To Shine in a Dark Place
October 30th, 1966 @ 10:50 AM
TO SHINE IN A DARK PLACE
A LIGHT SHINING IN A DARKENING WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-30-66 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled A Light Shining in a Darkening World. Our stewardship committee and then the members of our church staff made a request of me many months ago. They said this year we are asking our people to enter into a tithing demonstration, and the first Sunday in November, which will be this coming Sunday, we shall ask all of our people to give a tenth of their income for that week. And we shall add it up, and then at the evening service, we shall announce how God has blessed us.
Then they made the request of me, "Now the Sunday before that tithing demonstration day, will you prepare a stewardship message and deliver it at the morning hour?" I was glad to promise to do so. So intermittently, as the days passed, I thought of this service and this hour and finally selected a text, 2 Corinthians chapter 8, verse 2, and announced a subject, Abounding Riches, which is on our bulletin board outside and which is printed in the program this morning.
Then I had an experience in the nighttime this week that I never had before in my life. I awoke about three o’clock in the middle of the night. And it seemed to me that an angel spirit took a passage of Scripture and laid it before me. I could see the passage as I lay there in the middle of the night, and the angel spirit expounded to my mind the meaning of that passage. I had read it a thousand times a thousand times, but I had never read it. I had seen it a thousand times a thousand times, but I had never seen it. And the angel spirit took that passage and laid it before me and explained to me in the middle of the night the spiritual connotation, and significance, and exegesis, and meaning of that passage.
The passage is this, one that I memorized when I was a boy. I could say it any time, any hour, any place. Yet, I never saw its meaning until the angel spirit revealed it to me: spoke it to me in the middle of that night: Matthew chapter 6, beginning at verse 19, in the heart of the Sermon on the Mount:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal;
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!
Never before had I seen any connection, or any common denominator, or any continuing thought between those two passages. "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven," that to me was one passage. Then this was another, "The light of the body is the eye; if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" I never saw any connection between the two.
And I had a reason to suppose that there was no connection. Papias who was the contemporary of Polycarp, both of them were converts and disciples of John, the sainted apostle, the beloved apostle. Polycarp was pastor at Smyrna, just above Ephesus. And Papias was pastor of Heiropolis, just across the Lycus River from Laodicea, churches in the Roman province of Asia. Papias said that Matthew the tax collector, the publican, Papias said that Matthew wrote the logia of Jesus in Aramaic.
And then higher critics from that ancient day to this have always supposed that either Matthew himself or some other inspired writer took the logia – – the sayings of Jesus that Papias referred to – – and incorporated it into the Gospel of Matthew, as we have it today. So I just suppose as I read this passage that Matthew had done as Papias suggested. He had written down in Aramaic, in the language that Jesus spoke, the sayings of our Lord and that they were incorporated in one central group, chapters 5, 6, and 7 in Matthew that you call the Sermon on the Mount.
And I just supposed following the suggestion of Papias that this was a saying of the Lord, and Matthew had written it down, made a note of it. Then this was another saying of the Lord, and Matthew had written it down, made a note of it. And put them together here in a collocation, in a pericope that you call the Sermon on the Mount. It never entered my mind as I read this, as I memorized it, that there was any connection between the two. But that night this last week, in the middle of the night, that angel spirit laid that passage before me and said, "This is what it means," and delineated it, verse at a time, sentence at a time, meaning at a time.
And I could just see it there in my mind and understanding what the spirit was saying unto me. It’s the only time in my life I have ever had any deep illumination from God like that. I hadn’t thought of this passage. I haven’t preached on this passage in years. It was the last intention in my purpose to speak of it this morning. But in the middle of the night the whole message was laid before me. And now may the same holy spirit help me as I repeat what He in my heart revealed to my mind.
First of all: the Spirit speaks of the treasures in earth and the treasures in heaven. One of loss, tragic loss, and especially if they are loved, if they are clung to, if that is all that we have, treasures in earth. Then He speaks of treasures in heaven, in God, in our Lord, eternal, unfading. And there’s not one of us who grows older but who is increasingly sensitive to the loss of earthly treasures. The thief of time steals them away. There never was yet a man of substance or of wealth who took with him any treasure in this earth. When he dies, his hands are empty. And when he is laid in a grave, his hand is empty. Treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt and corrode and where thieves of time and of age and finally of death steal them away; this is the treasure of loss.
There are treasures of light, and of glory, and of heaven, and of God, where no thief of time and where the passing of the eons, where age cannot destroy or rob or deny; those two treasures. Then the following passage carries through that same idea. It is one passage. There is a lamp. It is translated here light, luchnos, luchnos, lamp. There is a lamp. And in that light, there can be a quickening understanding to see, and there can be a holy commitment to do.
