Sounding Out the Word of the Lord
January 27th, 1963 @ 7:30 PM
SOUNDING OUT THE WORD OF THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 1:8
1-27-63 7:30 p.m.
If on the radio you are sharing our services, turn to 1 Thessalonians. We shall read the first chapter together, 1 Thessalonians: almost toward the end of your Bible; and in the chapter, why, you will find the names of Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus. And you will find the province of Macedonia and Achaia—Macedonia and Achaia. And we shall read together the ten verses that comprise the first chapter of the first letter of Paul to Thessalonica—the Book of Thessalonians. And the text you will find in the eighth verse, which is also the title of the message: Sounding Out the Word of the Lord. Now everyone, let us read it together—the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians:
Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.
So that ye were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.
For they themselves hear of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come.
[1 Thessalonians 1:1-10]
So speaking to the church at Thessalonica and commending them for their sounding out the gospel of our Lord, and not only in the Roman province of Macedonia, of which Thessalonica was the capital—and not only in the Roman province of Achaia, which including Athens and all of the south part of what we know today as the country of Greece, but in every place, your preaching, and your witnessing, and your testimony to the faith in Christ is known abroad [1 Thessalonians 11:7-8].
Ah! What an incomparable and what a marvelous thing that is to say about a church. Day and night, on Sunday as well as on the weekday, in the wintertime as well as in the summertime, their message, and their testimony, and their witness to the saving gospel of the Son of God was known. It was spoken of.
Ah! What a blessedness, this thing of our ministering in the name of the Lord, and witnessing in the name of Christ; an unceasing, and perennial, and God-blessed devotion. It doesn’t have any seasons to it. It goes on all four seasons of the year. Nor does it have any particular hours in it. It goes on twenty-four hours of the day. Nor does it have any particular day in the week. All seven days in the week are alike: witnessing, preaching, testifying, sounding out the Word of the gospel of the Son of God.
As you know, for the first ten years of my ministry, I preached out in the country. One of those churches where I preached, at Pulltight—one of those churches, nobody could be saved except beginning on Friday before the fourth Sunday in July, and running through the first Sunday in August. You could preach, and pray, and visit, and beg, and plead, but nobody was to be saved; nobody ever had been saved. And it was a tradition in the church for as far back as memory could run, nobody could be saved. Nobody was expected to be saved, except beginning on Friday before the fourth Sunday in July.
And then, man a-livin’—man a-livin’, how things cut loose. Why, the people started praying, and the preacher started preaching, and the people started singing, and the folks started coming. And everybody got right with God. And there was repentance, and there was confession, and there was joining the church by baptism. And then there was big baptismal service at the end of the revival meeting on Sunday afternoon in the first Sunday of August. And then just like you’d turn off a spigot, just like you’d turn off a faucet, just like you’d say the word of benediction, the thing was over until Friday before the fourth Sunday in July again the following year.
Why, that was one of the most unusual spiritual phenomenon I ever saw in my life. And then the people were somewhat like that. They were just like the church: always, on Friday of the second week—always—there was a family that came to the revival, and they put all of their family in a wagon. And you could hear them for miles and miles. And a preacher who wasn’t there, and he didn’t know what was going on—didn’t know what was happening—why, he’d be there at the tabernacle; and just before the services began, down the road, there would be singing and shouting and praising God. And he’d turn around to the pastor, and he’d say, “Who is that?”
And he’d reply, “Don’t you know who they are?”
“No,” said the preacher. “I don’t know who it is.”
“Well, those are the Hammondses.”
“Well, my soul. Who are the Hammondses?”
“Well, on Friday of the second week of the revival, they always make their appearance. And they come a-singing, and a-shouting, and a-praising God. And from Friday until the end of the revival, there they are a-comin’, and a-shoutin’, and a-praising God, and a-singing. Then when the revival is over, you never see hide nor hair of the Hammondses again until Friday of the second week of the revival, the next year starting Friday before the fourth Sunday in July.” Why, it’s just phenomenal. It’s just amazing!
Then when you come to the city church—my, my, what Satan does in oversowing the Word of God in the city church [Matthew 13:25]. I went to one of our First Baptist churches in one of the great flourishing, and growing, and multiplying, and expanding cities of America, and I sat down there, and I thought, “Oh, my! What a marvelous place to preach the gospel of Christ in this great city and in this First Baptist church.” So I sat there to listen to the preacher, and to worship God in the services, and to pray that God would give him a harvest that day.
