Preaching and Practice
August 1st, 1965 @ 7:30 PM
PREACHING AND PRACTICE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-1-65 7:30 p.m.
Now, in your Bible turn to the Gospel of Matthew, the First Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew and chapter 8, and we shall read together the first thirteen verses. And if on the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, you turn in your Bible to the First Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 8, and let us read out loud the first thirteen verses, all of us together:
When He was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him.
And, behold, there came a leper and worshiped Him, saying, Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.
And Jesus put forth His hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto Him a centurion, beseeching Him,
And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.
And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.
The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.
For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.
This is the beginning of these chapters that describe in rapid-fire succession the incomparable ministry of our Lord in Galilee. For chapters 5, 6, and 7 of the First Gospel are a record of the Sermon on the Mount, the greatest message ever delivered from the lips of a man. And it closes with these words: "And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at His doctrine: For He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" [Matthew 7:28-29]. So the great message is finished, and the marvelous sermon is complete. Then immediately begins the incomparable ministry: "Behold, a leper" [Matthew 8:2]; then again, "And a centurion came" [Matthew 8:5]; and then again, "And Peter’s wife’s mother, sick of a fever" [Matthew 8:14]; and then again, "And when He entered into a ship, and the great wind that followed, and the stilling of the sea, and the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?" [Matthew 8:23-27]; then the four friends who brought the sick of a palsy [Matthew 9:2-6; Luke 5:18-25], and then the daughter of Jairus who was dead, and He raised her from the dead [Matthew 9:178-19, 23-25; Luke 8:41-42, -55]; and then two blind men who followed, crying, "Lord, have mercy upon us" [Matthew 9:27-30]; and then a dumb man possessed with a demon, and when the Lord cast out the demon, the dumb spake, the multitudes marveled, saying, "It was never so seen in Israel" [Matthew 9:32-33]; in rapid-fire succession this glorious ministry, active, dynamic, vital, atomic of our Lord.
The great sermon is preached; the great message of new ideas is delivered, and now comes the glorious activation, reality, of what our Lord was saying. Finish now is this marvelous intellectual and spiritual apocalypse of the Lord’s new message; and now follows the glorious ministry doing, acting, being, moving. For you see, there are two sides to the Christian faith: it is a great message; it is also a great ministry. It is a great doctrine; it is also a great deed. It is a great sermon; it is also a great service. It is a great orthodoxy; it is also a magnificent orthopraxy. And when those two hemispheres are separated, the message from the ministry, the doctrine from the deed, they bleed themselves white. For the only relevancy that an idea has, that a message has, that a sermon has, the only relevancy that an idea has is when it is brought into reality, when it is activated: when the thing is taken out of word and language and made into body and deed.
In Ponca City, where I held a revival meeting years ago, there is located there – and at that time it was the largest of the Conoco Oil Company refineries – their home offices were there. And a pastor, upon a day, took me out to see one of the chemists, a deacon in his church, who was head of the chemical department of the Conoco Oil Company. And while we went through the laboratory, he showed me on a table there in his laboratory a new kind of a cracking process that he had invented. And there it was with little gadgets, and little pipes, and little stems, and little glass tubes, and little boilers, and all kinds of little miniatures there on that table. And I said, "This is the most complicated thing I ever saw in my life. What good is this?" And he took me to the window, and said, "Preacher, come here." And he showed me that vast new arm of the plant of the Conoco Oil Company that they just finished. And he said, "You see that great tower, that cracking tower and all of those boilers and pipes?" He said, "That is this. First," he said, "I got the idea. And then I wrought it out in this miniature fashion in this laboratory. And then we got the engineers, and they built the great plant that you see out there beyond this window." As long as it’s an idea, as long as it’s a thought, as long as it is something that he’s thinking about, it is nothing; but when the thing is put into practice and it becomes sinew, and life, and throbbing engine, and production, then the idea is come into reality. And when you separate the idea from the reality, it is sterile, it is nothing, it is vacuity and emptiness.
