The Unanswerable Question
January 8th, 1967 @ 8:15 AM
THE UNANSWERABLE QUESTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-8-67 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Unanswerable Question. I would like to preface, make an appeal for prayer, before I begin the sermon. At this time of the year, every year, I begin preaching through our state evangelistic conferences. Tomorrow I begin in Florida, and for a period of about five weeks, between Sundays I shall be preaching through these conferences. As Florida this coming week, Georgia, Mississippi, a convocation in Memphis, Tennessee, and one especially to be mentioned to you. When the Texas Evangelistic Conference convenes in Dallas, in our city, the night sessions will be held in the Memorial Auditorium. The day sessions will be held here in this great sanctuary. Monday night week, this coming week, the week we are now in, I will be preaching in Florida, but the next week, Monday night—that Monday night, that will be the sixteenth, will it not?—January 16, Monday night, I shall be preaching at the Evangelistic Conference in Texas in the Memorial Auditorium.
Now, the head of our department of evangelism, Dr. Freeman, expects our church to have at least a thousand people present that night. I asked the staff, “Shall we divide it up among ourselves and each one of our staff members be responsible for so many?” And they said, “Do not think of such thing as that. Just announce it and our people will be there.”
Isn’t that a fine response? “Just announce it, that is all you need to do, and our people will be there, more than a thousand of us.” The auditorium will seat eleven thousand, and they are confidently expecting it to be one of the high hours of our lives.
I am to give an invitation that night. It is a family dedication night, and if you can, that night, Monday week in the Memorial Auditorium at 7:30 o’clock, you be present, and God will give us infinite blessing and victory.
To continue reading where we left off in the first chapter, beginning in chapter 2:
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.
For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward;
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?
This is the unanswerable question: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3]. I have preached in times past on that text, addressing it to the lost, which is not a violation of the sentiment in the text. We do not violence to the word when we use it like that. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” like that rhetorical question that closes the opening of the sixth seal in Revelation 6:17: “For the great day of His wrath has come; and who shall be able to stand?”
But actually, if one preaches an expository message, following the meaning of the author, the question is not addressed to the lost at all. The Book of Hebrews is written to a little Jewish congregation somewhere in the Mediterranean world, possibly in Palestine, possibly in Judea. And they were about to apostatize, they were about to forsake the faith and to go back to their old Jewish traditions. And this letter to the Hebrews, called that in our Bible, was an appeal by the author, whoever he was, unknown to us—I think it was Apollos—but whoever he was, he was an Alexandrian Jew. He was eloquent, rhetorical. I suppose the most eloquent preacher who ever lived is this unknown author of the letter to the Hebrews. This is a sermon. It is beautifully outlined and marvelously wrought out, and it rises in sections from one peroration after another. An eloquent Alexandrian wrote it, and the only eloquent Alexandrian described in the Word of God is Apollos. But whoever wrote it, his appeal is to a congregation of Christian people not to forsake, not to neglect, not to disregard the great salvation which has been laid before us [Hebrews 2:3], set before us by the Lord God who made the world [Genesis 1:1-31].
“How shall we escape”—addressed to us, who are Christians, who belong to the church—”How shall we escape if we ameleō”—and a Greek word, almost always, when you see an “a” in front of it, it is called an alpha privative: it is a “not,” it is a denial. Like the Greek word theos, God, atheos would be one who did not believe in God. Gnostic would be one who knows; agnostic, gnostic is one who does not know. So ameleō actually means not to care, not caring—ameleō. And, as it is commonly used in the Greek language, in the Bible it will be with a meaning of “to disregard,” “to neglect.” “How shall we escape, if we ameleō, disregard, neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3].
I was speaking one time with a Holiness minister whom I revere and whom I admire. But as we spoke together, he was describing to me his life above sin—that since his sanctification, he did not sin; no longer was there any sin in his life; he lived above it in complete holiness—and I made an observation to him that I would still make. I said to him, “My dear brother, I admire your holy life and the doctrines that lead you to strive to live such, to be such. But in my humble judgment, aside from what the Word of God teaches, that in this life, in this flesh, we always have the drag of our depraved nature—I can’t think purely; I can’t live above mistake—but apart from what I know in the Word of God, there is something else that I know about your life and about all human life: you may not sin overtly, plannedly, thoughtedly, aforethoughtedly, you may not; but you cannot so live that you could rise above the sins of omission, neglect, lack. You cannot do it.”