Well, on that program—on that program it said, “Scripture Reading”—“Scripture Reading.” And the pastor got up and he read a document. It was about that wide, and it was about that long. And it was from the National Council of Churches, some kind of an inane pronouncement on labor and management. So he started up here at the top, and he read that dry tedium from the first word to the last syllable; and everybody a- gawking around, looking around, bored to death, waiting until that fellow got through with all, all of that stuff, that pronouncement.
Well, I thought, “He’s just hepped on that.” And it says down here, “Sermon”—“Sermon.” “He’s just hepped on that,” I thought. And so I thought that when he got to the sermon, why, there he’ll stand up and he’ll preach to us about what sinners we are, and how we need to repent, and how we need to get right with God, and what needs for our souls to be saved.
Why, bless you, he stood up there where it says “Sermon” on that program; he stood up there. He never picked up his Bible. He never mentioned his Bible. He never talked about Jesus. He never mentioned His name. And he had some kind of a diatribe on labor and management. I would have called it a “New Frontier Speech,” except [laughter]—except I didn’t want to use the nomenclature. So when he got through, why, we all stood and we sang “America the Beautiful” and had the benediction. And then we filed out. Why, it kills your soul! Your heart dies in you!
I went to another on the other side of the continent, and the preacher got all of his children together, the little group down there at the front—got all of the little children together, and he spoke little platitudinous, axiomatic words of nothing to those little children. Then he dismissed them, and they all went out.
I thought, “My, my. Maybe the sermon is going to be heavy today. Maybe—maybe it’s a strong meat, and children can’t understand what the preacher is going to say.” So he gets them all together and has little words of little childish inanities to them; you know, about, “You ought to put up your toys.” That was one of them I remember. “Put up your toys,” and things like that, then the dismissal.
I thought, “Man, maybe—maybe this sermon is going to be strong meat for mature persons.” You know, like these picture shows that kids can’t go. It’s for adults only. Only I—I have no idea what that’s about. I’m just talking about the sign. I’m just reading the sign.
Maybe he’s going to have a sermon for adults only. So I sit there in expectation to hear him preach a wonderful sermon, maybe fraught down with deep theology and spiritual profundities. Why, bless your heart, he had been on a little visit down the countryside to Gettysburg—to Gettysburg. So the title of his sermon was “Beautiful, Beautiful Gettysburg.” And he talked about the flowers that bloom, and that grass that grew, and the showers that fall, and the sky up above; that, in one of the great First Baptist churches in another of the growing, flourishing cities of America. Ah! You don’t know what’s happening.
Then I think of another one of those marvelous churches that had a man of God as its pastor and undershepherd. And he was preaching the gospel. And the Lord blessed the people, and they were saved, and they were baptized. And there were additions to the church, and the spirit of revival. Then the man died. The pastor died. And when the pulpit committee selected a successor, they selected a liberal! You know, a fellow that believes the Bible—yes, maybe—no, maybe: a liberal. Why, it wasn’t long ‘til they didn’t have any more prayer meetings. It wasn’t long until they didn’t have any more evening services. It wasn’t long until they didn’t have any more revival meetings. And it wasn’t long until that church barely lived. Ah! These things—and they are increasing among us, and in the face of the most stupendous need this earth has ever seen!
I don’t know what kind of an abortion this is, or what kind of a warning it may be, but our church—our world is giving birth to a new kind of a civilization. And these next years are going to be fraught with more destiny and more meaning than any like years in the history of creation! And how the time has come for the preacher and for the church to sound out the gospel of the Son of God—just like it says here when Paul was writing to the church at Thessalonica [1 Thessalonians 1:1-10].
Did you know some of these things are startling and frightening? For the first time—for the first time in the history of the United States of America, last year the rate of growth of population of our America exceeded that of the rate of growth of our churches. Heretofore, our churches have always outstripped the percentage of growth of population, until last year. And last year that thing turned for the first time. And now more people are being born in America than are being won to the church, much less being won to Christ.
I—I sat down in a meeting, and I picked up a little tract that somebody was giving out. And it was entitled, “Youth: Christian or Criminal?” And I looked on the inside of that tract as I was seated there in the meeting. And these are some statistics that I copied out of that tract:
- Last year, last year 834,141 boys and girls entered into careers of crime;
- 10,751 were involved in murder;
- 31,509 were involved in burglaries;
- 60,094 were involved in assaults;
- 74,213 were involved in larceny;
- 22,294 were involved in aggravated assault;
- and 47,322 were involved in sex offenses.