And the Lord, having told us that there is possibility of infinite poverty and loss, of thievery in what we have in this world; and the Lord, having told us that there is also infinite possibility for eternal reward, and blessing, and light, and glory and in a world that is yet to come; then He speaks of the lamp that can give light and understanding to the mind, that we see; and a holy commitment, that we do; and avows that if that light shines, and our minds’, hearts’, souls’ understanding is single unto God, how wonderfully brilliant, glorious, iridescent is that light! But if the lamp of our souls, of our hearts, of our minds, of our lives is darkened, then the whole soul and the whole life gropes in blindness and despair. For if the lamp that is to give light and understanding is darkened, ceases to burn, how great is that darkness!
Then the Lord illustrates it in three ways: first, physical; and second, spiritual; and third, ecclesiastical. The first illustration, the basic illustration to teach us is physical. The light, the luchnos, the lamp of the body, the soma, is the ophthalmos, the eye; the lamp of the physical life is the eye. With the eye we see, and we walk, and we read, and we understand. With the lamp of the eye we see. And the possibility of that lamp can be twofold. It can be bright or it can be blinded and dark.
Second: spiritual; the lamp of the soul is the conscience; the sensitivity for moral righteousness to distinguish between right and wrong. And if the lamp of the soul is bright and burning, then we have understanding to see and to follow after, if the lamp be single unto God. But if the lamp be evil, if the light of God in us be darkened and calloused and blinded, then the soul has lost the lamp of the light of God.
Then: ecclesiastical; the lamp of the world is the church. It holds up on its lampstand, it contains in its bowl the light that shines in the earth. In the first chapter of the Revelation, the Lord Jesus was seen walking in the seven-branched lampstand. And the [Lord] said that the lamps are the churches holding up the light of Christ [Revelation 1:7]. As in the glorious tabernacle, the seven-branched lampstand shown cast light and glory upon those symbols of Jesus our Lord. The table of showbread, the bread of life is He. The golden altar of prayer and incense, our great mediator and intercessor is He, and the veil of the inner sanctuary, the life of His flesh rent, offered in atoning grace to God. All of it was lighted by the glory of the seven-branched lampstand. And those lampstands holding up the light that glorifies Christ in a dark world are the churches of Jesus Christ.
Now, there is a possibility that the lamp in the physical life can be darkened; and if it is darkened and we grope in blindness, how impenetrably dark is life! There is the possibility that the lamp of the soul can be darkened. And if the lamp of the soul be darkened and we lose our sensitivity to God, how great is that darkness! And there is a possibility that the lamp of the church be darkened; and if the light of the glory of God that is to shine in a darkened world in the church be darkened, how great is that darkness! There is no other way. There is no other plan. There is no other wisdom. There is no other elective purpose in God for the light of the knowledge of Jesus Christ to be propagated, and to be mediated, and to be preached, and to be made known in the earth but in the burning and the shining of the glory of God in the churches of Jesus Christ. There is no other plan. There is no other way.
An ancient, ancient story, I suppose this must have been repeated in the centuries of the long, long ago, describes the return of our Lord to heaven after His passion in the earth, after His burial. And upon His ascension, coming back into the glories of heaven, He was met in the beautiful city of God by the angel Gabriel. And after Gabriel had welcomed back to the hosts of heaven their crowned Prince the Lord Jesus, Gabriel asked the Lord, "Lord, tell us, tell us, how many know that You died for the sins of the world? We wept with You on that cross. We sorrowed over that tomb. We rejoiced in Your glorious resurrection, and now we welcome You back to heaven. But Master, how many know that You died for their sins and were raised for their justification? How many know?" And the Lord replied, "Gabriel, just a little band, eleven men in a company of one hundred twenty in the little church in Jerusalem."
"But Master, how shall they all know, the whole earth know? How shall the earth know?" And the Lord replied, "Gabriel, I depend upon them to tell the good news of the gospel of the grace of God, that I died for their sins, that I was raised for their justification [Romans 4:25]. I depend upon them." And Gabriel said, "But Lord, what if they fail? What if they fail? What if Peter and John and Matthew and Bartholomew, what if they fail? Then what, Lord?" And the Lord replies, "Gabriel, Gabriel, I have no other plan." There is no light purposed of God to shine in this darkened world, save the light of the seven-branched lampstand of the household and faith of God, the churches of the Lord.