I remember one time going to the fair, the State Fair in Texas, out here in Dallas. And there in that fair, in one of those buildings, was a marvelous idea: it was the Central Expressway in the city of Dallas. We never had any expressway in this town; we never had anything that approached it. And some man had an idea that they could move those railroad tracks going through the heart of this city, and make a great, marvelous boulevard right through this teeming metropolis. And he had his idea, and there it was, little bridges, roads, signs, clover leaves, all of it. And can you imagine the thrill of seeing those bulldozers and those big caterpillar tractors bring it into reality over which the stream of traffic flows through the heart of this city? But as long as it’s just an idea, as long as it’s talk, and sermon, and language, and syllable, and sentence, it is nothing. But when you put it in a reality, it becomes a dynamic and beneficial force. If the idea is never used, it’s sterile. If the sermon is never practiced, it’s vacuity and emptiness.
One of the strangest things in civilization is this: that the American Indian, all through South America, all through North America, the American Indian never employed the idea of a wheel. And to the amazement of these archaeologists, some of them in those Inca and Mayan civilizations have dug up toys that were used by Indian children in which the children were dragging little wagons that had wheels on them. But the idea of a wheel was never used by the American Indian.
When I was pastor in Oklahoma, I went one time to the fair of the Kiowas in Anadarko. And when those Indians came to their fair, as they’ve been coming for generations, when they came to the fair, each Indian dragged behind him, dragged behind him all of his belongings tied to poles, and he’d drag those poles behind him, as they had done throughout the generations. For the idea is worthless and sterile and empty until it becomes reality: until it is applied.
The whole world and gamut of science and engineering and life is like that. Many, many generations and millenniums and centuries did the antediluvians and the postdiluvians see steam come out of their kettles; but not until Watt put it in an engine was the idea ever used. Just think of how long, how long we have seen jet propulsion in this world. Take a balloon and blow it up, and then let the air out of it, and it’ll just woosh around the room. But not until Boeing Aircraft Company and Douglas Aircraft Company was the idea of jet propulsion ever put to a dynamic world.
Think of a boy putting a firecracker under a tin can, and boom! the thing goes: internal combustion. And yet, not until, not until Ford, and Olds, and Buick, and the Dodge brothers used the idea in an internal combustion engine was the idea ever productive and beneficial. The whole world is like that.
And you find it no different in the Bible. As long as the revelations and the apocalypses and the ideas in the Word of God are just a preacher’s sermon, they’re just something that the Sunday school teacher teaches, and it’s just something that the professed believers mouth, as long as it is syllable and sermon and the delineation of it is just in language, the whole thing is unproductive. But when it becomes dynamic and real in flesh and blood and incarnate in our lives, oh! what God is able to do!
May I point out to you that there is not a single revealed idea in the Word of God that is not atomic, and dynamic, and energizing, and active? There’s no such thing as the revelation of an idea in the Word of God that is static, and dormant, and lethargic, and phlegmatic, and sterile; there’s no such thing in the Bible. The idea of God, the revelation of God is always one of dynamic activity. "And the Spirit of God brooded over the chaos of the world that God had created" [Genesis 1:2].
"In the beginning was the Word; in the beginning was the logos" [John 1:1]. And that Greek idea of logos is one of an active God! The Lord moves, the Lord makes, and He remakes; and the Lord walks among His people, and He visits among His churches; He is an active, interested, dynamic, atomic God! That’s the God of the Bible, the idea.
Same thing about faith, the idea of faith: the idea of faith presented in the Word of God is always active and dynamic and atomic. "By faith Noah," [Hebrews 11:7] Well, how do you know "by faith Noah"? Because he got a hammer and a saw, and he began to build an ark to the saving of his house [Genesis 6:14-22]: "By faith Noah," active. "By faith Abraham, called of God to go out to a country he would afterward receive for an inheritance, by faith he left not knowing whither he went" [Hebrews 11:8-9]. By faith, got up and left. "By faith Moses, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; renounced the throne of Egypt, that he might suffer affliction with the people of God," by faith! [Hebrews 11:24-25]. For the idea of faith, like every other idea in the Word of God, is dynamic, it is moving, it is active, it is atomic.