In just one year, among our boys and girls, 834,141 have entered lives of crime.
And in the face of this awful indictment, God’s judgment upon our nation and our people—then saying those pretty little inanities, and entering into these beautiful little sentences, and the whole earth coming to the birth, and there isn’t strength to bear.
Did you know right now, at this moment, seven percent of the whole world is Protestant, just seven percent? But in one more generation, when your boy gets to be grown—in one more generation, the percentage will be two percent; in one generation, from seven to two percent. And just give us a little more time, and apparently the witness of Christ will almost perish and cease in the earth. What frightening and what terrible times these are. I hate to mention these things, and wouldn’t, except that God maybe will send us to our knees.
Last year, just last year our Southern Baptist Convention baptized twenty thousand less people than it did the year before. Just give us time, give us time, and we also will cease to exist in the earth. Ah! These days, fraught with such meaning—God help us. What we need to do is to redefine our assignment and to look again at our past.
You know what most of us think? What is the faith? And what is the great hour? And what is the holy and magnificent ministry of Christ? You know what most of us think? This is what we think. We go to a great convention, and there the people are gathered by the thousands. And there a great a minister of Christ stands up, and he thrills the throngs, and he delivers a great message. And after it’s over, we go out the door, and we say, “Man, this is the faith!” Jesus never mentioned it. He never referred it. He never said anything about it.
Or we go to a tremendous church, and we listen to the mighty organ and the great choir and their beautiful service. And we walk out, and we say, “Man, this is the faith!” Jesus never referred to it. He never mentioned it.
Or we listen to a beautiful and magnificent peroration, when the orator rises from one glorious hyperbole, and metaphor, and metonymy, and simile to another; and finally carries us to heaven itself. And we walk out and we say, “Man, this is the faith!” The Lord never mentioned it. He never referred to it. He said nothing about it.
But if you’ll read the Book, what God did have something about was the cup of cold water given in the name of a child of God [Matthew 10:42]. He did have something to say about the one lost sheep [Luke 15:3-7], or the one lost coin [Luke 15:8-10], or the one lost boy [Luke 15:11-32]. And He did have something to say about knocking at the door [Revelation 3:20].
A local pastor, of great austerity, climbed up in his high church steeple to be nearer God, that he might hand God’s Word down to His people. In his day, God said, “Come down and die.” And he cried out from his steeple, “Where art Thou Lord?” And the Lord replied, “I am down here among My people” [from “The Preacher’s Mistake,” by William Croswell Doane].
I’m just avowing, we need a redefinition and a redefining of our task and our assignment. And that leads me finally and concludingly—that leads me to this last avowal: the great, personal commitment, and obligation, and responsibility on the part of our pastor and his people. Just exactly what is it that God hath committed to us? What does God expect of us? What is the Lord looking to us for? For what does God look to us? A definition of our task and our assignment.
I want to show you a key in this thing, as I’ve looked, and as I’ve watched, and as I’ve gone around, and as I’ve talked, and as I’ve tried the scene: one of the keys, one of the touchstones of the life of a preacher, and of a church, and of a people, you will find in that Sunday night service.
When people define the worship of God as saying pretty things—you know, plan them out, read them off in a litany, in some kind of genuflection, in some kind of ritual or ceremony—and they define the worship and ministry of God as being something you do in a beautiful, architecturally, aesthetically pleasing sanctuary; and they go there, and they go through those rituals, they go through those things, they go through those ceremonies. Then they all walk out that door, or that door, or the other door, and they don’t think about it, and they don’t do anything about it, and they don’t call it to mind until the next Lord’s Day, when they file back to that same spot, and sit down in that same place, and go through those same pretty little things again.
When a church does that, when a people do that, their definition of the assignment of God and the responsibility of a Christian is this. We have certain little things of worship by which we placate the God of heaven; so let’s get them done with. Let’s get them over with. And then having done them, let’s forget about it until the next time when, according to the course of life and the habits of our generations, well, we do those same things to placate God, lest He might smite us, or lest He might visit us with a curse. Let’s do these things. And then as time goes on, less and less people will do them, less and less people will do them, less and less people will do them; because finally they become mostly meaningless, until the day will arrive when a small percentage—and I mean a small one—will ever do them at all, and a once great Christian nation falls into paganism and into heathenism.
Whenever you see a church that is filled with the Spirit of God, and there is the thrust, and the drive, and the appeal of the moving, saving Spirit of God in their midst, you’ll find them like the Lord Jesus. You will find them like the apostle Paul.
