To Whom God Teaches His Doctrine
January 19th, 1964 @ 10:50 AM
TO WHOM GOD TEACHES HIS DOCTRINE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-19-64 10:50 a.m.
Now the sermon this morning is entitled To Whom God Teaches His Doctrine. This is not an exposition of the text; in fact, the actual meaning of the text concerns what the enemies of the prophet said about his message and the method in which he delivered it. But I am taking it, though they said it in derision, I am taking it as God’s way of teaching us His great truth. In Isaiah 28:9-10:
Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.
When we turn our attention to the truth of God, we have come into the very Holy of Holies of the Lord God Himself. This is the vital substance and essence of the faith. Of the Lord Jesus: “And when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at His doctrine” [Matthew 7:28]. Of the apostles: “And they said, Behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine” [Acts 5:28]. From the apostle Paul: “Give attendance to reading,” now that’s a strange thing to our ears, I suppose, but that refers to one kind of reading: the Word of God. “Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” [1 Timothy 4:13, 16]. Then, of course, the reason I had our people to read together 2 John: “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” [2 John 9].
“Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall He make to understand doctrine?” [Isaiah 28:9]. What is it, doctrine? It is not those mean, petty, forensic tricks by which denominational leaders beat one another over the head. I heard one time of a deacon going to the door with his new young pastor, and he opened the crack in the door and looked out. And surveying the congregation he said, “Well, young pastor, I see some Presbyterians here today; so don’t say anything about the Presbyterians.” He surveyed the audience and he says, “I see some Methodists here today. Don’t say anything about the Methodists”; surveyed the audience and he says, “I see a few Episcopalians here today. Don’t say anything about the Episcopalians.” He reviewed the audience very carefully and he said, “But there are no Mormons here today, young preacher. Beat the living daylights out of the Mormons today.”
The doctrine, how many times do we have the attitude concerning: on Wednesday night the pastor announces, in some dark room in the basement, he’s going to teach the doctrines of the church? All these things are a thousand miles and a far cry from the essence and the substance of what God would have us know, called the doctrines of the faith. Every department of God’s work has its doctrine, its teaching, its truth, its principles. Music, astronomy, chemistry, biology; these are the teachings and the truths about something God has done. But the doctrines of religion concern themselves with the reality and the truth of the Lord God Himself! “This is life eternal,” said our Lord, “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee… and the Lord Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” [John 17:3]. The doctrine, doktor, a Latin word “to teach.” “Doctor,” a “teacher”; “doctrine,” the truth that is taught. The same thing follows in the Greek language: didaskō, “to teach”; didaskalos, “the teacher”; didachē, “the doctrine.” It is the strength and the backbone of the Christian faith. Without it Christianity is nothing but maudlin sentimentalism, it’s a mass of jelly and putty. It’s like that proverbial man with a rubber nose: go up there and yank his nose out this way, or yank his nose that way, or pull it that way, that’s the Christian faith without the strength and the backbone of its tremendous and revealed truths.
A. H. Strong, our greatest systematic theologian, A. H. Strong said, “Now a man doesn’t have to wear his backbone in front of him, but if he doesn’t have it, and a straight one, he’ll be a flexible or a humpback Christian.” The doctrine, the teaching, is ultimately the decisive factor in all human life and experience. A rock, a mountain is dead and inert and inanimate; but an idea, a teaching, a doctrine is dynamic and becomes life itself. That is true in every area of human thought and human teaching. The dreaded and indescribable Inquisition: until Europe became sick of murder and blood in the name of God and the so-called church—where did the dreaded Inquisition come from? From the doctrine, from the teaching, that no man had a right to descent from the Roman Church. The horrors of the Nazism of the Second World War: it is a fruit of the teachings of Nietzsche and of Bismarck. The horrors under which the free world daily lives its life, builds its defense program, what is that but the plague that has arisen from the doctrine, the teaching, of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels? Any little boy you ever saw, any little boy, this little boy, this little boy, this little boy, this little boy, any little boy you ever saw can be taught to be a cannibal, or a communist, or a Mohammedan, or a Romanist, or a Republican, or a Democrat, or a Methodist, or a Baptist. We are the fruit, our very lives, of what we have been taught.
