Christian Conviction Concerning Christ
March 31st, 1968 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-31-68 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 Conviction Concerning Christ. In the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, 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]. There is no other way to be saved except in Jesus Christ. This is the background and the framework of the message that is preached this hour: Christian Conviction Concerning Christ.
First, we speak of Christianity as it was presented to the world in the first century as it confronted the Roman Empire. The commissions of Christ definitely defined and set the Christian faith as a missionary and a converting religion. It is that above everything else and all other else. Christianity is first of all missionary and converting; and if it is not missionary and if it is not converting, it is not Christianity. This can be seen in the Great Commission of Christ Himself. In Matthew chapter 28, "Go ye therefore, and make disciples" – make Christians – "of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" [Matthew 28:19-20]. The great commission as it is recorded in the sixteenth chapter of Mark: we are to "Go. . . and preach the gospel to every creature" [Mark 16:15]. The great commission recorded in the twenty-fourth chapter of Luke, "And that remission of sins should be preached in His name among all the peoples" [Luke 24:47]. The great commission as it is recorded in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John, "These things are written, that you might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; and that believing you might have eternal life in His name" [John 20:31]. And the great commission as it is written in the first chapter of the Book of Acts, "And ye shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and Judea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth" [Acts 1:8]. This is the assignment of our Lord Himself.
Now, that is seen also in the obedience of the apostles. They preached the gospel in Jerusalem [Acts 3:1-5:16]. They preached the gospel in Samaria [Acts 8:5-25]. They preached the gospel in Caesarea [Acts 10:1-48]. They preached the gospel in Antioch [Acts 11:19-30]. And in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, God said, "Separate Me Paul and Barnabas for the work whereunto I have called them" [Acts 13:2], and there began the great, far-flung missionary journeys of the Greco-Roman Empire [Acts 13:1-28:31]. That converting missionary assignment of the Christian faith is found in the content of the message itself. When John the Baptist came preaching, he threw Israel and the whole world outside of the covenant of God, "All men everywhere must repent and believe"; everywhere. And when the Jews said, "But we have Abraham to our fathers." And John the Baptist said, "God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. Repent ye for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" [Matthew 3:1-9].
And that same spirit and attitude of Christianity, that all must repent, and all must believe, and all must be born again, is seen in the conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews, he was a member of the Sanhedrin [John 3:1], yet the Lord said to him, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see, nor can he enter, the kingdom of God" [John 3:3]. This was one of the finest religious rulers of his day, but Jesus said, "Ye must be born again" [John 3:7]. This is also seen in Simon Peter’s sermon at Pentecost to the people in Jerusalem. "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ because of the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" [Acts 2:38]. This is seen in Simon Peter and the apostle John’s address to the Sanhedrin. "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].
And this is seen in Simon Peter’s sermon at the household of Cornelius [Acts 10:34-48]. This Gentile is described as a godly man, one who prayed always and who gave alms to the people, and whose prayers ascending to heaven and were acceptable to God [Acts 10:1-4]. Yet the angel said, yet the angel said to Cornelius, "Send down for one Simon Peter in Joppa who will come and tell thee words whereby thou and thy house may be saved" [from Acts 5-6]. And this is seen in Paul’s address to the Athenian nation on Areopagus Hill, when Paul said, "The times of our past ignorance God overlooked; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent" [Acts 17:30]. As the Christian message was launched by our Lord and by the apostles, it was a missionary and a converting message. Outside of Christ, all men are lost and the gospel message is addressed to their souls, that in Christ they might be saved.
Now, when the Christian went out, and the apostles went out, and preached that message in the Roman Empire, it confronted, it confronted a tremendous repercussion in first Christian century civilization. Now, I want you to see this, I’ve mentioned it many times, but it is one of the most pertinent and significant of all of the facts of Christian history. Rome was of all empires broad-minded and liberal in its policy concerning religion. For you see, Rome conquered one province after another, and one province after another, and one after another, until Caesar controlled the whole civilized world. The entire civilized world lay in the hand, the iron fist, of the Roman Caesar. And as they conquered every province, and every district, and every section of the civilized world, every nation and every people had its god and its gods. Now what was the attitude of the Roman emperor, and the Roman government, and senate towards the religions of the people they conquered? They were very liberal and very broad-minded.
