To Shine in a Dark Place
October 30th, 1966 @ 8:15 AM
TO SHINE IN A DARK PLACE
A LIGHT SHINING IN A DARKENING WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-30-66 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. May I say just a brief word about the service? This week, this coming issue of the Reminder, I have written an appeal in the "Pastor’s Pen." This eight-fifteen o’clock service has so grown until it is the largest service of the three that we conduct in the course of the Lord’s Day, which means there are many, many people – many, many people – who come to this service as their worship hour.
Now I have had a great flood of appeals, by letter, by telephone, by word of mouth that the service is broken and distracted when I am done preaching the sermon. There are so many people who break away from the hour, and this has been greatly augmented by our children following the example of our adults, with the consequence that the service, instead of being one of great spiritual climax, has become one of confusion.
Now we must remember that there are toward three thousand people here, and many of them are our wonderful visitors. And this 8:15 service must be as finely conducted as any of the other services of the church, and I will look for you to stay through that invitation. Then, at the end of the invitation, I will give you opportunity to leave, but no one is to leave until the invitation is complete. Then, after that, you will have opportunity to go to your Sunday school responsibilities.
Now, this past week I had an experience that I have never had before in my life. The stewardship committee and the several members of our church staff asked me a long time ago, almost a year ago, asked me if on the Sunday preceding our tithing demonstration week – – that Sunday – – if I would not prepare a message on our privileges and opportunities to share with God in the expansion of His kingdom in the earth in the hearts of men. "That Sunday, the one before we have our tithing demonstration week, would you prepare a message on our great stewardship responsibilities?"
So I immediately acquiesced. It would be a privilege to do so for my own soul’s good. I need the message, and I’m always the one more blessed than anybody who might ever listen, for I live through these things in my study. Well, I had prepared a sermon. I was preparing it in my mind, had been for a long time, on the second verse of the eighth chapter of 2 Corinthians, and had entitled it Abounding Riches. We had placed it on our bulletin board outside, we had printed it in the reminder, and it is in your program, and I had no other thought than to deliver that message this Sunday morning.
Then one night this week, I awakened about three o’clock in the middle of the night. And as I lay there, what seemed to me to be an angel spirit – – I have never had the experience before in my life – – what seemed to me to be an angel spirit came to me and took a passage of Scripture and expounded it to my amazed and startling mind, as though someone in the flesh had said, "Pastor, look at this passage. And you think it means this. It means this." And the angel spirit took that passage of Scripture and expounded it to my amazed and startled mind. I have read this passage a thousand times a thousand times. I have seen this passage a thousand times a thousand times. I memorized this passage when I was a boy, but I never had seen it before; I never had read it before.
What I thought was that in this Sermon on the Mount and in this passage, I thought that Matthew, the publican, the tax collector, who all his vocation and kept notes, I thought that Matthew had just gathered together the sayings of the Lord Jesus and had placed them here in what we call the Sermon on the Mount, disconnected: "he said this and this and this." Papias, who was the disciple of John when Polycarp was the pastor at Smyrna, one of the churches in Asia – a disciple of John, a convert of John, Papias was also a contemporary of Polycarp and was the pastor of the Asian church of Hierapolis just across from the Lycus River, just across the Lycus River from Laodicea, one of the churches of Asia.
Papias said that Matthew wrote the logia of Jesus in Aramaic. And either Matthew or someone took what Matthew had written, and we have our present Gospel; the first one of the four, the Gospel of Matthew. I had supposed, following that suggestion of Papias, that these passages in the Sermon on the Mount were just disconnected logia; sayings of Jesus that Matthew had written down during the course of the ministry of our Lord and had put them together in, as I said, what we call the Sermon on the Mount. And especially this passage, I thought, was disconnected: it had no sequence. "The Lord said this, then He turned to something else, and He said this. But the two had no particular relationship with one another." That’s what I thought.