And the purpose of the passage ultimately: our treasure, the treasure of our lives, the treasure of our hands, the treasure of the love and the devotion of our souls, all are to be poured into the flame, into the fire, into the burning for our blessed Lord. Let the light shine in the earth. How many times have I heard a young minister, fervent, devoted, pray, "O God, let me burn out for Thee." Then once in a while I will read the testimony of a great and sainted missionary as he labors among his people, "O God, let me burn out for Thee, my life consumed, my soul, all of me Lord on the fire, on an altar, flaming upward, God-ward, heavenward." And if the light doesn’t shine and if the lamp ceases to burn, "If therefore the lamp that is in thee be darkness," how great, how impenetrable is that darkness! [Matthew 6:23].
And then to apply that message, this church, this church is a lamp of God to shine in a dark place. This church is a chosen lampstand of the Lord, holding up the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 4:6]. This church is a lamp to burn and to shine for God, fed, the flame fed by the love, and prayers, and devotion, and gifts, and offerings of our hands, pouring our very lives into its witnessing ministry.
Why do I speak especially of this church? For several reasons: one, it is downtown and not suburban. It is downtown. And the pattern of churches of the lamps of Christ in the whole earth, not just in America, in the whole earth, the pattern of life is for the lamp, for the light, to die, to be quenched and darkened in these great, great cities. The churches, the lamps of God that ought to shine, move out to more salubrious climes, move out where it is easier, and they leave the great heart of these downtown cities to Satan’s throne. These vast financial empires, these great merchandising institutions; the heart of America, as the heart of every nation in this earth, is its cities. And as the city goes, so goes the nation.
And the city is found in its draw, and in its march, and in its moving in the great central district. And to pass it by and look; there is a great light for a merchandising concern, and here is a great light that shines for a great financial empire, and here are magnets in their work guiding the political fortunes, the economic fortunes, the social, the educational, fortunes of the world in the city! But there’s no light for Christ. It has died. It has become darkened. And as the city grows and grows and grows, the light of Christ becomes feebler and further.
O God, there never was a great city from the days of Nimrod’s Babylon to this present Dallas, there never was a great city but that needed a great lamp in the heart of it, a great lighthouse in the center of it. And to leave the heart of the city to the throne of Satan without a witness and a testimony is unthinkable, unimaginable! God has made us a lighthouse, a lamp to shine in the heart of this great city.
Again, this church is a lamp, a lighthouse for Jesus into which the treasures of our soul and the fruit of our hands are to be poured because it is evangelistic and not liturgical. It has services at night, open at night. And its message is one of invitation and visitation and appeal. I can so well feel now the oppressiveness of despair that flooded my soul as I walked one Sunday evening through the streets of Zurich, Switzerland, the greatest, largest industrial commercial city of Switzerland. A beautiful city, but one as all of the cities of Europe, that takes Sunday and uses it for a Bacchanalia, a Saturnalia, a Libernalia.
There in the very heart of Zurich is the great cathedral in which Zwingli the reformer preached; and there today, little handful of people. And then at night, and at night, Sunday night, just across the way, as I walked among the people, there was an accordion band marching up and down and entertaining the throngs on the street. And here was a skating rink surrounded by a throng on every side. And here was an enormous circus under an enormous tent. And the people were there by the thousands, drinking and laughing and merriment and entertainment. And just beyond, that great enormous church cathedral that had in its halls resounding one of the great voices of a great preacher, and dark like a dead, dreary mausoleum! I thought, "It would take just one man, and he maybe a janitor, to turn on every light in that building; and if there were nobody there, the janitor that turned it on would be there." And that evening I would have been there. There’d have been two of us there at least. But there’s no purpose, there’s no heart, there’s no commitment, there’s no thought, and the church is dark, and the lamp has gone out!
Missionary, missionary and not without care for the world; our church is downtown, not suburban. Our church is evangelistic and not liturgical. We don’t go to church in the morning, and get through with whatever formalities are scheduled in a book for the day, and then go and forget it. It is a church of invitation, and appeal, and prayer, and evangelization. It is missionary and not without concern for the earth.
This last week, speaking at a state convention in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I recounted in an attempt to stir up our brethren to some of the great, colossal challenges of God in the world in which we live; I quoted, as a matter of fact, some of the statistics of this modern day, of this present moment. And some of the newspapers picked it up and published them in the dailies of the land. To me, to me, they were just plain figures, just statistics of this present hour. But to the newspaper people who picked them up, they were astonished and wanted to know if I was predicting and prophesying the doom of the Christian faith and the loss of our hope and prize.
