What the Fool Says in His Heart
February 9th, 1964 @ 8:15 AM
WHAT THE FOOL SAYS IN HIS HEART
Dr. W.A. Criswell
2-9-64 8:15 a.m.
The title of the sermon, What the Fool Says in his Heart, Psalm 14:1: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” And the message concerns the confirmation of the reality of God. To divide the sermon in two is like cutting a man with a sword in half, but I have no other choice because I cannot deliver the message in this one thirty-minute period. So the first part of the sermon will be delivered this morning, and the next half of the sermon will be delivered next Sunday morning.
“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1]. Why does the Lord call the man who says that in his heart a fool? He is a fool because, first, he is empty and shallow in his thinking. Francis Bacon said in his essay on atheism, he said, “A little philosophy tendeth to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s mind about to religion.”
And when I hear some of these youngsters talk who have just been to college and have just been introduced to some of the metaphysics of life, I marvel at their reactions. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And a smattering of philosophy may lead one to doubt the great fundamentals of God, but depth in understanding leads to devotion, and reverence, and religion. So he is called a fool because of the shallowness of his thinking.
“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1]. He is called a fool because he allocates to himself omniscience, infallibility. For you must know all things in all places at all times if you can say, “I know that there is no God.” I could not place that in words more pointed than a great theologian did a century ago. I quote from him:
The wonder turns on the great process by which a man could grow to the immense intelligence that can know there is no God. This intelligence involves the very attributes of deity. For unless this man is omnipresent, in some place where he is not, there may be God. If he does not know absolutely every agent in the universe, the one that he does not know may be God. If he is not himself the chief agent in the universe, and does not know what is so, that which is so may be God. If he is not in absolute possession of all the propositions that constitute universal truth, the one which he lacks may be that there is a God. If he cannot with certainty assign the cause of all that he perceives to exist, that cause may be God. If he does not know everything that has been in the immeasurable ages past, some things may have been done by a God. Thus, unless he knows all things, that is, precludes another Deity by being one himself, he cannot know that the Being whose existence he rejects does not exist.
[On The Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God, Thomas Chalmers]
The man would have to be omniscient, and infallible, and a deity himself; therefore, God’s Book says, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1].
A third reason why God calls him a fool: because of his corrupt spiritual nature. This is the context of the psalm. And one of the strangest things in the Bible, Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 are identical. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand” [Psalm 14:1-2, 53:1-2]. And He saw the fool who says God doesn’t exist. And the Lord speaks of his corrupt spiritual nature [Psalm 14:3, 53:3].
I think that’s the reason why the existence of God, and the reality of God, and the presence of God is never argued in the Bible, never. That’s one of the strangest things. The Bible begins, not with the statement, “There is a God,” but, “In the beginning God” [Genesis 1:1], and it is never argued, taken for granted. And I say I suppose that’s true because of the knowledge of the Lord as He looks down upon the fools in the earth.
It was the Lord God Jesus who said, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, and do not cast your pearls before swine” [Matthew 7:6]. So the reality and existence of God is never argued in the Bible, just taken for granted; “In the beginning God” [Genesis 1:1].
I was interested in a comment of a historian regarding the eighteenth century of English history. And he said, “The more the apologist tried to prove Christianity, the more it was not believed.” Then he added, “But the revival of Whitefield and Wesley did more for religion than all of the apologists of all of the centuries before.” For they brought, these preachers, they brought the intuitive knowledge of men to an open avowal and expression. Now in that observation I wholly concur. For a man to try to prove the existence of God, and thus to be an apologist for religion, is almost beside the point.
Then why the sermon today and continued next Lord’s day? Because of this day—unusual, different—in which we live. There is a blatant, and a vagrant, and a violent, and an organized challenge to religion, and to faith, and to God such as the world has never seen before! For the first time in the history of mankind, for the first time, there are great governments that are built upon the persuasion and upon the theory that there is no God. Even the ancient Greek, a pantheist, even the ancient Greek did nothing unless he first inquired of the oracle at Delphi. And the ancient Roman never went to war until first he had propitiated the gods.
