A Glorious Church
January 17th, 1965 @ 10:50 AM
A GLORIOUS CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-17-65 10:50 a.m.
The First Baptist Church in Dallas counts it one of the highest and most meaningful of its many ministries to share the services on the Lord’s Day with all the people on radio and on television, who having gone to earlier services now listen, or who being unable to attend open their hearts to the message preached at these holy hours. This is the pastor bringing this morning’s message entitled A Glorious Church. It is an expression out of the fifth chapter of the Book of Ephesians, and I read beginning at verse 25; Ephesians 5, beginning at verse 25:
Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it;
That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle…but that it should be holy and without blemish.
Truly, one of the most expressive and meaningful of all of the symbols and emblems and types in the Bible is the one Paul uses here to describe what the Lord has done with His church. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it; That He might sanctify and cleanse it”; and in this version it is translated, “with the washing.” In the Greek, it is “in the laver.” The Greek word for laver is lutron, “in the lutron of water by the word” [Ephesians 5:25-26].
In the expositions of Dr. Sidlow Baxter, one evening you remember, he took the tabernacle, and he was explaining some of those marvelous types in the furniture of the tabernacle. As you enter the gate of the tabernacle, first was the brazen altar upon which sacrifices were offered unto God [Exodus 25:1-7, 27:18]. Then before the door into the sanctuary was the laver [Exodus 30:18]. This is the word: the laver, where the priests washed themselves before entering into the presence of the great High God [Exodus 30:19-21]. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify it and cleanse it and bathe it in the laver of the word” [Ephesians 5:25-26]. Oh, could anything be more expressively meaningful? God’s congregation washed, bathed in the Word of the Lord.
Last week, preaching through one of these conferences that Dr. Freeman referred to; last week preaching through one of those conferences, a young man picked me up in his automobile to carry me to a certain place, a young minister. And as I talked to him, I said, “Young fellow, if you’ll preach God’s Book, God’s Word, and open the Scriptures to the people,” I said, “Son, after you’ve been there twenty years, thirty years, forty years, as long as God gives you life, and strength, and ableness to stand up to speak, your congregation will grow in numbers, and in interest, and in power, and in consecration, and in hunger to hear you preach to them again.”
You know my impression, my impression of the ministry in the length and breadth of this land is this: they want to move, anywhere, anywhere. They want to move, go some other place, go some other church, go some other county, anywhere, but “I want to move.” That is my impression of the modern pastor. You know I have my idea about that too. I think the reason he wants to move, and he feels almost compelled to move after a year, after two years; he doesn’t have anything else to say. He’s played out. His little candle is burned down, he doesn’t have anything to add, and he wants to go, and he feels he has to move.
I said to that young preacher, “Fellow, bathe your soul. Baptize your mind and your heart in the Book. Stand up there before the congregation and tell the people ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ This is what God hath said for the saving of our souls, for the redeeming of our lives, for the blessing of our homes. Tell them, ‘This is what the Lord hath said.’ And as the days pass and as the years multiply, your people will not grow weary of you, and they’ll not grow tired of your message. But the longer you preach, the more they’ll hunger in their hearts to hear another message from God’s man, their pastor.”
Why, it’s the sweetest thing in the world and the hardest to get over to the minister. I can’t understand that to save my life. They had rather fail and be sterile, and their churches die, talking about things of a passing and temporal interest rather than addressing themselves to the eternities of Almighty God. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify it and cleanse it and bathe it in the laver of the Word” [Ephesians 5:25-26[.
I also told him something else. I said, “Did you know young fellow, if you’ll do that, if you’ll preach God’s Book and tell the people what the Lord says; if you’ll do that, there’ll be some things that will happen to your congregation that maybe you hadn’t thought for particularly, you hadn’t planned for it, and you hadn’t looked for it. But God will do it for you and for them. There are several things. One of which is this: you’ll find your people increasingly a praying people; you just will, when you preach to them God’s Book.”
Oh, how many places and in how many instances does the Lord encourage His people to pray? “My house,” He said, “shall be called an house of prayer” [Luke 19:46]. Intercession, pleading with God, pleading for the people, pleading for the nations, pleading for the destiny of our country, pleading for the lost, pleading for wisdom in high places and in low, asking God’s blessing upon our souls; you’ll find the people increasingly a people of prayer. “My house,” God’s meeting place with our souls––“and Jesus spake a parable unto them to this end: that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” [Luke 18:1]. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and in the fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers” [Acts 2:42]. “And Paul kneeled down, and prayed with them all” [Acts 20:36]. And Paul wrote saying, “Pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17], and again, “Brethren, pray for us” [1Thessalonians 5:25].
One of the men in the conference last week, with the throng of preachers that crowded that big place, he made an announcement, “We’re going to God in prayer. We’re going to the Lord in prayer.” You know what I did? Before I was conscious of it, I was down on my knees, there in the pulpit, by my chair. I was the only one in that vast congregation down on his knees, but I did it so unconsciously. I was down there on my face, before I even thought about it, when he said, “Let’s go to God in prayer.” I love our people, down here on their knees. That’s one thing, bathing our souls in the Word of God, in the laver of the Book.