- Our Lord Jesus met with His disciples the first time when He was raised from the dead on Sunday night [John 20:19-25].
- And our Lord Jesus met with His apostles the second time. When he [Paul] was raised from the dead, He met with his apostles the second time on Sunday night [John 20:26-29].
- And when our Lord organized, when our Lord instituted the memorial of the breaking of bread, and the sharing of the cup [Luke 22:15-20], He called it the Lord’s Supper [1 Corinthians 11:20, 23-25]—not a breakfast, not a brunch, not a dinner—a supper. And a supper is eaten at night.
- And when the apostle Paul preached the gospel of the Son of God, he preached the gospel at night! And sometimes he would preach until midnight! [Acts 20:7-12].
When you have a revival, when do you have that meeting? Did you ever see a revival meeting carried on in the daytime? Well, you may have services for God’s people in the daytime, and you may have different groups meeting for prayer in the daytime; but anytime you have a revival meeting, you have that revival meeting in services that meet at night! And there’s no such a thing I have ever heard of in my life as a revival meeting without services at night. You may have other services—and we do—but the great hour of appeal and convocation is at night; when, therefore, you teach your people not to come to church at night, you tear the heart out of the great ministry of Christ in winning people, in soulsaving.
You can go through the great cities of this earth, and you will not find a church open at night, not a one, not a one, not a one. I walked around Zurich, Switzerland one night, trying to find one church open. There is not a church open in Zurich, which is the largest city in Switzerland, which is one of the great cities of the world, not a church open. But there on the commons was a three-ring circus, a-going great guns. And over here on the other side of the lake was a tremendous skating rink that was going like all get-out. And up and down the streets and visiting and stopping in front of those different stores, playing accordions, were accordion bands. Everything going on at night, Sunday night, people walking around and outside by the thousands and the thousands; but not a single church open; not one, not one.
I drove though the countryside of Pennsylvania one time, from one town and village and county seat after another, trying to find one church open at night—never did, never did. And that is the pattern of life that is beginning in our Southern Baptist churches: close them up at night—beginning here in Dallas also—close them up at night. You go to a church and it will be dark, and nobody in it. Why? Because we have lost the spirit of march, and drive, and thrust, and soulwinning, and revival!
I read this—I read this. The minister of the church said, “From now on, we will have no more services on Sunday night—no more services on Sunday night.” And he gave a reason: “It is not worth my time to prepare a sermon for a congregation that numbers less than one hundred. And we’ll have no more services on Sunday night.”
Well, what an amazing persuasion on the part of a minister who ought to be able to read and understand the Word of God! Why, anybody knows the greatest sermon that was ever preached on the new birth was preached to an audience of how many? He had one. Our Lord had an audience of one [John 3:1-21]. The greatest sermon that was ever preached on spiritual worship and its meaning was preached to an audience of one—just one. And she was a scarlet, outcast, despised Samaritan woman [John 4:7-26].
Anywhere that anybody will listen to you is a grand place to witness to the grace of God. And any size of a congregation, where people will listen to a man open the Book and expound the message of Jesus, is a grand time and an incomparably glorious place to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Open the door—open the door, announce the services, get you a singer, heist a tune, open the Book, preacher, proclaim the message the best you know how! And you’ll have somebody there. And they’ll keep on increasing there. O Lord, how we need the God-blessedness of a seeking note and an earnest spirit in our people.
Now may I say a word? Oh, the time is gone! May I say a word? May I say a word about the purposes of these services—just a word? The purpose of the service is when God’s people gather together, it is a sounding board—for when you sound it out, the Word of the Lord, it is a sounding board. We gather together here. We encourage one another. We pray for one another. We bring our gifts for the support of the Lord. And this is our hour, when these we’ve won to Christ come down those aisles and confess publically their faith in Jesus.
If we rely on the open service alone to win people to Christ—ah, how feeble, and how futile ultimately will become our ministry! But when we look upon the gathering of God’s people together, this is for encouragement, and for dedication, and for instruction. This is for the preaching and mediation of the Word of God. And also, this is the great hour when the harvest of God is placed in our hands, when these whom we have won to Jesus come down and make an open, public avowal of their faith. Oh! Back of the service there lies six days of praying, and working, and testifying, and soulwinning. And other than that, they become almost nothing.