There are things that we ought to do that we do not do. There are things that we do not do that we ought to do. And sometimes that sin of omission, we just do not do anything, may be more culpable, more fraught with moral turpitude than these sins we commit of volition, commission. May I illustrate that from the blessed Book? The sin of the one-talent man was only this: he didn’t do anything with it. God gave him a talent and he buried it, and the Lord called him “Thou wicked servant” [Matthew 25:15, 18, 24-26]. It was a gross sin—God gave him something to do; he just didn’t do it!
Another illustration of that: when the Gentiles, the nations, the people, have gathered before the Lord at the great judgment [Matthew 25:31-32]; when He sits on the throne of His glory and all of the Gentiles are gathered before Him, He will say to those on His left hand, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matthew 25:41], because—because—because they were out murdering or raping or violating? No! “Because I was hungry, and you fed Me not; I was sick, and you visited Me not; I was a stranger, and you passed Me by; I was in need, and you ministered not unto Me” [Matthew 25:42-43]. “Why, Lord,” they say, “when did we ever see Thee hungry, or naked, or thirsty, or sick, or in prison?” [Matthew 25:44]. And the Lord will say, “Insomuch as you did it not unto the least of these My brethren, you did it not unto Me” [Matthew 25:45].
The whole judgment there is on “just not doing”: neglecting, disregarding. Or, once again—we mustn’t take too much time with this, but we have got to see it because it is the basis of the man’s appeal [Hebrews 2:3]—the church at Laodicea [Revelation 3:14-22]: it was not violent, nor apparently was it particularly heretical, like as some of the churches, as at Thyatira [Revelation 2:18-29]. But they were neither cold, they were neither hot, and the Lord said, “You make Me so sick that I could spew thee out of My mouth” [Revelation 3:15-16]. They were just neutral, just gray, neither black nor white—they just did nothing. They were at ease in Zion, and they liked their role of soft appeasant luxury [Amos 6:1].
Now this is what lies back of this appeal. “How shall we escape, if we ameleō this great thing God has done for us?” [Hebrews 2:3]. And it lies before us, or it lies in our hands, or in our church, or in our hearts, or in our homes, and it is disregarded. It is not cared for, it is neglected, and the great purposes of God in us find neutralization, lack of implementation; it just dies in us. Now, to press the appeal as he would mean it, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3].
I cannot enter into the judgment of Almighty God for His people in the final assize in the great day of the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:10], so I shall not attempt that. But what we shall do this morning is to look at and to see the judgment of God upon a people here in this world and in our lives and in days past and in our day: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3]. God has commissioned us, placed it before us, laid it in our hands and hearts, and we do little or nothing about it; “How shall we escape?” Now there are things that I can observe in this life, in this world, and they are tremendous judgments of Almighty God. We shall speak first nationally. In the beginning of the Christian centuries, the emissaries of Christ went out, spreading out of Jerusalem around the civilized world. Some of them went down and around, through Africa and the great churches of Alexandria and Carthage and Hippo. Oh, they made history in the conquest of the Christian faith. And other emissaries, as the apostle Paul, went north and around to Antioch, to Ephesus, to Thessalonica, to Athens and Corinth, to Rome, and then pressed through Gaul up into Great Britain and unto us. And for those centuries there was great tremendous evangelization of the civilized world. Some of them even went down into India, and it looked as though the whole Orient might be won to Christ. But there was the back side of that great missionary movement that was completely and absolutely untouched, and that back side was the desert! The forbidding and bitter winds and sands and waste of the desert apparently were more than those first emissaries dared to conquer. And the back side of that world, the Arabian desert side of that world was untouched.
And in 600 AD there arose out of that back side, out of that forgotten, neglected and untouched desert, there arose the bitterest antagonist that the Christian faith has ever known, in Mohammed and his sword. And as you know, they finally destroyed all the churches of Africa and of Palestine and of Syria and of Asia Minor around through Constantinople, and had it not been for Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours, they would have overrun the entire Western world.
“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3]. Who would ever had thought that out of those waste and sands of the desert would come Christianity’s bitterest antagonist? Or the world in which we live—next to Mohammed, I would suppose, or maybe up here with him, is the bitter confrontation that the churches of Christ have with atheistic communism. Where does that come from? And the terrible toll in life and blood going on this minute in that awesome conflict and purge in Red China; the torture, the maiming, the bloodletting, and the bitterness of our foe at every conference table and at every war with Russia; any schoolboy knows that Russia was a pawn of the state church, which was used—which was used as a vast Gestapo and spy system against the people by the nobility. These things shock me when I see them, and I have a horrible repulsing when I look upon it.
