The Motive for Missions
November 28th, 1965 @ 10:50 AM
THE MOTIVE FOR MISSIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-28-65 10:50 a.m.
On the television and on radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. In this program it was announced that the sermon would be By the Spirit of the Lord. I have been preaching for a long time on the Holy Spirit of God, and this was one of the messages I had prepared in the series. But as I began to think about our week of prayer for foreign missions and this season of the year, I felt constrained in my soul to prepare a message on the missionary enterprise.
So I started off with The Motives of Missions, plural, the Motives of Missions. And I had about five or six of them. But one of them so overshadowed all the rest, all the others, finally I came in my spirit as I thought and prepared, I came to develop just one of them. And through the weeks, through the days of the week, it has become meaningful in my own heart, and I pray God will make it meaningful to you. So we shall entitle the message The Motive, singular, the great overshadowing, horizon to horizon motive, The Motive for Missions.
You will find the basis, the foundation, the sentiment of it, for example, not as a text to be expounded but as a text one out of a thousand. You will find it, for example, in the message of Simon Peter in the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, and verse 12: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
You will find a like sentiment from the message of the apostle Paul in his second missionary journey, as he stood on Mars’ Hill before the court of the Areopagus, the Supreme Court of the Athenian nation. As he preached to them, he said, “The times of not knowing God overlooked; but now commandeth all men every where to turn, to repent, to believe” [Acts 17:30].
There are many, many blessednesses, gifts, enrichments, endowments that accrue from the triumph of the Christian faith in any land, among any people. Barbarous tribes have been civilized and savages have been taught the habits of a better industry. The benighted have been better housed and better clothed. But, a Simon Peter or an apostle Paul would be astonished beyond measure were they to listen to any of these as a reason for preaching the gospel of the Son of God.
Wherever the message of Jesus has gone, it is attended by many salubrious, and precious, and helpful, and wonderful attendants. But, but, the infinite blessing of the preaching of the grace of Jesus lies in this, that we come to know God, whom to know aright is life everlasting [John 12:50]. However these other blessings may endow us, and attend us, and follow us, yet the great blessing is that we have come to know and to love God, that we’ve been saved, that we’re children of the great King. For example, our Lord, in the tenth chapter of the Book of Luke, said, “Do not rejoice in this, that spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven” [Luke 10:20].
Now as we look over our world in turmoil, a world aflame as the great evangelist calls it, what is its final and primary and ultimate and immediate need? We need God. We need the redemptive grace of Christ. We need the new birth. We need to be saved [John 3:3, 7].
Were we able to bestow upon any cluster of miserable villages in the heart of central Africa, or to the islanders of the South Pacific, all of the wealth and glamour and riches of the foremost cities of Europe and America, or could we by some marvelous alchemy transform their savage chiefs into brilliant statesmen? Could we find the people discoursing learnedly on the philosophy of Plato or the latest philosophical fad of existentialism? And could they be found admiring the majestic genius of an Aeschylus? Or could they be writing discourses on the brilliant accomplishments of science? Or could they be creating a literature that in original grace and beauty rivaled that of a Shakespeare? Yet these things would be nothing compared to their introduction to the true God, that they might be saved, that they might be made fellow heirs in the kingdom of Jesus [Luke 12:32; Romans 8:17], and that they might be comrades in the Christian faith and religion [Ephesians 3:6].
For you see, whenever our purpose in reaching people lies in bestowing upon them more and more material gifts, you will find yourself in competition with some of the blackest of all of the deceptions ever perpetrated upon the human race and among peoples and nations. For there you are trying to bestow upon these darkened people gifts, and riches, and materialities, and soon they come to interpret life in terms of materialities. So their eyes and ears and hands will be open to others who come to offer them more gifts. And soon you find yourself, as America has found itself today, we are trying to buy out the souls and the hearts, the love and the friendship of nations, and we offer them, and we offer them, and we offer them! Then what we do can also be emulated, don’t forget, by these who come from another direction. And you will find the Soviet, and you will find the Chinese, and you will find the communist, and he is approaching these same peoples with, “We’ll give you more, and we’ll bestow upon you more, and all of the things that an America might give you, we will give you twice as much.”
