To Whom God Teaches His Doctrine
January 19th, 1964 @ 8:15 AM
TO WHOM GOD TEACHES HIS DOCTRINE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-19-64 8:15 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" [1 Timothy 1:13]. "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]. 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 1:9].
"Whom shall He teach knowledge? and whom shall He make to understand doctrine?" What is it, doctrine? [Isaiah 28:9]. 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 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 Episcopalians." He reviewed the audience very carefully, and he says, "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 it: on Wednesday night the pastor announces in some dark room in the basement he’s going to teach the doctrines of the church? Oh, 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 doctrines, its teachings, its truths, 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, docere, a Latin word "to teach"; doctor, a teacher; doctrine, the truth that is taught. The same thing follows in the Greek language: didasko, "to teach"; didaskolos, "the teacher"; didaska, "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 dissent from the Roman Church. The horrors of the Nazism of the Second World War, it is the 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 is arisen from the doctrine, the teaching of Karl Marx and Friederich 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, the truth and basis of,the church is the pillar and ground, the pillar and basis of the truth. And if a church is defective in its teaching, that defect will be found in its organization and in its operation and in its life.
This is the assignment of the true preacher. Paul said, "Hold [fast]," to the preacher, "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 beareth 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 result 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 breasts" [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" [1Corinthians 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 infants all the days of our lives. An infant, an infant that is an infant of days, the little child 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 have 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 breasts, to these who are grown up in the knowledge and understanding of God.
Now, how does God teach His doctrine? "Whom shall He teach doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk and drawn from the breasts" [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 – I 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 on 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 in 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-plus in it because it is easy for me to memorize. And so I just went through trigonometry just like that, and 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 or 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, big building, 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 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 until 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 says, "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 tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, 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 that 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, tap, tap." That was his 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: 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 openheartedness, a hungering, a thirsting, a teachable, malleable, humble spirit: "Lord, reveal to me the truths of Thy Word." 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." "Take My yoke upon you" [Matthew 11:29], 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, "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. And 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].