But there is a truth in it, in that display of atheism in the great Kazan Cathedral in Leningrad. Walking in there I was confronted with an enormous bronze, and that bronze is this: a great, great heavy cross laid on the back of a peasant mother and her children. Could it ever be—could it ever be thought that the church, not a blessing, not an instrument of salvation, and its cross, not a sign of the triumph over death and the grave [John 3:14-15], and the remission of our sins [Colossians 2:14], and our hope of God in glory [Galatians 6:14; Philippians 2:5-13], but a burden, an unspeakable agony, crushing mothers and families and children to death? But that was the church, the state church in Russia. And every schoolboy knows that Joseph Stalin was sent to the seminary to learn to be a Russian priest.
And China, for two thousand years the emissaries of Christ barely touched the millions of the heathendom of China. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3]. Bullets and bombs, not Bibles and preachers! These things have in them a judgment of Almighty God.
We must hasten. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3]. I speak of it now urban-wise, city-wise. When I was a young fellow, the most famous of all of the gangsters in the world, in the world, came out of the Polack section of Chicago, and Chicago became famous over the earth as a city of murder and gang warfare.
A group of sociologists, a team of sociologists, entered into that Polack section of Chicago to give a report, to make a study, to find out why it was that out of that group came this multitude of criminals. And the copying of that is over the United States today, and we pay billions and billions in tribute every year to the rising graft of crime. Well, briefly, the sociologists made their study, scientifically analyzed their results, and came out with this very simple observation and report. They went back to Poland to see where those people came from. In Poland they were sturdy citizens. They were godly people. They were the very heart of the life of that nation. And they immigrated to America in order to get jobs in the industrialization that we have found in the city like Detroit and in the city like Chicago. And here they lived. Nobody cared about them. Nobody wanted them. They were strangers with a strange garb, and a strange look, and a strange visage, and a strange speech. So they lived in a ghetto, and everybody passed them by; and they worked in those assembly plants, and everybody passed them by; and their children grew up in the streets, and everybody passed them by; and out of that infestation came the crime for which Chicago in those years was so internationally known.
Our city of Dallas—when I came to the city of Dallas, one of the most publicized of all the criminal breeding areas in the world was here in our city, in West Dallas. Every day you would read a headline about Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker and Raymond Hamilton. I think Clyde Barrow killed seventeen men, most of them officers of the law. Out of that polyglot, forgotten section of the city came so much of the criminal element in our great Southwest.
It was in those days, if some of you can remember, that I was making appeal on the radio about help: not taking up alms and distributing things, but to go over there and try to preach the gospel and to win people to Christ and change their souls and hearts. And it was listening on the radio that Hattie Rankin Moore, being ill at home, hearing these appeals, came to see me and said, “I hear that you want to build a mission in West Dallas. I’ve come to offer you fifty thousand dollars for the mission.” And the rest of that story is like a romance in the Book of Acts.
This is God’s assignment for us. Let a part of our own city fester? No! This is our commission—preaching the gospel, bringing the light of the glory of God in Christ Jesus [2 Corinthians 4:6]. And if we don’t, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3].
I have spoken of it nationally. I have spoken of it urbanly, city-wise. May I now speak of it domestically, in our homes? As all of you know, or not knowing would suppose anyway, I grew up in rural areas, in a little bitty town, and the preachers that I listened to when I was growing up were country preachers, all of them. I never saw a city preacher until I was mostly grown. And when I began my ministry, for ten years I preached out in the country. That was the greatest and most blessed thing God ever did for me. And the way those country preachers would preach is indelibly impressed upon my soul. And the illustrations they used I will never forget. Now, this is one: this country preacher said that he was visiting in one of those beautiful rural homes—great broad acres around, blooded cattle, pigs, all the things that go with raising stock. So he said as he sat with the owner in the parlor, they call it, why, there came down the hallway a young woman, and she was met by a young man, and they went out together.
So the farmer, the ranchman, had been talking to the country preacher, the pastor, about his blooded cattle, and about his hogs and his pigs, and the pedigree, and oh! he was filled with it. So the preacher broke in and said, “Who is that girl?” And the farmer, the ranchman said, “Why, she’s my daughter.” And the preacher said, “Well, who is the young man that’s come for her?” And the ranchman said, “I don’t know. I don’t know who he is.”