And you find that tug of war among the nations of the earth today. And all of it is like building a house upon the sand. All of it ultimately lies in defeat, and disappointment, and ruin, and disaster, and despair. For you see, everything that America could wish for, everything that our beloved nation could hope for, God will give us as an attendant, as an addendum, if first we were to commit ourselves to the great message that God has placed in our hands.
I am surprised at this conflict for the minds of men to the farthest reaches of the earth. I never realized it. For example, in the heart of the jungles, where you would think that savage men were beyond all of the appeals of this modern civilized life, yet you will find there this same conflict going on, these ideologies reaching out for the support and the mind and the devotion of people, even in the heart of an illimitable jungle.
But one thing I found without exception, and always true: if the basis of the appeal is the gospel of the Son of God, all of the other offerings and inroads and deceptions are as nothing! When the man is won to Christ and when the tribe becomes a Christian, or when the nation is guided by great Christian, godly, Christly ideals and commitments, all of these other things are as nothing. They’re as dross. This is why, founded on the Word of God, as I began to think through the message of this morning, I decided to make it singular, The Motive of Missions: that men might be saved.
Now when we speak of the missionary enterprise, of course immediately our thoughts turn to the far away isles, to the six continents, to the seven seas, which is correct and true. But there are no frontiers to the missionary appeal today. They’re down our streets. These battles are fought in our cities and among our people! They’re on our college campuses. There is no city, or town, or tribe, or state, or people, or nation outside of the pale of the missionary appeal today. It is everywhere, everywhere. And of course, the earnest supplication of the Spirit of God would be that we make primary and focal and fundamental always this greatest of all reasons: that we might come to know God [Ephesians 1:15-21].
I think of the professional men in our congregation, and there are so many of them. A physician; here is a doctor and he has to do with anatomy, that’s correct. He has to do with physiology, that’s right. He has to do with body chemistry and metabolism, and in how many ways is he taught. But, but, always the great commitment of the physician should not be in matters merely of the scientific learning of anatomy or metabolism; but the great commitment of his life ought to be that I might help people. “This is my son who is sick. Dear doctor, we need your kind hands.” Or, “This is my family, this is my wife, my husband, my father, my mother. Now doctor, help us, and we trust you for it.” And the great genius of his life ought to be committed to that overshadowing and primary motive; my dedication of life is to minister, to help!
Same way about the lawyer. He lives in a world of retainer’s fees, and books, and statutes, and courts, and laws, but the great commitment of his life ought to be to defend the innocent and to help people in the maze of the complexities of this modern world. Same way with the politician. A politician has to be elected, and he has to get votes, but the great commitment of his life should be for the corporate good! Same way about a businessman. A businessman has to do with profits and with money, that’s right, but the great motive in a businessman’s genius ought to be this, “I have a part in creating wealth, in creating employment, jobs for people.” And that’s why these things ought not to be squandered, and taken lightly, and wasted, and dissipated. For one of the foundational principles of fine life and living is that a man work, and take care of his home and his family, and not be beholden to largess on the part of others. And businessmen have an incomparable opportunity to dedicate themselves to those high and worthy motives; not just money, but this represents people, and jobs, and the creation of wealth that blesses and lifts up the standard of a nation.
Now I’ve mentioned those things just to illustrate. So in the life of a congregation, and so in the life of a people, and so in the life of a denomination with all of the blessings that accrue from the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God; yet back, and over, and above, and beyond all the other things ought to be this: as Paul said in Romans 10:1, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved.”
Now may I speak of that in another way? Whenever the ministry turns aside from that primary motive, and whenever the ministry of Christ gives itself to these secondary accouterments and advantages, without exception, it always fails and dies. Without exception it dies! When I was a young man, a youth, when I was a young fellow, I belonged to the First Baptist Church in Amarillo. And the pastor of the church was a distinguished minister by the name of Herbert Whiting Virgin. And in those days he was called to be pastor of the North Shore Baptist Church in Chicago, a member of the Northern, now they call it the American Baptist Convention.