Same way with the idea of love, Christian love, God’s love. "Greater love hath no man than this," said our Lord, "that a man lay down his life for his friends" [John 15:13]. And love is active, and moving, and self-sacrificing, full of consecration and commitment. Every idea in the Word of God is atomic, and dynamic, and moving, and finds its reality in our flesh and blood, and in our lives.
And that’s why church services that are just church services, sound and syllable, furor and noise, that’s why they are nothing in the earth until we go outside those four doors and implement those ideas and those messages in what we do, and how we achieve and work and do things for our Lord God.
No matter what you hear and no matter what appeal is made to your soul, until it becomes a part of your experience and a part of your life, it is just so many words. And we can mull over them, we can philosophize about them, we can take them to the metaphysician and discuss them, we can scratch our heads over them, and we can debate them endlessly. They are true, yes. They are true, no. But they are immaterial, absolutely without influence, until they are flesh and blood and experience in our own lives.
At a big convention far away from here, I heard a minister of the gospel – he was an executive leader – I heard him tell a story that made an impression upon me, and I’m going to tell you why it made the impression upon me. The story is just typical, like so many human interest stories; but it stayed in my heart. The story was this: that there was a fine businessman in the city, affluent, able, gifted, but no appeal of philanthropy ever moved him, no visit from any agency ever touched his heart; he was absolutely adamant, just like a heart of brass. And this executive said that upon a day the man was walking downtown, and he saw a little boy. Now that little boy came out of a tragic home: his father was a drunkard, and he beat the little fellow. They had not enough to eat, and no good place to live, and the lad was dressed in rags. And the little fellow was on the street, and he was looking in the gutter, and he was looking in all the crevices and cracks of the sidewalk. And as the little fellow was looking, he was sobbing aloud. And the man noticed him, and kind of followed the little fellow around. And finally put his hand on his head, and said, "Son, what you crying for? What you looking for?" And the little fellow said, he said, "Mister, I was given a silver dollar, I was given a silver dollar by my mother to buy groceries. There’s nothing to eat in the house. And I’ve lost the silver dollar. And mister, I don’t know what to say. And I don’t know what to do. And I’ll be beat when I go home. And I’ve got to find that silver dollar." And the man put his hand on the little boy’s head, and said, "Why son, why son, you don’t need to cry over that. Why son, here’s a silver dollar," and he gave the boy a silver dollar. And the little fellow looked up into his face, and with illimitable gratitude he fell on his knees and put his arms around the legs of that kind man, and through his tears said to him, "Oh mister, I wish you were my father." And this executive said that from there on and for the years that followed, that man did nothing else than walk around, and probe around, and search around to find somebody that he could help. It did something to his soul.
As long as the appeal was words, and language, and sermon, and syllable, and sentence, his heart was adamant; but when it became flesh, and blood, and tears, and sobs, and life it changed his soul!
Now, I was going to tell you why that story stayed in my mind, because you hear a thousand like it. They’re blessed, and they are sweet and precious. But the reason that story stayed in my mind; when I lived on the farm in New Mexico, about five or six years old, I was placed on the back of a pony, somebody riding in the saddle, I was placed on the back of the saddle with a silver dollar in my hand, and was sent the four miles into the little town to buy some groceries that I could carry in my arms back home. And somehow, somehow in the jogging of that pony into town, I lost that silver dollar. Oh, I can never forget – because we also were poor – I’ll never forget the sense of loss and sorrow that I had in my soul and heart when I searched the earth, and couldn’t find it. And went home, and walked into the house, I had lost that dollar. But oh, how different parents can be. My mother and father said, "Why son, that’s all right. We understand. Any little boy could lose a silver dollar riding back of the saddle on a pony into town." And that’s why I remembered the story.