That angel spirit said to me, "O, not so, not so! For it is one passage, and it has one meaning, and this is its meaning." I hadn’t thought of that passage in years, to speak of it, to preach of it. I had no idea of even referring to it in this service. And as I lay there about three o’clock in the morning, that angel spirit expounded to me the meaning of the Word of God. I got up, I wrote it down what he said to my mind, and this is the passage, and this is the exposition he made to me. In the sixth chapter of the Book of Matthew, verse 19:
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!
I have read it a thousand times. I have seen that passage a thousand times. I memorized that passage when I was a boy. I never saw any connection between the first part of it and the second part of it. I thought, as Papias suggested, that Matthew the publican, accustomed to writing notes, had just written down sayings of our Lord and had written them, placed them here together with no connection between the two. But that night lying there, that angel spirit took that passage, and laid it before me and said, "It is one thought. It is one passage, and it has one tremendous meaning, and this is it."
And as I listened to him speaking to my mind, expounding this word, this is what the spirit said to me: "treasures in earth and in heaven." The treasures in earth corrode, corrupt, or spoil by time, by age, and by death. And there is not one of us who is getting older but that realizes the thief of time that steals away everything we have in this earth. It is gone. However I may think to grasp it, hold onto it, facetiously as they say, "Take it with me," the day will come when my hand will be empty. I shall possess nothing of what I lay up in this world.
The moth corrupts, and the rust destroys, and the thief of time and age and decay take away treasures in this earth. But treasures in heaven, treasures in Christ, treasures in God abide forever. They are as immortal as we are. They are an inheritance, a riches, an abounding reward that God never takes away – – the treasures in earth, losing, dissolving; the treasures in God, in Christ, in glory, in heaven, ours forever and ever.
Then, the spirit continued as he spoke to my mind. The light, the lamp, luchnos, the lamp of understanding, again a duality: as treasures in earth that dissolve away, as treasures in heaven that abide forever, so the light of quickening understanding to see the light of a holy commitment to do. If the light shines and girds, and we see and we follow after a light single to the will of God and given to the will of God, to see and to understand, how glorious, how brilliant and how blessed! But if the lamp is darkened, and we are engrossed in the mammon, in the greed, in the selfishness, in the blindness of this world, how great is that darkness! Then the spirit says to my heart, "The Lord means to illustrate that." So he says, the light, the luchnos, the lamp of the body, the soma is the eye, the opthalmas; an ophthalmologist would be an eye doctor. The lamp of the body is the eye. The light, the lamp by which I see and follow after is the eye. And the Lord will apply this in the Scriptures physically, spiritually, and ecclesiastically – – all of this, the spirit teaching my mind as I lay there amazed and overwhelmed.
So the Lord takes the great truth and applies it first physically. The lamp of the body is the eye, and that eye can be filled with light and understanding, or that physical eye can be blinded and I can’t see. Spiritually, the lamp of the soul is the moral sensitivity, be able to distinguish between right and wrong, the conscience. And the eye can be single to God, or it can be double-visioned, trying to serve God and mammon or lost in the overwhelming power of mammon. And the lamp of the world is the church; the lamps that hold up the light of Christ. And the Lord, in the first chapter of the Book of the Revelation, was walking in the midst of the seven-branched lampstand. And He said, "And the lampstands are the churches, holding up the light of Christ before the world" [Revelation 1:20]. As in the glorious symbolism of the tabernacle, the seven-branched lampstand was all the light that there was. And it casts its light upon the glories of Christ: the table of showbread, Christ the bread of life; the golden altar of prayer, Christ our great mediator and intercessor; and the veil of the Holy Place, the flesh of our Lord, the body of our Lord offered as a sacrifice for our sins. The lamp shines and glorifies the atoning ministry and the intercessory ministry of our Lord.
Then He says, "If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" [Matthew 6:23]. If the lamp of the body goes out and we are blind, how impenetrable is that darkness; to grope in this world, the lamp gone out. If the lamp of our spiritual life is darkened, if we become calloused in soul, and in mind, and in thought, and in vision, and in dream, and in aspiration, our conscience dulled and calloused, the very spark of the life of God in us destroyed; how great is that darkness! And if the lamp of the light of the knowledge of God that burns in the church, that glorifies our glorious, blessed, living Lord, if that lamp goes out and it is dark, how great is that darkness.