This is the assignment of the church. Paul referred to the church as “the truth and ground” [1 Timothy 3:15], the truth and basis of the church is the pillar and ground, the pillar and basis of the truth. And if the church is defective in its teaching, that defect will be found in its organizations and in its operations and in its life. This is the assignment of the true preacher. Paul said, “Hold fast the form of sound words” [2 Timothy 1:13]. And Paul said to the preacher, “Rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine” [2 Timothy 4:2]. The preacher is to replace incorrect and unsubstantiated fancies, and superstitions, and persuasions by the veritable truth of the living God! And this is the assignment of the congregation. The seed that fell on good ground is he that heard the word and understood it; and bear fruit; a hundredfold, sixtyfold, thirtyfold [Matthew 13:23]. The harvest is the result of the sowing of the truth, the doctrine, the teaching the Word of God. And there is no harvest without that sowing. It is impossible to expect fruit from a tree that has been cut down, and it is the tragedy of our modern world that it seeks effects without causes; it seeks the results of the great Christian message and life without the doctrine and the truth and the reality of the great Christian life itself. This is the doctrine, the truth, the revelation, the reality, the meaning of the living Lord.
To whom does God teach it? “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breast” [Isaiah 28:9]. It is the lament of the apostle Paul in the third chapter of the First Corinthian letter: “I, brethren, I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes, little babies. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat. You are not able to bear it, nor are you able now” [1 Corinthians 3:1-2]. That same lament you will find in the Book of the Hebrews. The author of the Hebrews says, “When you ought to be teachers yourself, why, you have need that somebody teach you again the first little principles of the oracles of God … Every one that useth milk is unskillful in the Word; strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age” [Hebrews 5:12-14]. God expects us to grow and to be no longer infant all the days of our lives. An infant, that is an infant of days; the little child that is a few days old, a few weeks old, a few months old, the little child as an infant is precious. But a child that is forty years of age is a calamitous heartbreak.
I visited one time, in a far away state, a state institution in the city where I was holding a revival meeting. And I saw babies there over forty years of age. Oh, the tragedy of the defect! This is the spiritual tragedy of so much of God’s house and God’s church and God’s people: after they’ve been nominal Christians for thirty, forty years, they are like little babes, infants in the truth and the teaching and the reality of the Lord God. The appeal of Paul was “that ye be no longer as children, tossed to and fro with the wind of every doctrine” [Ephesians 4:14]. It was the appeal of Simon Peter: “Be ready to give to any man that asketh of thee a reason for the hope that is in thee” [1 Peter 3:15]. God would teach His truth to these who are weaned from the milk and drawn from the breast, to these who are grown up in the knowledge and understanding of God [Isaiah 28:9-10].
Now, how does God teach His doctrine? “Whom shall He teach doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk and drawn from the breast” [Isaiah 28:9]. How does God teach His truth? “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” [Isaiah 28:10], just as we learn anything else. We are not born—started to say we were born not knowing anything—we are almost born not knowing anything, and we learn everything, practically everything that enters into the substance of life. Do you walk straight up? That’s because you were taught to walk straight up. If you had not been taught to walk straight up, you would amble upon all fours. You are taught to walk straight up. Do you speak? Do you speak anything? If you speak it is because you have been taught to speak. Do you speak English? You were taught to speak English. Do you use a knife and fork? Whatever in your life you do, you have been taught these things, outside of a few fundamental, primary instinctive reactions of the human body. The whole substance of your life is one of being taught.
Now, we learn the great realities and the truths of God as we learn anything else: “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” [Isaiah 28:10]. All knowledge is that, and this knowledge is that. When I was at school at Baylor I took a course in trigonometry. I was no more interested in trigonometry than I am in the man that lives on the moon. I didn’t have to take the course; being a minister, I could substitute Greek for it, and I did. I minored in Greek, even down there at Baylor. But I took this course in trigonometry, and it was easy for me to pass it—made an A+ in it because it is easy for me to memorize—and so I just went through trigonometry just like that. Made a hundred on those examinations; have no idea today what it’s about or what it refers to or what it means. Has no meaning to me whatsoever. Not interested in it then nor now.