Oh, there is so much beyond, so much beyond the sermon that the preacher preaches, and the lesson that the teacher teaches, and the message that we read on an open page: there’s a life to live, there’s a ministry to perform, there’s a service to do, there’s a deed to achieve, there’s a blessedness of life by which we honor and glorify God. And that’s what we need. I guess we need more preachers, yes; but mostly we need more somebody to do the sermon and to live the message.
I have to close, but I want to point this out. In one of the cities of the South, there’s a church downtown, a Baptist church. And I went by it one time, because I’m so interested in a downtown Baptist church. And as I looked at it, and walked around it, and inside of it, I had an oppressive feeling in my soul: for the church was dying; it had no semblance of life. Their minister was learned, academic, had several degrees, wonderfully cultured, all the things that go with a prepared ministry. And they were orthodox; they were not liberal. They believed the Word of God, but the church was dying. Then as I walked around, I was so oppressed and depressed. The greatest loss in the spiritual life and ministry of the denomination in the world is to lose our downtown churches. Just let Satan have our cities; we go out to the fair gardens in the periphery, and there under the salubrious shade of the tree, and with the pleasant lawns and swards before us we enjoy life. Oh, my soul! And what shall God say in the day of judgment to a denomination that lets its ministry die to the city? Well, I walked around, and I was depressed.
Then upon a day, I was in that city again, and I walked by that downtown Baptist church, and it was alive! I was surprised. I was overwhelmingly glad! They were building a new educational building, and since I was there they have built a new auditorium. And everything was quickened. It was marvelous to see! And I went on the inside and I looked around to see if I could find somebody, and I found the educational director. And I said to him, I said, "Fellow, the last time I was here, this church looked like a mausoleum, dead as dead could be, oppressive to my soul; and now I come and look at that new building going up, and look at all these programs, and this activity, there’s life and quickening power! What’s happened here? What’s happened?" And he said, "Well preacher, it’s very simple to tell you what happened." He said, "There are three men, three laymen, three men in our church who got the Spirit of God in their souls." And he said, "Those men are out here day and night, incidentally making a living practicing law, incidentally making a living in the insurance company, and whatever the third one was, but," he said, "mostly those men are working for God." And he said, "They have changed this church. Their example has inspired the other men, and these men have blessed their families and homes. And these families and homes have attracted people in the city. And our church is vibrant and alive again because of the dedication of those three laymen." That’s what he told me. Oh, I bless the name of God for it!
We have to have a preacher to preach to us, I know. And we have to have a service where we hear the Word of God read from the page, that’s right. But when the sermon is done, and the benediction is said, and we go out these doors, that’s when God has an opportunity to work and to do in us. The Lord grant it under God’s hands and ours. Great preaching, Lord grant it. But even greater practice, Lord, do it through us.
Now while we sing this hymn of appeal, while we sing this hymn of appeal, somebody you tonight give himself to Jesus, come and stand by me. A family you coming into the fellowship of the church, a couple, a youth, a child, as God shall press the appeal, as the Spirit of Jesus shall speak to your heart, answer tonight, "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." "Pastor, this is my wife, and my children, and all of us are coming tonight." Or, "Pastor, we’ve just been married, and we’re coming tonight." Or, "Pastor, this is my fiancÃ©, and before we are married, we’re coming tonight." Or, "Pastor, we’ve moved into this city, and in the heart of this great Dallas; we’re placing our lives to pray and work with you." As God shall say the word, shall open the door, shall press the appeal, make it tonight. On the first note of the first stanza, come. When you stand up in a moment and the people sing and we pray for your coming, stand up into that aisle, down to the front, "Here I am, pastor, here I come." Make it now, make it tonight. Come; come, while we stand and while we sing.