Real Religion


Real Religion

April 7th, 1968 @ 7:30 PM

James 1:27

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

James 1:27

4-7-68    7:30 p.m.


On the radio, on WRR, the radio of the city of Dallas, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church.  This is the pastor bringing the evening message entitled Real Religion—honest-to-goodness, down to earth, grassroots religion.  Now turn with me, on the radio, here in this great throng, turn with me to James, the Book of James; almost toward the end of your Bible, the Book of James.  And we are going to read the last several verses of chapter 1, James chapter 1.  We shall begin at verse 22 and read to the end, and my text is the last verse.  James chapter 1, verse 22; now let us all read it out loud together, and if your neighbor does not have a Bible, share yours with him, and all of us read it out loud together: James chapter 1, beginning at verse 22.  Now together:

Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

 [James 1:22-27]

Now my text, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit.”  My text again, “Pure religion”—real religion, down to earth, grassroots religion—“is to visit” [James 1:27].  What an amazing come-to-pass!  No deep theological ramifications in that.  Nor would you need any abstruse tomes of philosophy to understand that, just plain, simple, ordinary grassroots living.  “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit.”

Have you ever noticed, as you read through these eras of modern history and as you live in your own day and generation, have you noticed how these social eruptions that have changed the face of the earth and the history of mankind, how they are all identified with the common people and the aegises after which they march, the signs of these revolutions? They’re always something clean and simple.  I remember reading in an American history book that an American president won the highest office of our land by using as a slogan, “A full dinner pail.”  Everybody was to have plenty to eat, “a full dinner pail,” a common working man’s dinner bucket.

I can remember when the Fascist philosophy began to grip some of the nations of Europe, the Fascists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany.  And do you know what was the sign of a Fascist and of a Nazi?  It was a shirt, an ordinary working man’s shirt.  It was a brown shirt in one of the nations, and it was a black shirt in the other nation, but it was a shirt, an ordinary working man’s shirt.

There’s not a schoolboy but that knows the sign of the world communist revolution.  It is a hammer, an ordinary working man’s hammer, and a sickle, a farmer’s scythe.  Wherever you see that sign in the earth, the hammer and the sickle, that’s the Red revolution, dyed and stained in human blood.  This is the modern world in which we live.

But when we come to religion, ah, that’s something else.  Removed in some ivory tower somewhere, back of some stained-glass window somewhere, in some separated, monastic, sheltered life somewhere, it is hardly realizable in modern thought that the church and that the minister and that religion is at all aware of people, that we are identified with people.  We are separate and apart.  And somehow the great mass of the people believe and feel that we live in a world of make-believe—fictional, not really, not actually, not our religion, but it’s a story.  It’s full of all kinds of fantasies and myths and things unbelievable, like fairy tales.  And they look upon the church as a sort of holy charade.  We go through motions, and we go through actions, and we go through things, but actually there’s no reality in it.  It doesn’t touch us.  It’s somehow storybook, it’s fictional, it’s make-believe.

Out there in West Texas where I was fetched up, in the days of the silent films, and when I went to the picture show, which was one time in the first twenty years of my life, it was a silent movie.  They never had any talking movies in those days; they were silent movies, and they were all melodramatic, and they all had some kind of a pattern like this—an old cowpoke out there in West Texas went to his first movie, one of those silent films.  And he sat there and he looked at that goings-on on the screen, and it was one of those typical melodramatic stories where the villain, with his black mustaches, grabbed the heroine, tied the hero to a tree, swept the heroine up in his arms, and rode off furiously with her on his horse.  And when he did that, that old cowpoke watching it said, “Why, you low-down coyote, you can’t do that,” pulled out his six-shooters and riddled the screen up there with bullets.  Some of his friends sitting around him grabbed him by his shirttail and said, “Sit down.  Sit down. Sit down.  That ain’t real, that’s just make-believe!”

Now that’s exactly the modern impression of the church.  “That’s not real, that’s not the stuff actually that life’s made of.  That’s just make-believe; that’s just a charade.”  Have I ever told you about that guy walking down the street, a dirty bum, hungry as he could be, and he turned into a hamburger joint and said to the hamburger man, he said, “Mister, I’m so hungry.  I’m so hungry.  If I showed you a trick, would you give me a hamburger?”

And the hamburger man said, “Well, show me your trick.”