I can show this to you better by way of contrast. When the Greeks conquered the world, they sought to force Greek religion upon the nations and the peoples that they conquered. For example, 1 and 2 Maccabees is the story of Antiochus Epiphanes who sought to force Greek religion upon the Jews. Antiochus Epiphanes dedicated the temple at Jerusalem to Jupiter Olympus, and he made the people sacrifice pigs, and sows, and hogs to his god. That was the Greek attitude toward the people and the religions of the provinces they conquered.
Rome was not that way. Rome never persecuted. Rome never forced. But what Rome did, they built a Pantheon. And it stands there today. It was built by Agrippa in 44 BC who was a great friend of Julius Caesar. They built a Pantheon in Rome, and every nation they conquered, they accepted the god of that nation: Isis and Osiris in Egypt, Cybele over there in Phrygia, Artemis in Ephesus, all of the gods they brought into their Pantheon. Then why, then why did the Roman Empire persecute the Christian? It was the most broad-minded and liberal of all the governments that had ever existed, and especially were they generous, generous toward the religions of their provinces. Yet the Roman Empire viciously and tragically persecuted the Christian faith. Why? The answer is very plain and very simple: had the Christian been willing for Jesus and the Christian faith to be just one more religion, and one more god, and had they been willing for the Lord Jesus to be placed in a niche in their Pantheon, the Roman Empire would have accepted the Christian faith with open arms. "Welcome! Welcome! Another god and another religion."
But the Christian people and the Christian apostles said, "Not so! There’s not but one God!" And we know that God in Jesus Christ, and there’s not but one true religion, and that one true religion is that revealed in Jesus Christ. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must saved" [Acts 4:12]. And because of that, the Roman Empire persecuted the Christian people. And do you know, all that it would have taken to have saved many Christians’ lives was just to take a little pinch of incense and burn it on the altar fire before the emperor’s image, and the Christian refused to do it and became witnesses, martyrs. The Greek word is the same: martyr, translated "witness." They became martyrs rather than take one little pinch of incense and burn it on the altar fire before the image of the emperor.
Christianity, as it confronted the Roman Empire was jealously narrow and exclusive. There’s none other faith, there’s none other God, there’s none other religion; it is Christ alone. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name, given among men, whereby we must be saved" [Acts 4:12]. Now that is the faith of the Book and of the first Christian century.
Now we are going to look at Christianity at it confronts the world today. What is the spirit and the atmosphere in which the New Testament faith is preached today? It is this: of all things, of all things, we are to be broad-minded and liberal. There are many religions; one is as good as another. And we can choose this one or we can choose that one, or we can eclectic and take the best out of each one and put them together. Like that cynical word of Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. "In the Roman Empire," he said, "to the people, all religions were equally true. And to the philosopher all religions were equally false. And to the politicians, all religions were equally useful." And that cynical, sarcastic characterization of religion in the Roman Empire is the cynical spirit of the world in which we live today. All religions are equally good, and if you want to use them, pay compliment to them, all religions are equally useful. And, as a cynical rationalist would say, and they’re equally false. And to be narrow, and exclusive in religion today is to be intellectually fossilized, and it is to be a religious bigot.
Consequently, the missionary and converting spirit, which is at the heart of the Christian faith, is today of all things discounted, unacceptable, and not to be tolerated. For example, I have here from a national magazine, one that I read every week – I have here in the last few days a report on the Christian religion in the world today. It’s a time of mounting pressure against missionaries. Countries they have helped are now expelling them, and at home too the missionary is under fire; for churchmen say his day is finished. The missionary is out. Then, in the long article, I quote from a great Christian leader in America:
The era of the foreign missionary movement is definitely over, because the goals and objectives of that movement are no longer valid. There has been a widespread assumption that the church was destined to convert the entire human race to Christianity. This must be rejected as a valid goal because it has no biblical foundation.