But there are governments and institutions and vast systems according to this economic life that are built upon the thesis of a denial of the existence of God. And we meet that challenge in every news release, and we read of it in every magazine, and our whole nation with its might and power stands trembling before it. That’s the reason I discuss it and speak of it, the reality of God and a man’s religion, which bows in the presence of the great Almighty.
Now, in our answer there is no use in turning to the Bible. First of all, fools reject the Bible, the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. To have a Holy Scripture would admit that there was a great God who could inspire. So the whole Bible is washed out, and there is no apology in the Holy Scriptures. So you can’t use the Scriptures to prove God. Then there’s another thing about using Scriptures to prove God that is futile; and I think that’s another reason why it is never used in the Word itself: you come into an endless circle when you do that. To prove God from the authority of the Scriptures and then turn around and prove the authority of the Scriptures from God is to enter an endless cycle. It has no meaning ultimately, and it gets nowhere.
But God did not leave Himself without a witness in every part, and in every section, and in every age, and in every man that was ever born into this world. So you see, God has two books. God has a written Book, and I hold it here in my hand, but God has an unwritten book, the great world of creation, and that includes the man himself; the man himself and the great creation in which he lives.
Somebody said that the Himalayas, that great vast mountain range, the Himalayas are nothing but raised letters by which we blind children can place our fingers and spell out the name of God. And God is as revealed in His glory, and power, and majesty, and presence in the world that He made as His name is revealed and who He is in the Holy Scriptures. And these two revelations harmonize. They are authored by the same great omnipotent power. So I cannot only read of God in the Holy Bible that I hold in my hand, but I can also read and spell out God in that other great unwritten book that glorifies His name and affirms His existence.
Now, when we turn to this book unwritten, outside, the book of God’s creation, when we turn to that book, I can easily divide what God hath said in the creation, in the works of His hands, I can divide it into two parts. And that’s the division of the sermon. God speaks, and God says, and God commands, and God wills, and God reveals Himself in the intuitive knowledge of the man He hath made; the inward witness. And God speaks and God is glorified in the outward witness, the world of creation that vindicates, and explicates, and confirms the inward witness in the man.
Let me say it like Paul said it in the Bible, in the first chapter of the Book of Romans, “That which may be known of God is manifested in us; for God hath showed it unto us” [Romans 1:19]. There is an inward witness, an intuitive witness, in every man that was ever born. There is an inward witness that may be known of God in them. All right, that’s the first one.
And the second one is the outward witness, the creation around, the next verse, “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” The confirmation of that inward witness by this outward witness, the things God hath made, “even His eternal power and Godhead; so that we are without excuse” [Romans 1:20]. So there’s an inward witness, an intuitive witness on the inside of a man, born with it, made that way [Romans 1:19]. And there is an outward witness, the great creation and the glory of God around us [Romans 1:20].
Now next Sunday I shall speak of that outward witness of the presence, and power, and glory of God [Romans 1:20]. And today I speak of that inward witness [Romans 1:19]. And I do believe I’m going to have to divide this sermon in half. This is; I just now got to it. The intuitive knowledge of God; the affirmation that a man is born knowing, that it is instinctive, that it is intuitive, for God hath inlayed the truth of His presence in the soul of a man.
A man’s mind produces far more grist than is taken to the mill and placed in the hopper. The vehicle of a man’s mind could not begin to produce what is entailed and encompassed in the idea of God. It is not a product of reason. It is something we are born with. For example, children who have no understanding of the Lord God at all, children will naturally, will naturally worship. All of the accouterments of devotion and worship come natural to children. Helen Keller said—blind, could never see; deaf, could never hear; dumb, could never speak; shut out from the entire world except by pressure on her hand—Helen Keller said to Phillips Brooks, the great Bostonian preacher, Helen Keller said to Phillips Brooks, “I always knew there was a God, but I didn’t know His name.”