So that bum reached into his pocket and pulled out a little grand piano, and he reached into the other pocket and pulled out a little mouse.  And he sat the little mouse on a stool, and the little thing played an oratorio, played some kind of symphony, played some kind of marvelous music on that little grand piano.

Why, that bug-eyed hamburger man looked at that thing, and, amazed, he fried him a hamburger and fed it to the bum.  And after the bum gulped down that first hamburger, he said to the hamburger man, he said, “You know, I’m still so hungry.  If I showed you another trick, would you fry me another hamburger?”

And the hamburger man said, “I sure would if you got another trick like that.”

So he reached into his pocket again and pulled out a little canary and set the canary on top of the little grand piano, and while the mouse played the accompaniment, the canary sang.

Well, that bug-eyed hamburger man looked at that thing, and he said to the dirty bum, he said, “Man, there ain’t nothing like that in the world!  Why are you begging?  That’s worth millions!”

And the old bum said, “Aw, mister, that ain’t real.  That’s all make-believe.”  He said, “You see that canary?  That canary ain’t really singing.  That mouse is a ventriloquist.”

That’s the oldest story I know, which goes to show they don’t ever wear out, do they?

But it happens to illustrate what I’m preaching about tonight.  Somehow people have the impression that the church is removed, it lives in a fictional world, but if you want to get into real life, get into business: money is real.  Or into a profession: doctoring is real, or lawyering is real, or politics is real.  But if you want to get out of the stream of life, get into religion, because there the people are involved in theological hair-splitting, and the preacher lives a sheltered and separate life apart.

Well, I’m preaching to myself.  I guess a part of what they say is true, and a part of what they say theologically about me is true, but that’s the reason I need the sermon.  God help us!  Wherever the folks are, there we ought to be.  All of us, I, my deacons, the Junior board, the Sunday school teachers, the Training Union leaders, the WMU, the Brotherhood, the members, every part of us out there where the folks are, out there, way out there, out there where the people are, moving among the people.

When I came to be pastor of the church, I hadn’t been here more than a week or ten days when upon a morning I came down to the church.  I never come here in the morning except in an exigency, a funeral service, or some significant matter that would pull me down here.  My study is at the house, at the parsonage, and I study every morning.  I slave in that study.  I read, I read, I study.  Well, I don’t know why, but on that particular morning, after I’d been here just a few days, I came down to the church.  I walked down Patterson Street, and as I did, I saw a large crowd of people at the corner of Patterson and Ervay, at the main entrance of our church house.  I walked over there to the throng to see what enticed them, and, elbowing my way through the crowd, I saw a man lying on his back on those front steps that lead up into this sanctuary.  He was a working man.  He had on heavy shoes, a blue shirt open at the collar.  And as he lay there, his hands were extended over his head, reaching out toward our church door.  I looked down into his face, and as I did so, he gasped his last breath and died there on those front doorsteps.  The sirens sounded, the ambulance came and took him away, and the crowd dispersed and forgot about it.  That’s been almost twenty-four years ago, but it lives as vividly in my mind tonight as the day that I looked down in the face of that poor man.

Who was he, and where did he come from, and why was he on our doorsteps and his hands extended out to our front door?  Was he saved?  Did anybody know him?  Who was he?  As I went away and as I turned that over in my soul, I thought, “God is saying something to me.  God is speaking to me,” and it came to me clearly what God was saying.  God was saying to me, we are in the heart of this great city, and God has set us a lighthouse for all these people, all of them.  And I began from that moment on to work in the organization and the leading of our church into this mission ministry.  We organized the Good Shepherd Department, we organized our Silent Friends into a chapel, we organized several of our mission ministries in South Oak Cliff and in West Dallas and in other areas of the city, and there has been no finer ministry God has given any church in the earth than God has given us in the seven mission chapels where we try to put our arms around the people.

Why, I don’t make any apology, nor am I timid, when I stand in any company to say there’s no agency of any government, there’s no agency in any Community Chest, there’s no agency in any United Fund that can begin to do the work that we are able to do in the name of Christ, for what people need is not nearly so much a handout or money or therapy, but what people need is a new hope, and a new vision, and a new life, and a new soul, and a new heart.    That’s what people need.  You get a man right with God, and he stands up straight, he gets him a job, he support his wife and his family, he has a new house and a new home, he is a new man; that’s what we need.  That’s what we need, and that’s real religion.