This man is a blatant liar, for the Christian faith is missionary and converting at its heart! Yet this Christian leader says that the missionary movement is to be rejected because it has no biblical foundation. You can be a liar and a gambler, you can be a liar and a whoremonger, you can be a liar and an embezzler, you can also be a liar and a clergyman! And the biggest liars I know are clergymen, and this is one of them – this is one of them.
Now, he has another sentence: "I suggest that the church voluntarily dismantle our present missionary organization and structure." Go out of the converting business, go out of the mission business. This is the spirit of modern Christianity. And, and especially, especially is this spirit of the denial of the missionary converting heart of the Christian faith, especially is it exhibited in the attitude of the modern Christian world toward the Jew. Now this I have clipped out, cut out of our daily newspaper, just a few days ago, this article. So, they’re having a convocation, and these Christian leaders say Christians should recognize that Judaism, although not accepting Jesus as Savior, continues to be a divinely sanctioned instrument of salvation. Christian efforts to convert the Jews is a fatal distortion of the structure of salvation. The divine covenant with Israel is an enduring one, and all attempts to put it out of business by missions, however well intentioned, contradict God’s purpose. Yet it was to the Jew that Simon Peter lifted up his voice and said, "There is salvation in none other name; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" [Acts 4:12]. Christianity is of all things missionary and converting, or it is nothing at all, it is nothing at all. And the modern attitude toward the Christian faith of liberalism and broadmindedness is a denial of the faith itself; it is something else.
Now, where does all this come from in the Christian faith today? It becomes because of the subtle heresy of universalism, that is the belief that all men everywhere are going to be saved: there is no judgment, there’s no condemnation, there’s no damnation, there’s no hell, all men everywhere are going to be saved, all men. And if that is true, Jesus is no longer a Savior, for He doesn’t save. And the whole missionary, evangelistic purpose of the Christian faith comes to naught, comes to naught. If men are going to be saved, why bother to preach the gospel to them and try to convert them? Why? And if there is no hell and no damnation, why be converted at all? Why bother with it at all? And all of this is the product of the modern, liberal, rationalistic attack upon the Christian faith, and it is everywhere. It is everywhere.
All of us are familiar with the modern Christian theologian’s axiom, "God is dead." No infidel said that, no communist is saying that, it’s the Christian clergyman and professor who is saying that God is dead. Now, I want you to see the conglomerate of religion that the rationalistic liberal leaves behind him. It’s all alike; it’s all alike. For example, I want you to listen to this rabbi as he speaks. Look at it. Rabbi Richard Rubenstein of the University of Pittsburgh, now I quote from him:
Much theology is projected fantasy. Religion, all religion, is nothing more than a heritage by which a community of believers shares the crises of live and celebrates nature’s timetable of the seasons. Man is part of the world of nature; that’s all. Written theology is a linear typographical thing, and all of that has exploded. God collapsed at Auschwitz.
That’s one of those Dachau’s over there in Hitlerite Germany.
We live in the time of the death of God.
Rationalistic liberalism is the same everywhere; it makes a shapeless, formless shadow of religion, all religion. You would think that the Christian theologian said God is dead. "We live in the time of the death of God," says Rabbi Richard Rubenstein.
All right, here’s another quotation; these are just recently said. Rabbi Eugene Borowitz of the Hebrew Union College in New York City, where Dr. Gruen comes from: "Jewish theologians hope that they will someday lead men closer to the mystery of what it means to be Jew. Success can only be the Messiah." The messianic hope, the realization of the coming of the promises made to Israel is nothing more to him than the ability to make people understand what it is to be a Jew.
