeare, and hold in my hand the living God, I am transported from Earth to the glorious heaven that God created above us [Genesis 1:1]. As the thoughts of God are higher than man’s thoughts, like the heavens are higher than the earth [Isaiah 55:9], so when I hold God’s Book in my hand, look upon it, the same Author, the same Author that wrote the book of providence and the book of creation is the same Author that wrote this Holy Bible that I hold in my hand.
Whether the Author was back there in the days of Enoch and Adam, thousands and thousands of years ago, or whether it was in the days of Abraham, two thousand years before Christ, or in the days of Moses, fifteen hundred years before Christ, or in the days of David, a thousand years before Christ, or in the days of Daniel, five hundred years before Christ, or in the days of John the sainted apostle, one hundred years after Christ—through the millenniums and centuries, it is the same hand that writes.
As Simon Peter said, “Holy men of God wrote as they were moved, as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit” [2 Peter 1: 21]. And as I hold the Book in my hand and read it, I am amazed at its effect upon people. Here is truth that the most unlearned peasant can understand, and here is truth beyond the soaring reach of the angels in heaven. Here are the revelations of God that an ignorant, unlearned man can understand, and here are the great truths of the Almighty that are unfathomable to these of our finest most learned and intellectual researchers; this Book in which a little lamb can sway and a great elephant can swim.
Bless you, in the mountains one time I heard a man preach, one of the most natively eloquent men I ever listened to in my life, and my soul thrilled at the oratorian eloquence of that man as he described the presence and the glory of God, and the man couldn’t read. The man couldn’t read. Somebody had to read his text to him; somebody had to read the Bible to him, yet he caught the Spirit of Jesus, and he reflected the glory of God in the sermon that he preached up there in those mountains.
Ah! the wonder of the Book that I hold in my hand and the eternity of its message. “Yea the flower fadeth, the grass withereth: but the word of our God shall stand forever” [Isaiah 40:8]. “Heaven and earth may pass away, but My words shall never pass away” [Matthew 24:35]. They may pass into proverbs, pass into law, pass into literature, pass into doctrines, but they shall never pass away, for God’s Word, immutable, unchangeable, is like God Himself, the same yesterday, today, and forever [Hebrews 13:8]. It is reasonable to be a Christian.
I have time in a moment to speak of one other. It is reasonable to be a Christian. Our Lord Jesus, who is He? Who is He? Our blessed Lord, who is He? “Oh,” says the infidel and the pseudo-philosopher and the scoffer and the scorning infidel, “Who is Jesus? He is just another man, maybe a good man, maybe an able man, but just a man like the other founders of the religions of the world. He is not divine. There is nothing in Jesus more than any other man except maybe a little better or a little more exalted.”
Who is the Lord Jesus? The answer of the Christian, by the side of the sainted apostle Peter: “Lord, Thou art the Christ. Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” [Matthew 16:16]. And by the side of the great prophet Isaiah, and this is His name, “And His name is Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6]. The world cannot bury the Lord Jesus. The earth is not deep enough for His tomb, nor are the clouds wide enough for His winding sheet.
Yea, He ascends into the heavens of the heavens, but the heavens themselves cannot contain Him [1 Kings 8:27]. He lives in the life of His people [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. He lives in the church [1 Corinthians 3:16], unconsumed like the burning bush with His eternal undying love [Exodus 3:2]. And He lives and walks by our side every day, we who live and walk with the blessed Lord [Matthew 28:20; John 14:23]. God placed the Lord Jesus in the midst of time, and He towers like some great mountain above the molehills of all men and of all history and of all life.
Those who lived before His day, by prophetic gaze, saw the day of the Lord and rejoiced in it [John 8:56]. And all of us, by historic faith, look back to that high and glorious mountain of the deity of the Son of God, and we rejoice in the grace and the favor of the Lord upon us through His blessed face [2 Corinthians 3:18]. He is the embodiment of the Lord Jehovah Himself, for in Him, all of the fullness of the Godhead lived, dwelt bodily [Colossians 1:14-19].
They who looked upon Jesus looked upon the Father, and to know the Lord Jesus is to know the Father [John 14:8-9]. To love Jesus is to love the Father. To become a convert of Jesus is to become a convert for God, for the tears of Jesus is the pity of God, and the gentleness of Jesus is the longsuffering of God, and the tenderness of Jesus is the love of God, and the presence of Jesus is the glory of God, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Jesus Christ” [2 Corinthians 4:6]. It is reasonable; it is reasonable to be a Christian.
When I went to school, I took a minor in philosophy—started out to major in it—I took a minor in philosophy. I had by my side a dear friend, who also, a year before me, was majoring in philosophy. We had little churches in a rural county. We had little churches right across the river from each other, and I went out on the weekend to preach to my little church. He went out on the weekend to preach to his little church. The days passed and the years as we went through school together, and my friend, my friend resigned his church. He laid down his Bible. He quit the ministry. He renounced the faith. He said, “I cannot intellectually accept Jesus as a Savior of a man’s soul, nor can I intellectually accept the Bible as the Word of God. And I am renouncing the faith, and I am quitting the ministry, and I have resigned my churches, and I am giving my life to a study of philosophy.”
And the days passed and the years passed, and I lost track of him. And when I came back to Texas, upon being called to the ministry of this blessed church, I searched diligently to see if I could find a record, some track, some further story of my friend in university days, who because of his pursuits of philosophy had renounced the faith. The other day, not long ago, the other day I found him out.
The years and the years after his graduation he followed the pursuits of philosophy, but there came a time when sorrow came into his life, and heartache came into his soul, and the waste and ravages of tears and death laid him in the dust of the ground. And I learned not long ago, I learned that he had picked up his Bible again. He had opened up his heart and soul to Jesus again, and now he is preaching the faith that he denied.
It is reasonable to be a Christian. There are no answers, not ultimate; there are no answers, not final; there are no answers in the vanity, and the futility, and the sterility, and the emptiness of materialism and atheism. But there is hope, precious and blessed, in the faith of the Son of God, our Lord. Come, come, come, ye who are thirsty, come [Revelation 22:17]. “He that drinks of the water of this life shall thirst again: he who drinks of the water that I give him shall never thirst; but in his soul there shall be a fountain of water springing up into life everlasting” [John 4:13-14], come, come, come.
While we sing our invitation hymn, in this throng in the balcony round, in the press of people on this lower floor, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], put his life in the fellowship of the church; coming by letter; a family you, or one, consecrating your life to the blessed Jesus, taking Him as Savior; as God shall say the word and lead in the way, would you make it now? Come; stand by me. “Preacher, I give you my hand, I give my heart to God, and here I am. Here I come,” while we stand and while we sing.