Isn’t that my text?  “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,” to get out there where the people are, involved with the people.  “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit” [James 1:27], to knock at the door.  The last scene that you have of the Lord Jesus in the days of the churches—in Revelation 3:20, in the message of the Lord to the church at Laodicea, the last scene before it closes down on this church age is this, Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with Me.”  That is real religion!

  Isn’t that what Paul said in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts as he recounted and re-described his ministry at Ephesus that turned all Asia upside down?  As he described his ministry to the Ephesian elders, he said, “Remember, remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not, day and night, with many tears, from house to house, testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:31,20-21].   Real religion: knocking at the door, involved with people, moving among the people.  Why, bless your heart; our definition of religion is so different from that of the idea of God.

You know what we think, and we’re all alike in it.  We go to some tremendous convention, and there are 13,000, 15,000, 18,000 or 20,000 people.  And we’re standing and singing, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.”  And we have a tremendous night in that vast convocation of our people.  And we go away, and we say, “Man, did you see that?  Man, were you there tonight?  That’s the faith, that’s the faith!”  Jesus never mentioned it, and He never referred to it.  Or we go to some beautiful cathedral-like church, and there is a pompous and gorgeous ceremony, and when it is over we leave those beautiful Gothic doors, and we say, “Man, isn’t that something?  That’s the faith, that’s the faith!”  Jesus never mentioned it; He never referred to it.  Or we go to some marvelous convocation of our people, and there is a minister of far fame, and he stands up there, and he closes his oration out with some glorious, rising, stentorian peroration, and we leave under the spellbinding of his words, and we say, “Man, that’s the faith, that’s the faith!”  Jesus never referred to it.

  But He did have something to say about a cup of cold water given in the name of a prophet [Matthew 10:42], and He did have something to say about a one lost coin [Luke 15:8-10], or a one lost sheep [Luke 15:3-7], or a one lost boy [Luke 15:11-32].  That is real religion.  The rest is embellishments, it’s accouterments, it’s appendages, it’s addenda.  It’s stuff, it’s things, but real religion is down there where the people are.

A local pastor

Of great austerity

Climbed up in his high church steeple

To be nearer God,

That he might hand

God’s word down to the people.

In his day, God said,

“Come down and die!”

And he cried out from his steeple,

“Where art Thou, Lord?”

And the Lord replied,

“Man, I am down here among My people”

[from “The Preacher’s Mistake,” William Croswell Doane]. 


That’s where the preacher ought to be.  We ought to identify ourselves with the people.

One of our Sunday school teachers, somewhere, sometime, wrote about the sixth or seventh or eighth little card to little Mary, saying, “We missed you at Sunday school.”  Now, there’s nothing wrong in that.  Write a little card, “Dear Mary, you were absent last Sunday, and we missed you.”  That’s very fine.  Write a card, “We missed you.”  Well, after she had written the seventh or the eighth one, walking down the street where she had mailed the card, she happened to run into the little child’s mother. And seeing little Mary’s mother, why, the Sunday school teacher said to her, “Oh, am I delighted to see you.  I’m delighted to see you.  I have just written the eighth card to your little girl Mary, saying that we missed her at Sunday school.”  And the mother replied, “Thank you.  You are gracious and thoughtful and sweet.  Thank you.  But you don’t need to write any more cards to our little Mary, for yesterday, after a long illness, we buried our little girl.”

I’m not a-saying that writing a card isn’t fine.  I say that’s fine.  I’m just preaching out of the Book tonight, that real religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to knock at the door, to visit, to visit [James 1:27].  Real religion accepts a responsibility, anything we can do for God; doesn’t have to be exalted.  Anything Lord, anything.

“Simon Peter, lovest thou Me?”

“Lord, Thou knowest I love Thee.”

“Feed My lambs”

[John 21:15-17]

“Take care of My little ones,” a humble ministry.

One of the most moving things to me in the Bible is to read about the building of the tabernacle, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon Bezaleel and Aholiab [Exodus 31:2-6,  35:30-34, 36:1].  Well, so the Spirit of the Lord God endows Bezaleel and Aholiab.  What are they going to do?  Why, you’d think, the Holy Spirit of God endowing a man, they’d go out there and turn the world upside down.  But what did the Spirit of God empower Bezaleel and Aholiab to do?  Why, it says in the Book, to make pots, and pans, and tongs, and shovels, and sockets, and staves [Exodus 31:1-11].  “You mean you can magnify God making pots, and pans, and staves, and sockets?”  I don’t want to invent this message.  I’m just preaching the Book; that’s what the Book says.  Only thing is, they wrote on every pot and on every pan, “Holiness To the Lord” [Exodus 39:30; Zechariah 14:20], doing it as unto God.  Isn’t that all right?  Isn’t that all right?  Accepting a responsibility, whatever it takes.