Well, we must close. I speak now of the faith once for all delivered to the saints. That’s Jude’s word in the third verse of his little book, "The faith once for all delivered to the saints" [Jude 3]. That is, there is no other faith to be delivered. There is no other Messiah that is coming. There is no other God to be known. There is no other truth to be revealed. This is the faith; this is the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Now, I have this word in conclusion to say about that faith. There are three areas in life, there are three areas in life in which men can be broad or they can be narrow. In two of those areas, we ought to be broad and liberal, open-minded. And in the third one, we ought to be narrow and jealously exclusive. The two areas in which we ought to be broad, first: we ought to be broad in our sympathies. Loving men, loving men, our hearts in compassionate, prayerful intercession for all men everywhere. Broad in our sympathies. Big enough, our hearts of love and intercession, to embrace the nations and peoples of the whole world. However they are and whatever they believe, and whatever they do. Broad in our sympathies. Second: we ought to be broad in our horizons. As we look at the world God has made, we ought to include in our vision all things that God has revealed. That is, our conclusions ought never to be the results of ignorance and prejudice, but our horizons of understanding, and study, and knowledge ought to be from sky to sky, around the earth and in heaven above. Wherever things are to be seen, observed, and learned, we ought to broad and come to no conclusions except those that are true and right. Never conclusions of darkness, or superstition, or blindness, or ignorance, or error, or prejudice. We ought to be broad in our horizons. The third area: in that we ought to be jealously exclusive and narrow, and this is the area of our reception of truth itself, and especially the truth as it is revealed to us by the great God.
Now look at that just a moment. All truth is narrow and exclusive; all of it. Mathematical truth is very narrow and exclusive, very much so. Two plus two equal four, no more, no less. Ah, but you say, "I am a broadminded mathematician. I’m no narrow mathematical bigot!" You just go down there to the bank and tell that to the banker, "I’m a broadminded mathematical bigot. You see, I put forty dollars in the bank, then I put ten more dollars in the bank, and you say I have fifty dollars in the bank, but I’m a broadminded mathematical believer. I’ve got five hundred dollars down here in the bank according to the way I figure this out." Just try it; just try it. Mathematical truth is very narrow, very narrow. Scientific truth is very narrow, jealously exclusive. All scientific truth is that way. Under ordinary conditions, water at sea level will freeze at thirty-two degrees. Ah, but you say, "I’m no scientific bigot! Why, I don’t believe that! Man, I’m a broadminded scientist. I believe water can freeze at thirty-five degrees, and forty degrees, and fifty degrees." And so he walks off the bridge, looks at the thermometer and says, "It’s forty degrees, and water in my broadminded spectrum freezes at forty degrees." So he steps off the bridge into the water. Why, the blub blub blub idiot ought to drown! Truth is very narrow, always.
Historical truth is very narrow, historical truth. Such a thing, such a thing, such and such a thing happens in a certain way, at a certain time, at a certain date, at a certain century. "But I’m not one of those narrow-minded historical bigots! Why, I believe that a thing that is recorded in history might have happened in any century! Why, I’m so broad-minded I believe Julius Caesar lives today. He didn’t live back yonder and was murdered. And I’ll tell you what let’s do, let’s you and I go to Washington and visit Julius Caesar. See, I’m a broad-minded historian." Brother, they’re going to take you to the funny farm, that’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to say you’re an idiot, for truth is very narrow. Are there any lawyers here? That’s all you’re trying to do! When you go to a court and you have a jury there, you’re trying to establish when that thing happened, and at what time and on what date, and just how did it happen. That’s what it’s all about. Truth is very narrow and exclusive.
Geographical truth is very narrow and exclusive, like all truth. Why, you say, "I’m not one of those narrow-minded bigots that believe the Gulf Stream is just in the Atlantic ocean and laves England, and Scotland, and Norway, and all those. I’m a broadminded geophysicist, and I’m a broad-minded geographer. Why, I believe the Gulf Stream is in the Pacific ocean, and it laves Japan." Just teach stuff like that. Ah, it’s inane! Well, then why, then why does a man – who accepts truth in science, or in mathematics, or in history, or in geography and refuses to countenance error in it – then why am I supposed to take the revealed truth of God and say, "Well, maybe," or "but," or "peradventure," or "possibly, now what?" For the revealed truth of God is of all things exclusively narrow and jealously so. "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]. That is the Christian faith. It is Jesus and Jesus alone.