Well, the preacher said, “Well, where are they going?” and the ranchman said, “I don’t know where they are going.” And the preacher said, “Well, what are they going to do?” and he says, “I do not know”.
And he kept on asking the ranchman, the livestock man, the things about his daughter, and in each instance the man had no idea. “I don’t know.”
And the preacher brought home his point: that the ranchman and the father knew intimately about every one of those blooded animals; the pig, and the boar, and the sow, and the bull, and the cow, and the calf, and kept records. But he had no idea about his own daughter; where she was, what she was doing, whom she was going with.
And when he got through preaching it—this has been forty, fifty years ago; still it’s as vibrant and impressive on my mind as when I heard him deliver the message; and how true that is with so many of us, so many of us. We are engrossed and we are busy! “How shall we escape?” An unanswerable question—you don’t have an answer, if we neglect so great salvation [Hebrews 2:3].
And this is the commonest of all of the sins of our families. These children, oh, oh! There should be a marked dedication on the part of our people to rear them in the love and nurture and admonition of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. Time to bring them to Sunday school, time to read God’s Word with them, time to go over the lesson with them, time to pray with them, time to teach their little minds of the glory and the greatness of the God who saves us. And our record is one of dereliction and forgetfulness.
We must hasten. I speak of it now in our personal lives. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” [Hebrews 2:3]. You know, I debated a long time and finally came to a decision about it last night. There is a family in this church that I wanted to tell you about, but I thought, “No, I must not do that,” so I am going back into my former pastorate. This is so common a thing, and I see it so much; so I am going back before my pastorate in Dallas. I’m going back to my former pastorate.
The tax assessor and collector in the county, one of the finest men you could ever know, his wife in our church and their children in our church—and when I’d see that fine man, he would say, “Yes sir, preacher, I am coming down that aisle, I am, and you are going to baptize me, you are, and I’m going to help you build up the house of God and witness in this; yes sir, I am.”
And, of course, it was some other day, some other convenient time, someday. And he was stricken, and I went to the hospital, and the doctor says he has just so many hours to live; he had a severe heart attack. So I sit down by his side, and once again, that lamentation, and crying, and saying, “Now, preacher, the memorial service will be held in the church—that’s where my wife would want it to be held. And you tell the people for me that I intended to go down that aisle and give my heart publicly to Jesus; and I intended to be saved; and I intended to be baptized; and I intended to help you in the church—but I cannot. And you plead with those people for me and in my name and for my sake, you plead with those people for me. If a man is deciding, tell him to decide now, and if a man is going to serve God, plead with him to serve God now. Do it and make my memorial service an appeal to those who are present. What they do for God, do it now, do it now..
And, of course, I did my best to make the appeal. How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? [Hebrews 2:3]. The time is limited, the days are numbered, and what we do, we must do now. So get ready, gird up your loins, lift up your feet, bare your arms, let’s go! Let’s start, let’s commence, let’s do, and see God bless us.
Should that be you in your life, come this morning; take Jesus as Savior. Coming into the fellowship of the church, putting your letter with God’s people, however the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, come now. On the first note of this first stanza, come. In this balcony round, down one of these stairways; on this lower floor and into the aisle, down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come. I make it now, I make it now.” Do it. Do it. A family, a couple, one somebody you; while we sing this appeal, make it now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
I. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so
great salvation?”(Hebrews 2:3)
A. In the past I have
preached this text to the lost(Revelation 6:17)
B. Exegetically it is
addressed to the church, the saved
Author is speaking to a church that is at a standstill, proposing to apostatize
II. He brings up the subject of neglect
A. Ameleo – not
to care for, to disregard, neglect
B. Usually we
categorize sin in terms of doing something
greatest derelictions may be found in not doing something
a. Holiness minister
arguing with me (Romans7:19, 24)
Lord had much to say about that sin of omission(Luke
11:42, Matthew 25:14-26, 31-46, Revelation 3:16)
III. Impossibility of escape from loss,
tragedy, when our great salvation is neglected
years the Arabian Desert neglected – out of it came the sword of Mohammed
established church in Russia
thousand years barely touching the Orient
of the neglect of the Polish in Chicago came the criminal assault on society
that astonished the world
Dallas was a festering cesspool of the forgotten and neglected
a. Hattie Rankin Moore
– gave money to build chapel there
West Texas rancher prided himself on his cattle; had no idea who his daughter
was going out with
1. Husband refused church
his whole life; on deathbed promises to come