That intuitive knowledge of God is first universal, universal. There are no men, however degraded and however perverted their idea of God may be, there are no men of any age, of any race, or tribe, or family that has not that idea of God. It may be perverted. It may be a misrepresentation, but they have it, they possess it, they are born with it. And we are not to look upon their idea of God any different than you would look upon a child as he, maybe with misrepresentation, tries to prove the existence of his father by a portrait of him. It would be a poor, poor effort, but he has it. He has it. Don’t forget that the outward world has the same sensuous impression upon an animal as it has upon a man. The animal can see. He can hear, usually, far more distinctly than we, and he can touch, and he can feel, and he can taste. But an animal can look forever and never see or sense the invisible things of God that a man can. And anywhere he is born, he is conscious that these sensuous impressions made upon the same organs he possesses as an animal possesses, that they speak of another person, of a superior power beyond him, and that is universal.
All right, second: that idea, that intuitive idea of God is also ageless. It is not confined to any generation, or any century, or any time, it is imperishably ageless. You take it back, and back, and back, and back, and back, and back, and wherever mankind has been there is that idea of God. And then take it forward and forward and forward, and in the most advanced and civilized races there will you find the idea most highly developed.
Voltaire said, “Christianity will soon be a memory, and the Bible will be a forgotten book.” About a hundred years after Voltaire, the British government paid five hundred thousand dollars—today that’d be about three million dollars—the British government paid five hundred thousand dollars for a copy of a Bible, a New Testament, and placed it in the British Museum. And that same day, a copy of Voltaire sold on the streets of London for three cents. Bob Ingersoll’s home is now a printing establishment for the publication and notification of the Bible. No age, no time without that great witness.
Third, it is not only universal; second, it is not only ageless: it is also natural and congenital. It is not a product of reason. It is not a man’s reason that produced the idea of God, but it is congenital, and it is natural, and it is unavoidable. The revelation of God will flash upon a man’s soul like a vision from heaven, immediately! In times of great fear, or distress, or sorrow, or agony a man will become more conscious of the existence of God than he is conscious of the existence of his fellow men, of his fellow creatures.
I copied here a poem, a beautiful thing, but it illustrates this idea exactly. I copied a poem from Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
“There is no God,” the foolish saith,
But none, “There is no sorrow.”
And nature oft the cry of faith
In bitter need will borrow:
Eyes which the preacher could not school,
By wayside graves are raised,
And lips say, “God be merciful,”
Who never said, “God be praised.”
[“Convinced by Sorrow,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning]
That’s what I’m saying. There is an instinctive reaction of a man in times of great sorrow or great fear. He calls on the name of God. He was not taught it. He did not want it. It was not a product of his reasoning. It was instinctive, and congenital, and unavoidable!
And for someone to say to us, “We call on the name of God, and we worship God, and we have religion because it is a learned and trained reaction,” it’s a matter of fashion, it’s a matter of copying, it’s a matter of imitation. The man might as equally say a horse eats hay because he sees other horses eat hay. The horse eats hay because he is hungry and it is congenital to his nature. And a man calls upon the name of God because there is a hunger in his soul and it is congenital to his nature. That’s why the Bible, and that’s why the preaching is nothing other than an exegesis and an affirmation of what is already in the man’s heart.
Now last, and hurriedly; the inner witness of God. Isn’t it amazing how time will fly. The most poignant, and barbed and pointed of all of the inner witnesses of God in a man’s life lies in his moral conscience. Now, I’m going to discuss where it came from and what it is; a man’s moral conscience.
Right is inconceivable unless there be—let’s turn it around: wrong is inconceivable unless there be right. Error is inconceivable unless there be truth. But right and truth are inconceivable unless there be a seat of an ultimate right and an ultimate truth outside of a man. Right and truth, moral conscience, have authority beyond any person or man or any host or group of men.
I am trying to say that there is a Somebody, there is a something outside of you that has authority, and He speaks to you. He doesn’t talk to you in abstract general terms, but He talks to you in specifics! He doesn’t talk to you in subjunctive, “let us, let us,” He talks to you in imperative, “Thou shalt!” And again, “Thou shalt not!”
And there is a conscience on the inside of a man made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27], there is a conscience on the inside of a man that recognizes that will over and beyond himself, and his conscience points to it like a compass, a magnetic needle will point toward the northern sphere. And that power that makes that needle vibrate, that power is the power before which we tremble in the presence of Almighty God. And that is universal.