I wish we had time just to stop right there and just to preach right there. Ah, how gospel truth is narrow and constrictive. May I point it out, and then we close. There was one door into the ark [Genesis 4:16], just one, and if you didn’t go into that one door, you weren’t saved, period [Genesis 7:1, 7, 23]. I don’t know of a cuter song I’ve ever heard in my life than this one that those Irish people are singing about the unicorn. Have you heard that thing? The unicorn. "Now old Noah was a getting the green alligators and the long-necked geese; the humpty camels and the chimpanzee. Getting them all in the ark, but no unicorns."
Have you heard that song? The unicorns. Brother, there was one door in that ark. And those unicorns were a-playing down on the rocks, it says, while the rain was a-falling down, and the tide washed them out. And that’s why you don’t see no more unicorns. One door, one door, just one [Genesis 6:16].
Same way with the Passover. The angel will pass over, and if he sees the blood on the doorpost and on the lintel there will be no death in that house; but you had to be under the blood, under the blood [Exodus 12:7, 13, 23]. Like Isaiah 45:22, "Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else." The whole message is like that. "Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven. . .whereby we must be saved" [Acts 4:12]. Can you quote to me John 3:36? "He that hath the Son hath life. He that hath not the Son, hath not life, but the wrath of God abideth upon him." God makes it that plain and that simple. In Christ, I am saved. Out of Christ, I am lost. It is that simple. I cannot be saved other than in the atoning mercy and grace of Jesus my Lord. I may choose not to believe that, but if I do, I am not a Christian. For to be a Christian is this: to believe God’s witness to His Son. And that witness is this: in Him is eternal life [1 John 5:11], in Him, in Him and "He that hath the Son hath life. He that hath not the Son, hath not life; but the wrath of God abideth upon him" [John 3:36].
I don’t invent this message. I didn’t write this Book. I am a voice, an echo. I just read what God has said and try to preach it to you dear people. God bless us as we try in this day of pusillanimous equivocation. God help us in this day when the man that doesn’t believe anything and isn’t quite sure of anything is exalted. God help us in this day to stand up and believe something, and if that something could be the Christian faith, it is salvation for our own souls, and it is salvation for all who could be persuaded to accept it with us. God bless us and give us victories in His name.
Now we sing our song of appeal. And we must, we must shorten our invitation. If you will give your heart to the Lord and trust the blessed Jesus as your Savior, you come and stand by me. If you will put your life in the fellowship of this dear church, if God speaks to your heart, you come now. Then on the first note of the first stanza, come down. Make it right now. "Here I am, preacher. I have decided, I have resolved, I have burned these bridges behind me, I have crossed the Rubicon, I have cast my life and lot; this is the way I’m going. I’m going to be a Christian, and I’m going to be a member of this church, and I’m going to live and to die in the Christian faith. I am resolved." Make that decision. When you stand up in a minute, stand up coming. And God bless you and attend you in the way. All right, may we stand and sing?
CHRISTIAN CONVICTION CONCERNING CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. New Testament Christianity in the first century
A. Was of all things missionary, converting
1. The commissions of Christ (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:14, Luke 24:47, John 20:31, Acts 1:8)
2. The obedience of the apostles (Acts 2:31-60, 8:4-8, 10:11, 11:19, 13:2)
3. The substance of the preached message (Matthew 3, John 3:3, Acts 2:38, Acts 4:12, 10:32, 11:14, 17:30-31, Isaiah :1)
B. Was zealously narrow and restricted
1. Confrontation with the Roman Empire
II. New Testament Christianity confronts the modern world
A. Demanded to be liberal and broad-minded
B. The heresy of universalism
C. Modern rationalism
III. Our dedication to the truth
A. We ought to be broad in our sympathies
B. We ought to be broad in our horizons, perspective