Now I recognize that there are extenuating circumstances. For example, on Friday night of last week—Friday night—I held a great, great God-blessed attended service in the Memorial Auditorium in Dayton, Ohio, sponsored by all of our Southern Baptist people in that state. Well, there are extenuating circumstances, I know. It was below zero, and the whole earth was covered with snow and ice. And I realize that to get lost people out on a tragically cold and bitter and ice-covered earth like that is, I suppose, more than in our present state of revival a man could expect.
So when I had preached the best I could and gave the invitation, I started it out like this. I said, “All of you here tonight who know someone in this auditorium who is lost—all of you who know someone that needs Jesus, that ought to be saved, I want you to stand up.” In that great throng of people, there was one man who stood up in the balcony; and there was one man who stood up on the lower floor—just those two, just those two. Oh! Oh! This service is to be a repercussion and a sounding out of the summation of all we have done in the days of the week. We have witnessed. We have testified. We have spoken. We have prayed. We have tried. “Now, Lord, sum it up; and at this blessed hour, give us these for whom we have so earnestly prayed” [1 Corinthians 3:6-7].
Let me say this one thing, and then I will close. That radio man, whoever he is—God bless you, fellah. You leave this service on beyond the time when it is to close, and we thank you for it. Just this one other thing: I was seated at a hotel, in a chair big enough for two—kind of a loveseat of a thing, a double chair— facing the door so that I could see when a man came for me. So while I was seated there with my Bible in my hand, I saw a fellow walking around in the hotel, evidently waiting for somebody too. And he sat down by my side.
So when he sat down by my side, I opened my Bible to Romans 10:9-10. And I put it over there in his hand, like that. I said, “Fellah, did you ever read that?” So he read it:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in thine heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
He read that. And I asked him again, “Fellah, did you ever see that before?”
He said, “No, I never did. No, I never did.” He said, “What does that mean? What does that mean?”
And I began to talk to him about what it meant to believe unto a God kind of righteousness, and what it meant when a fellow in his heart believed in the living Lord—what it meant for him to go down the aisle, publicly to confess his faith in Jesus, and to leave his soul and his destiny in the able keeping-care of Almighty God. I never saw a fellow so interested in my life. And just as I was talking to him, and he was asking me questions, and God was with us, why, the man came up to me and said, “I’m double-parked out here. It’s time for you to go.”
I shook his hand. I said, “Fellah, I’ll be a-praying for you.” Oh! May the Lord give you that open heart to believe in Jesus, to confess Him as your Savior, openly, and publicly, just like it says here in the Word. There are ten thousand people, by ten thousand times, who do not know the meaning of personal religion: Jesus in the soul and in the heart [Colossians 1:27].
That’s our message. That’s our appeal. That’s our visitation. That’s our love and prayer: “O God! give us, give us that wonderful harvest for which we pray” [1 Corinthians 3:6-7].
Now we sing our song. We sing our song. In the balcony round, on this lower floor, somebody you tonight take Jesus as Savior [Ephesians 2:8]. Put your life with us in the fellowship of the church, as God shall say the word and the Spirit of Jesus shall lead in the way, would you make it now? Would you come now, while we stand and while we sing?
SOUNDING OUT THE WORD OF THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 1:8
A. Out in the country
1. Pulltight, Friday before the fourth Sunday of July
2. The Hammondses
B. In the city
1. First Baptist Church in large city – Scripture reading a pronouncement from National Council of Churches; sermon a diatribe on labor and management
2. Preacher’s sermon on “Beautiful Gettysburg”
3. Flourishing church calls liberal pastor – church soon was dying
C. Time has come for the preacher and church to sound out the gospel
1. The illimitable need
a. Population growth
b. Criminal statistics for youth
c. World today is 7% Protestant; next generation 2%
d. Last year our convention baptized 20,000 less than year beforeII. The definition of our great assignment
A. We think it is the great convocation, the music, the oratorical peroration
B. Jesus said it is the cup of cold water given; the one lost sheep, coin, boy; knocking at the door(Mark 9:41, Luke 15:3-32, Revelation 3:20)
C. We need a redefinition and redefining of our task and assignmentIII. Personal effort on the part of the people and preacher
A. Open at night
1. Jesus appeared to His disciples Sunday night
2. Paul preached at night
3. Great cities of this earth have no churches open at night
4. Pastor cancelled evening services because it was not worth his time to preach to less than one hundred(John 3:1-21, 4:1-42)
B. Purpose of the service when God’s people gather – sounding board
C. Personal effort
1. Hotel lobby, showing a man Romans 10:9-10