Another thing that’ll happen to your people as you read God’s Word and its message permeates your souls, you’ll find your people increasingly with an outreach in their vision and in their program. Why, you couldn’t take it out of them. God puts it there. There’s an interest, and there’s a zeal, and there’s a yearning, and there’s a wanting for other people here and everywhere in this earth, that they also know this blessed Jesus and hear these blessed words of salvation. There’ll be Brazil, and there’ll be Argentina, and there’ll be South Africa, and there’ll be England, and there’ll be all the countries of the world. And there’ll be an interest on the part of the people to distribute the seed of God’s Word and to spread abroad the love of Jesus that saves our souls from death. You just will. You just will. If you love this Book and if you go to a church where these Holy Scriptures are preached, you will find yourself committed to a profound and undying interest for all of the peoples of the earth, that they might have our blessings and love our Lord. You just will.
Winston Churchill, who is the very incarnation of history himself, Winston Churchill, is at the very threshold of the great and ultimate beyond. He coined the phrase, a simple one but a glorious one, and titled one of his books Our Finest Hour, our finest hour. And if I were to point to our finest hour, I would go to Kettering, in England, and stand there, as many of you have, where William Carey and Andrew Fuller organized the first modern missionary society. And Andrew Fuller held the ropes, and William Carey went down into the well, and modern missions [were] born in the hearts of those Baptist preachers––our finest hour! When you enter Westminster Abbey, where the noble and the great of England are buried, when you enter Westminster Abbey in the nave of the church, first in the great nave of the church, first is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As France has it beneath the Arch of Triumph, as the United States honors our unknown and noble dead in Arlington Cemetery, the British have buried their unknown soldier in the nave of the church, the first one you will see guarded by one of the representatives of the armed forces of the British Empire. And just beyond and just beyond is the grave of David Livingstone with the inscription brought by loving hands: “O’er land and sea, here lies the body of David Livingstone, God’s missionary.” Then when you walk through the nave of the church to the transepts, you will find the pulpit desk and on it the inscription: “Dedicated to William Carey, God’s missionary,” our finest hour; the evangelization of this world.
Oh, these precious things! How people will do, how they will respond when they’re bathed in the laver of the Word. Stewardship, stewardship––I am so exalted sometimes overhearing our deacons as they talk to somebody, or talk to one another, or telling somebody about our church. This isn’t unique or peculiar, this is—I’ve heard several times. I’ve heard our deacons talking to other deacons in other churches or members in other places. I’ve heard them describe our stewardship program. There is not a church in the world that gives one half as much to God’s kingdom cause as this dear church, not in the earth, not in the earth. And it’s an amazing thing. It’s an astonishing thing, and especially to the world! A church, one congregation, that could dedicate to God a million six hundred thousand dollars every year, it’s an astonishing thing to the world. And I’ll hear the deacons describing it; and they’ll say something like this, “You know, you’d think, you’d think the preacher’s up there preaching money all the time, ding-donging for money all the time, going after money all the time, that’d be all that he preaches; you’d be thinking that. Why,” the deacon will say, “you know our pastor preaching through the Bible, there may be days and months and maybe a solid year that he never referred to it [money], never even mention it.” The people just respond out the love of their Lord, and out of the wanting and the desiring in their souls. And that’s the way it ought to be. What I bring to God, I do, not out of necessity, not out of coercion, but out of the fullness of the love in my soul. “O God, coming before Thee today, with an offering in my hand. Bless it Lord, bless it.” And God blesses it.
Oh, my! That’s the introduction. I want to describe the bride of our Savior. Listen to it. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it,” then after he spoke, “That He might wash it and sanctify it and bathe it in the laver of the word” [Ephesians 5:25-26]. Then he says, “That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle . . . but holy and without blemish––that He should present it to Himself a glorious church” [Ephesians 5:27]. The Lord never said, “My home, or My family, or My child, or My house, or My business,” but He did say, “My church, My church” [Matthew 16:18]. And John concluded the climactic and glorious Revelation with the description of it, “And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, the bride of our Lord, descending out of heaven from God.” Then his description of her, “prepared as a bride, adorned, beautified, embellished, for her husband” [Revelation 21:2]. “That He might present it to Himself a glorious church” [Ephesians 5:27], the bride of Christ.
Now to describe her: holy, holy, holy, hagios, devoted to God. That’s all it means: devoted to God. You know an addition to the church ought to be a subtraction from the world. Not out there––our love out there, our interests out there, not out there—but in the Lord, the whole devotion and energy and strength of our lives given to Him, doing God’s work and God’s service in the earth wholly committed to the Lord and embellished with all of these precious things, a glorious church; a bride interested, quickened, loving, eager, full of anticipation.