And I thought of that old, old, ancient legend; the light of God burning in the churches of Jesus Christ. When the Lord died, and was buried, and ascended back to glory, the ancient story said that Gabriel met Him at the gates of heaven, and Gabriel said to the returning Prince of heaven,
O Master, how wonderful, how glorious to have You back home again. Master, we wept when You died, and cried when You cried, and were so expectant when You were buried. And we rejoiced when You rose from the dead and now have ascended back to heaven. But, Master, how many know that You died for their sins and are raised for their justification? How many know that You did it?
And the Master replied, "Gabriel, just a little handful, about eleven men in a company of a hundred twenty in the city of Jerusalem." Then Gabriel asked the Lord, "Master, how will all of the rest of the world know that You died for their sins and raised for their justification? [Romans 4:25]. How will the rest of the world know?" And the Lord replies, "Gabriel, I am depending upon them to tell the rest of the whole world." And Gabriel asks, "But Master, what if they fail? What if they fail?" And the Lord replies, "Gabriel, I have no other plan."
"And that," the spirit said to me, "is the meaning. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness. If the light fails to shine, if the lamp fails to burn, how impenetrable is that darkness," and illustrated it with the darkened eye: the lamp of the body gone out, the lamp of the soul gone out, without heart or sensitivity or conscience, and the light of the church gone out, a whole world plunged in impenetrable despair and gloom. "That," said the angel spirit to me, "is the meaning of the passage. It is not two disjointed, disconnected words of our Lord. It has the same meaning."
And the strength of our lives and the treasures of our hands are not to be spent or wasted in the ephemerals and the temporalities of this dissolving world, but they are to be used to make the light shine, make the lamp burn. The gift of the energy of my life, of the love and devotion of my heart, of the work and labor of my hand: may the light shine. Let it burn, the lamp in a darkening world.
Then the rest of the message, I followed after. Then, dear God, this church is a lamp. "Yes," says the Lord, "this church is a lamp." It’s to shine in a dark place, our church, a lamp to shine, to burn in a darkening world. First: it’s downtown and not suburban. The pattern of the churches of Christ in the whole earth is to resign these great teeming cities to the throne of Satan, the great mercantile establishments, and the financial empires, the mammon of the world. And the light of Christ has been allowed to die in these great cities. Shall it die here also? As Dallas gets larger and larger and grows and grows to be one of the great cities of the world, shall it die here also? Our church is a lamp. It’s a light in the heart of a great city. It is downtown.
Our church is a lamp, a great light for God. It is evangelistic and not liturgical. It has services in the evening. The lights are on at night on God’s day. It is evangelistic and not liturgical. It has invitation. It has appeal. It has visitation. It addresses its message to the soul and to the heart that men be converted and turned to God.
I don’t think ever in my life I was more depressed than one night, one Sunday in Zurich, Switzerland, the great cathedral there in which the reformer Zwingli preached, a little handful of people at a morning hour, then Sunday night; the city looked to me to be a Saturnalia, a Bacchanalia, a Libernalia. It could not have been more so had it been in the days of the Roman empire; across the way, across the way a skating rink jammed with all kinds of spectators and participants, and across the way an accordion band, and across the way a great big circus under a gigantic tent. And the whole town was one of pleasure and amusement on Sunday evening; and there in the midst, just across the way, that great towering cathedral church, dark like a dead mausoleum! I thought in my heart, "One man, and he may be a janitor; one man, and he’s just a caretaker, to turn on the lights in that church, and if nobody were there, he could be there," and that night I would have been there. But the light has gone out; liturgical, not evangelistic.