And in the after years, as a minister, I heard Dr. Virgin address a distinguished assembly. He had been appointed the chairman of a committee to survey all of the churches of the Northern Baptist Convention, and to give a report at the end of the year to the convention. He had just made the year’s survey, and he had just delivered his report to the convention, and he was making this address soon after. And in that address, Dr. Virgin said, “After our year of intensive study and visitation, there is one thing that we have found, and it is this, that wherever a minister of Christ preaches a social gospel, his ministry fails!” In a day when the whole church, and practically all of its ordained ministry, is giving itself to a social gospel and a social message, the great pastor said, “We have come to one conclusion universally: wherever a man gives himself to the ministry of a social gospel, he fails!” And then he illustrated it. He said: “We visited one of the great churches of America. It has one of the most beautiful and spacious buildings. Its pastor is a far-famed minister heard nationally on the radio, and even its assistant pastor is nationally famous, lecturing, writing, speaking.” He says, “They have a budget of several hundred thousands of dollars, and an adequate staff. Yet,” he said, “when we visited the church and surveyed its work for our report, we learned that in one solid year, this past year, they had three conversions,” three conversions! You might think about that when you read some of the pronouncements of the National Council of Churches in America.
These people, these people do nothing to turn a lost nation God-ward. But they dabble, and they piddle, and they meet, and what they say and what they meet about could be better said and better done by most any committee appointed by the Senate of the United States government. I am just avowing on the basis of the Word of God that our call, and our commitment, and our great motive lies in an altogether different world. Ours is to win men to Jesus! And when we do that, ten thousand other things are solved, and immediately glorify God in their solution.
I’ll never forget, in Bangkok, there were two elderly English women who made an engagement with Dr. McCall, who was then executive secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention, and me. And I was astonished at the reason for the conference. Those two English Baptist missionaries were the last of their tribe, the last of their kind. They had had in days and years past, they had had a flourishing mission in Thailand, in Siam. God blessed it, and souls were being saved, and churches were being built, and God was blessing their efforts. Then came this modern liberalism, and the dilution of the gospel of the Son of God, and this eclectic philosophy that what is better for us is that we take the best out of Buddhism, which is the national religion of Thailand, and the best out of Hinduism, and the best out of Mohammedanism, and the best out of Christianity, and eclectically put it together. “And let us fan,” which they love to say, “let us fan the divine spark in every man; but let us be done,” they said, “with this gospel that men are lost without Christ [1 John 5:12], and only in the blood in the Son of God can our sins be washed away [Revelation 1:5]. Let us be done with butcher-shop religion, and religion of the shambles; and let us preach the gospel of enlightenment and acceptance and of eclecticism.”
That came, and the mission died, and it died, and the churches died, and no more missionaries were sent out. And finally those two English women, aged, said to us, “Won’t you take our properties, and won’t you take our mission, and won’t you take our efforts; for we are the last, and there are none to receive from our hands.” Why, you want to cry, lament, wring your hands. “Wherever,” said Dr. Virgin, “that there is a minister who preaches a social gospel, his ministry fails.” And that’s on the foreign field as well as here at home.
Now we must hasten. In the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God, there is a marvelous thing that happens in the earth. There is created a new international, a new body, a new fellowship. It has several characteristics. I name just two or three as time would permit. One: we have a union in prayer; a unitedness in prayer, a oneness in supplication. Wherever, wherever, wherever you see people who love God and who name the name of Christ, there will you see a people bowed in prayer at the throne of grace. It is a universal concomitant. There’s no exception. It’s in this church. It’s in the next church. It’s in this nation. It’s in the next nation. It’s on this continent. It’s in the next continent. It’s beyond these seas. It’s to the isles. Wherever you find a people who have been won to Christ, there you will find a people bowed down in intercession and in supplication before the Lord God, praying for the conversion of the lost, asking God’s blessings upon the appeal for the lost.