But I took a course in trigonometry. I did it because there was a professor there teaching it that to me was one of the most unique churchmen, men of God, I ever knew. His name was Professor Harrell, and he, his classes were really classes in practical theology, in practical philosophy. And one day he got on this subject I’m talking about; how we learn, how we learn, how we do things, how we achieve things. Now, he says—and I wish I could imitate his voice, but can’t; he was tall and thin and dried up and droll, and he spoke very slow, droll, with a drawl—he said, “Now, down here in our city is a big building”; I don’t know which one it was, a big building, and he says, “I saw that building go up.” And he said, “There was brought an enormous stone that had to be cut in half, and half of that stone was going to be a lintel, going to be on the top of the door under which all the people go into that big building. Now,” he said, “had I been called upon to break that stone in two,” he said, “I would have gotten me a big sledgehammer, and I would have gotten me a big chisel, and I’d have put that chisel in the middle of that stone, I’d have taken that sledgehammer, and I’d have banged and banged and banged till I had doubtless,” he said, “shattered it to pieces. But,” he says, “I went down there day after day to watch those workmen break that stone in two.” He said, “You would be amazed.” He said, “That stonecutter took a series of little steel pins, and he put those little pins right through the middle of that stone.” And he said, “Day after day he’d tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, day after day.” And he said, “To my amazement, upon a day, the great gigantic stone broke beautifully, beautifully right down the center.” And he said, “They hoisted it up, and all the years and years since people have been going underneath in perfect safety. For no fissure was developed in that great stone as the workmen tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap…” That’s a “chisel illustration” of how we learn. That’s the truth of the Lord God.
We learn these gigantic things from the Lord God, “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” [Isaiah 28:10]; coming here to church, listening to the pastor with our souls as well as our minds, opening God’s Word in the Sunday school class, in private devotion searching the Scriptures, until finally the great amazing, the queen of all of the knowledges, the reality and the presence of God, comes to fill the whole earth before us. It’s a great thing to know music, one of the creations of the Lord; a mighty thing to know astronomy, one of the great magnificent miracles of God; a glorious thing to give your life to chemistry, to biology, to medicine; but oh, for a man to give himself to the doctrine and the knowledge of the Lord God. This, our Savior said, is life eternal [John 6:63]: to know, to know, to understand, to believe, to synthesize, to collocate, just as God can take our hearts and our minds and expand them and make them greater and bigger and mightier, learning.
I have just one or two little things to add. Learning, wanting, interested: blessed are they, said the Lord Jesus, blessed are they that get up early Sunday morning, come down, and listen to the pastor as he delivers the message God’s put in his soul, as he studies and prays that week. “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after that kind of holiness and righteousness and achievement. Blessed are they. Blessed are they” [Matthew 5:6]. Oh! “He that willeth to do His will shall know of the doctrine thereof” [John 7:17]. A patient interestedness, a wanting, an open-heartedness, a hungering, a thirsting, a teachable, malleable, humble spirit—“Lord, reveal to me the truths of Thy Word” [John 7:17]. Or put it in rabbinical language that Jesus one time used: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart” [Matthew 11:29]. “Take my yoke upon you,” an old rabbinical term: “Enroll in my school, enroll in my school; sit at my feet, sit at my feet, and let me teach you. I will teach you the meaning of sorrow. I will teach you the meaning of death. I will teach you the meaning of trouble and disappointment. I will teach you the meaning of life. I will teach you the meaning of heaven.”
Oh, what Jesus can say to the humble in spirit who sit at His feet! This is our commitment in these Lord’s days that lie ahead: enroll in the school of Jesus, seated at the feet of our Lord [Matthew 11:28-30]. Lord, open my eyes that I may see truths and riches out of Thy Word. God give me an enlarging soul. O God, the fullness and the richness of Thy presence. Do it Lord, even unto us.
Now we must sing our song of appeal. Somebody you, give your heart to Jesus; put your life in the fellowship of the church; while we sing this appeal, you: “Pastor, I’d like to enroll in the school of our blessed Lord. ‘Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me’ [Matthew 11:29]. Put my name down; I’d like to enroll.” If you would, come and stand by me, while we stand and while we sing.
A. Two approaches to
Repetition of the sarcastic response of his critics (2 Corinthians 10:10, Acts
2. Description of
the simplicity of his message
II. What is doctrine?
A. Not petty, forensic
B. Summation of God’s
self-revelation to us
1. Works of God
have teaching and truth
2. In religion,
doctrine concerns God Himself
C. Substance and
strength of Christian faith
D. Ultimate decisive factor
in all human life
E. Teaching assignment
2. Preacher (1
Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 4:2, Hebrews 4:12)
III. How do we learn doctrine?
A. Precept by precept,
line by line
B. Patient interest,
desire (John 7:17, Matthew 5:6)