For example, Macbeth will slay Duncan, king of Scots. Well, he has the throne. The kingdom is his. Why doesn’t he enjoy it? Why does Macbeth go around, “There’s blood on my hand. Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?” What’s the matter with him? He wanted the kingdom. He now has it. Who is that with authority, and will, and purpose, and command speaks to Macbeth? Who is that? Certainly not in him; it’s beyond him. It’s aside from him. It’s above him.
Or Nero, at the price of Christian blood and persecution, Nero built his golden palace. Then historians say for nights, and nights, and nights, and nights Nero walked the halls of his golden palace in terror. What’s the matter with him? What’s the matter with him? What’s the matter with him is there’s a superior someone, something, somewhere that with authority speaks to him in his soul. And right has universal authority.
When a nation gets up and blasphemes, yet they do it on the basis of justice and righteousness, otherwise they couldn’t do it. Right has universal authority; something beyond us, or beyond any host of men that could create it.
Do you think the sun and the moon and the stars create those laws of gravity by which they’re directed and if they disobey them they are destroyed? Neither does a man or a host of men create that authority of righteousness, and justice, and law, which if they obey, they are blessed, but which if they disobey, they are destroyed—it’s a thing over, and beyond, and outside of them. It’s from the authority of someone else.
Now a man, a man can attempt to destroy that presence of God, and man can attempt to break that law of God. A man can say, “I’m going to dissolve that commandment of God.” He’s never able to do it, never. He just illustrates its reality. A man could say, “You watch me break the law of gravity. Watch me dissolve it. Watch me jump off of this twenty-story building right down here. Watch me.” We shall watch you. He just illustrates the unbreakable law by breaking himself down there on the pavement.
Suppose a man had the power and he’d say, “Watch me dissolve these great laws of gravity that govern the spheres.” What he would do—he would put the whole universe into collision and destroy it. So a man is powerless and helpless before the mandates and the commandments of that great Other, that Something, that Somebody, that Someone who speaks with universal authority to every man who ever lives.
Now a people, a people can set themselves to violate, and to pervert, and to break, and to destroy that mandate of the Almighty God. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1]. And a nation can violate the laws of righteousness and justice, and a people can seek to break and to repudiate that moral government and the presence of God. And a family and an individual can seek to cut themselves off from the great presence and mandates of Almighty God. But whether it be a nation, or whether it be a people, or whether it be a family, or whether it be one somebody you, when you cut yourself off from it, the presence, and the power, and the justice, and the judgment of God, when you do it, you fall into those inevitable penalties of pain, and death, and suffering.
The Lord Jesus spoke of that when He spoke of branches that are cut off and that wither away [John 15:6]. A man can take his little finger, he can take his little finger, and he can tie it with a string, and he can disassociate that little finger from his body. When he does so, the little finger will lose nutrition, and life, and health, and well-being. It will atrophy. It will become diseased. It will throb in pain, and the whole body will sympathize with it and work for the liberation of that member that is cut off.
So with you; when you cut yourself off from God and when you repudiate the Lord, the whole armament, the whole panoply, the whole mercies of heaven plead with you to be liberated, to join yourself to the Lord God, to come back to the great Lord who made us and to Jesus who loved us and gave Himself for us [Ephesians 5:2; 2 Corinthians 5:20].
“The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” Come. “Let him that heareth say, Come.” The angels, the sojourner, the whole echoing world, “let him that is athirst come” [Revelation 22:17]. The whole world of God, above and below, pleads for a restoration of that one who has separated himself from God. And God says it is a foolish one, it is a foolish one who separates himself [Proverbs 26:11; 2 Peter 2:20-22].
Could I say the obverse then? He is wise and he is blessed who heeds the voice of heaven above and of the witness in his soul, and turns, and bows, and loves, and responds to the goodness, and richness, and ineffable glory of the Lord God.
While we sing our song, somebody this morning to give his heart to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8]; somebody today to put his life in the fellowship of the church; a family you or one somebody you, “Pastor, this is my wife, and these are our children. We’re all coming today.” As God should say the word and make the appeal, would you come, on the first note of this first stanza, while we stand and sing?