Walking along one time, I came across a little doll house of a church, the smallest one I think I have ever seen. I walked inside to see what kind of a situation it presented. I reached up with my hand and I could touch the ceiling. I spread out my two arms, and I could almost touch the wall on either side, the smallest I had ever seen. It was plainly a church, had a little cupola on it, had two tiers of seats, had a pulpit and a rostrum. And I looked and I wondered, “What kind of a church could this be, so tiny and so very small?” Back of the pulpit on the wall was a large printed piece, tacked up there against the wall. So I walked up there and looked at it. And I saw the pictures of about a hundred missionaries, many of whom I recognized. And then I saw the caption down here. They were in a week of prayer for foreign missions, and they were seeking to raise a gift for the missionary enterprise. And I had the strangest feelings as I stood in that little tiny doll house of a church, and thought through what these little cells for God, little fellowships for God, little churches for Christ, what they mean in the earth as they join hands with all of God’s people, interceding for the lost, that God might be moved in power to endow the message, and that people’s souls might be saved; a little thing, but oh, how significant and how meaningful, and how great in the sight of God. That’s one: a fellowship in intercession, a union in prayer.
Again, a unitedness in testimony and in witnessing, speaking, trumpeting, declaiming, declaring, preaching, inviting, testifying for the Lord God, for Jesus our Savior. One; they there, we here, but with the same message of glorious appeal! I don’t think I ever stumbled into anything that was sweeter or finer in my life than one time listening to a minister of another denomination. He said that in his pastorate he had a very wealthy lawyer who one day came up to him and said, “Pastor, the Lord has been unusually good to me. Would you have a suggestion of what I might do for my Lord?”
And the pastor said, just like a flash of inspiration from heaven, he immediately replied to the affluent lawyer, “I’ll tell you what you do. You get you a missionary and let him be your witness and your spokesman for Jesus on a foreign field. You do that.” It appealed to the man. And he chose a missionary to the Orient. My remembrance is it was in Korea.
And the pastor said the lawyer got a fine picture of his missionary, and he put the picture at the head of his bed. And every night when the lawyer knelt down by the side of his bed to pray, he prayed like this: “Now, dear Lord, as I go to sleep give me rest in the night. But as the sun begins to shine upon my missionary, bless my missionary as he witnesses for Thee in Korea.” Then the next morning, when the lawyer arose from bed, he would kneel by the side of his bed and pray, “And now, dear Lord, that it is night in the Orient, bless my missionary as he rests in sleep; and then dear Lord, bless me as I rise to witness for Thee this day.”
Oh, that just appealed to me! “While it is night here, and the sun is shining there, my missionary is witnessing for Jesus. And when it is night there, and he is resting, and the sun is shining here, bless my witness, Lord, as I speak words for Jesus.” How fine. How noble. How blessed! This is the creation of the fellowship of the faith of the Son of God, witnessing, testifying, speaking for God and for our Lord among all the peoples and nations of the world.
Let me speak of another: this sharing in the ministry, in the work, in the testimony, in the witness with our giving. Oh, dear people, you could not write it in syllable and sentence what it has meant to us, to a thousand, thousand churches, to a million, million people, the example of this glorious congregation in dedicating to our Lord a triumphant stewardship victory! It’s we, this is us; a part of me dedicated to God Sunday by Sunday by Sunday.
I began my preaching ministry in the days of the Depression. Most of our young people have no idea what a depression is like; people hungry, soup lines everywhere, and even your little church struggling and striving to try to help those who were almost helpless. Fine educated men, architects, engineers, walking up and down the streets seeking something, anything, anywhere by which they might earn bread. A depression; no money, no jobs, no work, despair and defeat, resignation written on every face, publicized in every paper, discussed on every radio, a depression. Cotton sell for five cents a pound; and those farmers whom I pastored take their fall crop, sell it, not have enough from it even to pay the grocery bill on which they had eaten the last year, then start again and the debt increase every year, until finally men just despair in hopelessness. A depression, a depression; I began my ministry at the beginning of the Depression.