This church shines as a lighthouse of appeal for Christ! Missionary, this church is missionary, and not without care and concern and burden for the world; missionary. This last week in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I made an address to the state convention there. And in that address, I sought the best I knew how to stir our brethren up to the providences that are overwhelming this world. And in that address, I named a few ordinary, much publicized statistics. I was not saying anything one way or the other. I was just announcing some statistics about this world! The newspapers picked it up and thought I was declaring the doom and the end of the Christian faith. Oh no, God lives and Christ someday is coming again! The Lord shall split these heavens apart and come down and the very mountains shall flow down at His presence! But these things we ought to realize. Last year, on all the mission fields of the world, our Baptist people baptized thirty-five thousand souls and forty-nine million were born! Out of forty-nine million, we won thirty-five thousand: something like six one-thousandth percent. Our world is becoming pagan! One hundred eighty years ago, twenty-five percent of this population of the earth was evangelical Christian. Today it is eight percent, 1980 it’ll be four percent, in 2000 it will be less than two percent, and in the century beyond it lies in the intervention of God.
And a newspaper man called me and said, "What makes you think," I said, "Do you have a pencil there?" He said, "Yes." Well, I said, "Let’s figure just for a minute. Let’s take one of them, one of them. There are three billion people in this earth, three billion, and if eight percent of them are evangelical Christian, that means  million are evangelical Christian. Now," I said, "Where are you going to find  million evangelical Christians in this earth? You must include the entire population of the Anglican Communion in England. You must include the entire Lutheran population of Scandinavia, and even not two percent of the people go to church. And in Scandinavia it seemed to me it was less than that."
I said to the newspaper man, "My brother, I think the figure of eight percent is ten times already too large!" And those vast population explosions in China, and in India, and in Japan, and in Indonesia, and in Africa are beyond the pale of the Christian faith. They are non-Christian lands. My friend, if there were ever a time to shine, to burn for God, it is now! And the angel spirit said to me, "This is what I mean. This is what I mean: the lamp to burn."
Why, I have so much more to say. I haven’t time to say it. Maybe the spirit of what I am speaking now will bear beyond and for the rest of the message. There are those that would exalt to see us fail: the hosts of Satan, the indifferent, found in the attitude, cynical, of the communists, the atheists. The tragedy to me of Russia is not that the government has closed the churches. The tragedy to me in Russia is this: that the people could not care less. And what we do is publicly exposed. God meant it that way. Listen to the Lord, "Men do not light a luchnos, a lamp, and put it under a corn measure, but on a luchnia, on a lampstand. And a city on a hill cannot be hid" [Matthew 5:14-15]. How we fare will be publicly known. God intended it that way. The crucifixion of our Lord could have been private, but He was publicly executed, and so many people were there passing by it took three languages – Greek, Hebrew, and Latin – to announce the purpose of His execution. And when we are saved it is a public avowal, openly. And our Lord said, "Before you announce a great program, be sure you can carry it through. Men build a tower, and quit, and they say, ‘Look this man began, but he could not finish.’ Or a man goes to war and before he declares hostilities he had better sit down and find out if his army of ten thousand can overwhelm one of twenty thousand. So ye" [Luke 14:27-31].
It is easy to say, and to propose, and to announce, and to adopt; it is something else to do and to achieve. And that lamp, that light represents that achievement. When God adds us up, this is our prayers, and our devotions, and our commitments, and all that we are poured into that lamp, that lighthouse that shall bless the darkened corners of the earth.
Our little children, our teenagers, look at them; our young people, our young marrieds, our families, our needy, our seven missions, our great denomination as it wrestles against the forces of paganism and darkness in the earth. My brother, this is a time to shine, to burn, to glorify God. Do it. Do it. Do it.
Now while we sing our song, everybody praying, everybody praying, on the first note of the first stanza, come; come and stand by me. And then after God hath given us the harvest for this morning and this hour, we who have responsibilities can go to them. But now, this moment of prayer and of searching of soul, all of us praying together, waiting on God together; if the Lord bids you here, come and stand by me. Give your heart to Jesus. You and your family come, put your life in the church; or a couple, one somebody you, on the first note of the first stanza, come. And when you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. The Lord attends your way as you respond with your life in His blessed name, amen. Now let’s stand and sing.