I must close.  Real religion, real religion, out there where the people are, pressing the appeal for Christ; I love to hear these laymen pray.  Practically all the prayers that are prayed in this pulpit are prayed by laymen.  Some of us pray once in a while, but most of the times when you hear a man pray, it’ll be a layman pray.  They are just so sincere, and they talk to God.  Ah, that’s great, that’s great.  Praying for the lost; have you ever noticed how many of them do that?  Praying for the lost, that God will save the lost: “Use our Palace Theater services tomorrow and this week, use it to win the lost.  Take this service tonight and use it for the lost,” pressing an appeal for Christ.

One of the most interesting incidents I’ve ever read in Christendom is something that happened to Moody on a train in the days when everybody rode the train.  And it was full of people, those long coaches.  Why, a news butch—and I guess you children don’t know what a news butch is.  Well, that’s what they called the fellow that went up and down the aisle of the train, and he sold papers, and he sold magazines, and he sold candy and chewing gum and things like that; a news butch.  Man, that’s the most interesting critter that ever lived in the world—when I was a little boy, the news butch, going up and down.  And this news butch was going up and down.

Well, in those days of Dwight L. Moody, Bob Ingersoll was a world-famed infidel, making fun of God, and Moses, and the Bible, and Jesus, and the apostles.  Oh, he swept the world, Bob Ingersoll, the infidel.  Well, the news butch had in his tray there a little pamphlet from Bob Ingersoll on hell, and so as he walked up and down the aisles selling his gum and his candy and his stuff, why, he also hawked out, “Ingersoll on hell, Ingersoll on hell.”

Well, Moody was there in one of those coaches, so he called to the news butch, and he said, “Son, I have some pamphlets here in my suitcase, and it’s on heaven, and it’s written by Moody.”  He said, “Son, let me give you this handful of pamphlets, and you go up and down and say, ‘And Moody on heaven.’”

So the news butch took those pamphlets that were given him, and as he went up and down the aisles of the train, he changed his hawking, and he said, “Ingersoll on hell and Moody on heaven.”

Ah, I like that.  I like that.  The devil and his angels on hell, and damnation, and frustration, and defeat, and despair, and tears, and heartaches, and unhappiness, and loneliness, and death; but Jesus and God and the cross on heaven, and glory, and everything celestial, and precious, and beautiful, and marvelous, and happy, and glad, and victorious, and triumph.  Ingersoll on hell, Moody on heaven; that’s it. That’s it, pressing the appeal for Jesus.  Why, my brother, we have the finest wares in the world to sell.  We’ve got the Lord, and this life enriched, and all glory beside.

And while we sing this hymn of appeal, you, a family you; you, a couple you; you, one somebody you, while we sing the appeal, into this aisle and down here to the front, come.  Come, come, and the Lord’s angels attend you in the way.  Come.  “Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children, all of us are coming tonight, all of us,” or just a couple you, or one somebody you, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways, into the aisle, here to the front; decide now, decide now, and on the first note of the first stanza, stand up coming.  Do it tonight, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell

James 1:27


I.          Introduction

A.  Modern
social movements

1.  Always identified
with the people

B.  Religion
relegated to some other irrelevant world

1.  Make-believe, holy

2.  West Texas cowpoke
at a silent film

3.  Bum doing tricks for

II.         Wherever the people are, we ought to

A.  Working
man found dead on our church doorstep

1.  Began from that
moment to organize our mission ministry

B.  There
is not any agency of government that can begin to do the work we are able to do
in the name of Christ

1.  What people need is a
new hope, new vision, new life, new heart

C.  Knocking
at the door(James 1:27, Revelation 3:20, Acts
20:21, 31)

1.  Our definition of
religion so different from that of God

Writing eight cards to little girl missing Sunday school – she had passed away

D.  Accepts
a responsibility

1.  Anything we can do
for God(John 21:15-17, Exodus 31, 35, 36)

III.        Pressing the appeal for Christ

A.  Praying
for the lost

B.  Moody
on a train, the news butch