And of course a depression is first felt in the church, in the house of the Lord. That’s where people first will cease to give. And in those dark days things were getting darker for our Baptist people, darker, darker. I remember a man at Baylor, one of our denominational leaders, describing the burden of Dr. Love, our executive secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, and his death and burial, and then describe the calling of Dr. Eugene Sallee from China to come and help with the work, and the burden so great, and he died, and described the burial of Dr. Sallee. Oh, the whole world seemed to be bathed in tears, and regret, and disappointment, and despair, and frustration, and defeat. In those days, I attended my first Southern Baptist Convention. It was held in our capital city of Washington D.C. in 1933. And it was filled with blue, and indigo, and tears, and defeat. The outlook was so very dark.
And in those days, and at that convention, there was presented the new foreign mission secretary, Dr. Charles E. Maddry. And he described in his address at the convention, he described a meeting he had with the five Richmond banks to which our Foreign Mission Board owed one million six hundred thousand dollars. To us it is a smaller sum. To us then it was an astronomical amount of money. And the mission board was going in debt every day, more and more. And those five banks in Richmond called the mission secretary and said, “You must pay this debt.” And Dr. Maddry said, “We have nothing to pay you with, nothing.”
“Then,” said the banks, “we shall throw you into bankruptcy and sell the assets of the board to cover as much of the debt as is possible.” And the mission secretary said, “Oh sir, that is disaster, and that would destroy the board! I have just come, I have just come, sirs, would you give me one year to try and see what we can do?”
And one of the bankers said, “Let’s give him an opportunity,” and the other four bankers agreed. And Dr. Maddry said that for twelve months our Foreign Mission Board was in the hands of friendly receivers. Then he closed that message with an appeal, and he was full of feeling, and emotion, and love for the Lord and this great work. He made an appeal that that year of 1933 that our people seek to have under God the finest foreign mission offering we had ever offered to Jesus, the Lottie Moon Christmas offering of 1933, that year.
I went back to my two little country churches, and that was the first time that I had made an appeal for the Lottie Moon Christmas offering, 1933, in the midst of the Depression. And it was not only I that made the appeal. I think every pastor across this land felt the burden and the weight of a like appeal. And you know the rest.
That year we had our finest, noblest, greatest response. Our people rose, as one man they rose. They saved the Foreign Mission Board. They staved off a tragic spiritual disaster. And from that day until this, the rising of the spiritual commitment of our Southern Baptist people has grown, and grown, and grown and would always grow if we were true to that great and fundamental and primary conviction.
There are things creeping into our churches, and there are things creeping into our denomination, and there are things creeping into our schools that make my heart and soul tremble. God can withdraw His blessing from us, just as He has withdrawn it from others who are dying. And you can see their churches die, and you can see their people die, and you can see their preachers die, and you can see their missions die, and you can see them perish in power from the face of the earth. Look at them. God would withhold the blessing from us and remove our candlestick if we turn aside from this tremendously meaningful, and main, and primary, and fundamental, and heavenly commission.
“Neither,” said Simon Peter, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” [Acts 4:12]. God bless our people, and our churches, and our denomination as we place first and above all this primary motive for our missionary evangelistic enterprise, that souls might be saved, that people might know God, that they might be brought to the Lord Jesus Christ.
And back of every song we sing, and back of every organization that functions, and back of every lesson that is taught, and back of every gift that is made, beyond every sermon that is preached, and every appeal extended, may it be that O God, bless this message, and bless this song, and bless this church, and bless this gift, and bless this missionary that people might come to know God. And this is the commitment that I know that lies deep as life itself, back of the energies, and the devotions, and the love of this dear church. And may God sanctify and hallow that holy dedication in His blessed name.
Now our time is gone, and we sing our song of appeal. And may the blessed Holy Spirit honor this message this morning, may God give us souls, even this hour, even this hour. Somebody you take the Lord Jesus as your Savior; come [Romans 10:9-10]. A family you, putting your life in the fellowship of the church; a couple, a youth, a child, as God shall say the word and make the appeal, press the invitation to your heart, come. In a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. There’s a stairwell on either side of the balcony, at the front and the back, and there’s time and to spare for you to come. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front. “Here I am, pastor, I make it now.” A family or you, while we pray and while we sing this appeal, make it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.