In studying for this sermon, I followed through that word enthousiasmos, that’s the way it is in Greek, enthousiasmos, enthousiasmos. En, in; theos Greek for God; enthousiasmos, en theos, in God; the Lord has us belonging to God; God in us, “enthusiasm.” You take that identical Greek word, en theos, in God, enthousiasmos, take that identical Greek word and spell it out in English and it’s “enthusiasm,” alphabetical word, alphabet for alphabet, word for word, spell it out in English. And that part I’ve never been able to understand in some people’s idea of religion, dead, and decadent, and sterile, and dry like a shell. And they go to church as though they were driven to a galley seat. They go to church as though they were spending an hour in jail. They serve God with drooping hands, and dragging feet, and no exaltation in it, and no glory in it, and no happiness in it, and no ebulliency in it, and no triumph and victory in it. Oh, I don’t understand that!
There was a teenager that had kind of ebulliently and enthusiastically taken part in a service. And the teenager was reprimanded severely for showing such life and enthusiasm in the house of the Lord. And being out in the country, the teenager went out in the lot and there he saw the old donkey with his long face, and his ears flopped down, and his head hanging down between his legs. And he went over there and patted the old burro and said, “Oh! you’d make a marvelous church member. You’d make a marvelous church member.” Somebody passed by and saw a member of the First Baptist Church and asked, “Do you belong to the First Baptist Church?” “No,” said the fellow, “I’ve just been sick. I’ve just been sick.” Oh, could you imagine a bride without anticipation, without eagerness, without gladness, without all of those marvelous things that make her the prettiest thing in the world? That’s the way we ought to be in the presence of our Lord; when time comes on Sunday that is the golden-est hour in the week.
Have you been in India? Have you been in India? The thing I miss most in a country like India––they don’t have any Sundays. Their every day is just the same. Oh, the golden hour of the week, like a bride adorned for her husband, this is church time. This is the Lord’s Day. This is a hallelujah time. This is a triumph, this is a glory and if somebody would stand up some time and say, “Preacher, I just can’t contain myself any longer, glory to God!” Why, it’d just thrill me to death. Now everybody else would faint, but I’d be thrilled. I’d be thrilled, “Hallelujah, pastor, amen! Amen!”
Oh! We are talking about this glorious church, a bride full of eager gladness and anticipation; Ah! Nothing so sweet, nothing so beautiful, nothing so precious. Now I want to describe her once again and then I must stop. When Solomon built his temple, all of you masons, when Solomon built his temple, on the right side the beautiful column Jachin, and on the left side the beautiful column Boaz; Jachin, beauty, and Boaz, strength [1 Kings 7:21; 2 Chronicles 3:17]––the beauty of God’s people united, a congregation––one in love, and prayer, and spirit, and intercession, and devotion; one heart, one soul, one commitment, one love; beautiful. My dear brother, there is not a more beautiful psalm in the psaltery than 133; Listen to part of it, “How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is as the ointment upon the head that flows down to the beard, even Aaron’s beard; that flowed down to the skirts of his garments” [Psalm 133:1-2].
Anointed with the beauty of the presence and the Spirit of God, when brethren dwell together in unity; for it is an ugly thing, it is a dishonoring thing, it’s a frightful thing when God’s people divide, and separate, and war, and battle. How beautiful it is when God’s people together serve the Lord––Jachin, beauty; and Boaz, strength; an unbeatable team––all God’s people together serving their Master in unanimity of spirit and dedication and love: Boaz.
A father gathered his seven sons around him, and he took seven sticks, and he broke each one of those sticks, just like that over his knee, until all seven of them were broken in two. Then the father gathered seven sticks and bound them together in a fasces bundle and gave them to the boys and said, “Try.” And each boy tried to break it over his knee; not a boy had the strength to do it. One by one, we’re weak. But as a team, as an ekklesia, we are unbeatable and unstoppable! And that pleases the Lord that we be powerful and fruitful in His name—strong, a glorious church—Jachin and Boaz, beautiful in strength.
I want to close with a request that I have made before: the church, God’s people, and the Lord’s house, how sweet a place to bring our children, little children, or a little baby, or a teenager; how precious a place to bring our children; how wholesome a place to which to invite our friends, our associates, our acquaintances—God’s house—and at the end of the way, to be buried from this place. And I make this request as I have made it before: when I die and if Jesus tarries, I want you to bring me here, right there, where I have knelt in prayer so many times, and where I have received into the kingdom of God so many souls, and I want to be buried from this church, this sacred place. Bring me here and bury me in this place. That’s the church to me. To love in life, to hold no less dear in death, and to dedicate as one all of us––child, father, mother, grandparents—to dedicate us all to the blessed Jesus together. The only fellowship that lasts beyond the grave: His church, His people;
For Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it;
That He might wash it, bathe it in the laver of the word;
And that He might present it to Himself someday a glorious bride.
Oh, what a fellowship! Oh, what a joy divine! Oh, what a gladness! Oh! What a glory in the house of the Lord, in the fellowship of His people, in the church of the blessed Savior.
Now on the first note of this first stanza, somebody you today, give your heart to the Lord. Come, come, make it now. A family you, put your life in the fellowship of the church. Come make it now, make it now. A family, one somebody you, in the balcony, that topmost seat, anywhere, as the Spirit shall woo and say the word of appeal, come today. Make it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.