Why, my brother, God lives, Christ reigns, and someday we shall see Him split that sky wide open, and come down, and the very mountains shall flow unto Him. But the statistics were just reflective of our present world. This is one of them: last year on all of our mission fields, we baptized thirty-five thousand souls, thirty-five thousand. But in that same year on those same mission fields, forty-nine million were born. An unlettered, third year boy in school could take a pencil and see what is happening to this world. Thirty-five thousand we win among forty-nine million that are born. Then another statistic: one hundred eighty years ago, twenty-five percent, one fourth of the world’s population was evangelical Christian; one hundred eighty years ago, twenty-five percent. Today it is eight percent. By 1980 it shall be four percent. By the year 2000 it shall be less than two percent; and in the twenty-first century, unless God intervenes, unless God intervenes, "If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" [Matthew 6:23].
And one of those newspaper men called me and said, "So you say that eight percent, what makes you think eight percent?" Well, I said, "Do you have a pencil there?" He said, "Yes." Well, I said, "Just write it down. There are three billion people in this world, three billion people. There are more than three billion people. There are three billion people in this world. Take eight percent of three billion people. It will come to  million. And when we say there are [240 million] evangelical Christians in this world, that includes all of the Anglicans in the English population, not two percent of whom go to church. That includes all of the Lutherans in the state churches of Scandinavia, not two percent of whom go to church, and on, and on, and on."
And I said to the newspaper man, "If I were giving this statistic as I think it actually is, I would not say eight percent of this world now is evangelical Christian. I would say it is maybe one tenth of that!" The darkness, the darkness, the darkness, the gloom of this vast paganization, secularization of this earth is almost unbelievable! Think of the millions of the exploding population of China. Think of the millions of exploding population of India, of Japan, of Indonesia, of all of those countries in Africa, all of whom are non-Christian and outside the pale of the Christian gospel. I was just trying to say to my brethren in Oklahoma that now is a time to shine! My brother, if we don’t, if we don’t, the darkness, the darkness of this pagan world shall overwhelm us.
Things are so different from what I had thought they were when I was a boy. I thought the world was white when I was a boy. I have learned it is almost all colored. The white population of the world is a small minority. When I was a boy, I thought the whole world was Protestant, evangelical. We had two little churches in our town, a Baptist and a Methodist church. As I grew older, I came to see what of Christianity there is, is mostly Orthodox Greek or Roman, one or the other. And to my infinite sorrow, as I came to be older, I learned that, among the billions, the billions of the earth, our Baptist people number about twenty-five million. I tried to figure out, is it one one-thousandth percent? And the percentage declines, declines, declines, not only for us but for the whole Christian world. I’m not a prophet of gloom, and I’m not speaking words of despair. I am just saying that this is the time of all times for God’s lamp to burn, to shine!
And may our lives and our souls feed that flame, Lord. Here am I. Use me. Bless me. Help me, Lord, and the minister to speak in power. God, anoint his lips. Make him, make him, make him wonderfully effective for Thee, Lord. And God bless these missionaries who witness on other fields. And the Lord bless this church in its ministry to little children, to teenagers, to young marrieds, to our homes and families, to the lost of this city. And the Lord prosper and bless me as I support them in love, and devotion, and prayer in tithe, in offering, in gift, in attendance, in intercession. Lord, let me too burn out for Thee!
Our time is already gone. Oh, there’s so much more I wish I had opportunity to preach! But that’s the substance. This is no day to be discouraged, or to quit, or to let down; this is God’s day for us. And as a preacher said one time as he faced the responsibilities of a whole pagan world, he said, "Let us thank God that He matched our souls against this hour." And we shall be like that. God’s name be praised that He set us to burn and to shine like a lamp in this darkening world. Help us, Lord, to burn and to flame and to shine for Thee!
Now while we sing our song of appeal, somebody you, give himself to Jesus. A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church, a couple, a child, a youth, "Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children. We’re all coming today." Or just one somebody you, while we make this appeal and sing this song, on the first note of the first stanza, come. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming, "Here I am, Lord. I give that preacher my hand. I give my heart to Thee." There’s a stairwell on either side, front and back for you in the balcony, and there will be time and to spare in your coming. Make it today. Make it now, on the first note of this first stanza, come. Do it. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
IN A DARK PLACE
A. A different sermon
between treasures in earth and heaven, and the lamp of understanding (Matthew 6:19-23)
II. Lamp of guiding, understanding
A. Physical – lamp
of the body is the eye
B. Spiritual –
lamp of the soul is moral sensitivity
– lamp of the world is the church (Revelation
D. If darkened, how
great is that darkness! (Romans 4:25)
of our lives to be poured into burning flame for God (Matthew 6:23)
III. Our church lamp in a darkened world (2 Corinthians 4:6)
A. Downtown in a
D. Statistics of our