The Illusion Of Progress
February 11th, 1968 @ 7:30 PM
THE ILLUSION OF PROGRESS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-11-68 7:30 p.m.
On the radio, on WRR the radio of the city of Dallas, turn in your Bible to the twelfth chapter of Luke with us who are here this evening in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Luke chapter 12, and we shall read out loud together verses 13 through 21; Luke chapter 12, verses 13 through 21. And the name of the sermon tonight is The Illusion of Progress. Once in awhile I like to turn loose on Sunday night and preach a sermon on how things really are, and you are going to hear one tonight. Like a guy put on gloves and get in a ring and just knock the living daylights out of his opponent, lay him flat on the floor to the count of one hundred fifty. That is what we are going to do tonight.
The Illusion of Progress: it is a sermon on the cheapness, the veneer of this modern day and its attitudes. Well, let us read the Scriptures first; Luke chapter 12, verses 13 through 21; now all of us reading out loud together:
And one of the company said unto Him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
And He said unto him, Man, who made Me a judge or a divider over you?
And He said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
And He spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
The text is, “For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” [Luke 12:15], then the Lord illustrated it with the parable of the rich fool [Luke 12:16-21].
May I say a word about that parable before I go up there and begin speaking about the text? This rich fool devoted all of his life to the accumulation of things, bigger increases, bigger barns, bigger warehouses, bigger store places, buying more land to raise more corn, to feed more hogs, to make more money, to buy more land, to raise more corn, to feed more hogs, to make more money, to buy more land and all that treadmill which is the rat race of American life.
Well, anyway there was a wholesale grocery man, and he wrote out his epithet for his tombstone before he died. And he wrote it out; born a human being, such and such date; died a wholesale grocer, such and such date. Well, somebody came to him and said what a lugubrious epithet. What do you mean by those words, pessimism?
Well, he said, “I mean just this. All of my life I’ve been selling groceries. I had no time to marry. I was selling groceries. I had no time to raise a family, selling groceries. I had no time to build a home, selling groceries. I had no time to read a book or for any of the arts or for the dramas or for pleasures of life, selling groceries. And I had no time for God and for church, selling groceries. And I made lots of money. I had no time to travel though I had the money. I had no time for any of the fine things of life, selling groceries.”
And he said, “I finally was so successful I entered into the wholesale grocery business. And now I have money, and I have success, and I have houses of business and points of distribution. But my life is gone and it is been nothing but selling groceries. So when I die, put on my tombstone, ‘He was born a human being, such and such date, and he died a wholesale grocer, such and such date.’”
“So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” [Luke 12:21]. When I was preaching over there in Memphis, Tennessee a few months ago, they were describing to me a doctor in the Baptist Hospital. We have one of the greatest hospitals in the world in Memphis. And they were describing to me a doctor over there in that Baptist Hospital. And he was a fine surgeon, and he fell into the way of making money from those operations. And as he became more famous and more successful, his fees mounted upward and upward and upward and upward and upward. And he was making money, piling it on top of money, piling it up. And finally it became a frenzy with him, operating, making money. And finally he dropped dead, the richest doctor in any cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee.
Now to my text. “For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” [Luke 12:15], and the title of the message, The Illusion of Progress. We are all in it, all of us. There is not a school in the world, unless it be some little Christian academy tucked away in a corner, that doesn’t preach the doctrine of evolution. “We’re on the way. Man, we’re progressing. We’re moving.” And they illustrate it very poignantly, dramatically.
Travel: when Abraham went from Ur of the Chaldees over to that land of Canaan [Genesis 11:31-12:4], he followed the great crescent. They called it the Fertile Crescent; up the Mesopotamian Valley, following the Euphrates River, way up there, then crossing over through Syria and down into Palestine, one thousand five hundred miles. And it took him months and months and months to make the journey. I made the journey in an hour and a half one time, went straight across from Palestine to Ur, Bozrah, down there in the lower part of the Mesopotamian Valley.
Progress, progress: when my grandpap on my mother’s side was brought to Texas from Mississippi, they carried him as a little child in a covered wagon. I have gone from Dallas to Mississippi in about twenty-nine or twenty-eight minutes. Progress, progress.
Communication: back yonder, in the years gone by, they’d write it out in a tablet and bake it. And then a runner would carry it from Damascus down into Egypt or some such place. And today I have sat and listened to the radio when Mussolini was declaring war against France, when Hitler was in those diatribes against England, and when Roosevelt, whose memory is enshrined on our dimes but not in my heart, when Roosevelt was making all those speeches, trying to destroy the eighteenth amendment.
It’s a remarkable thing. Progress, progress, bridges: over there in that country, the Mediterranean, the biggest bridge you will ever see in your life is just about that big. It was the Romans who learned how to bridge a river, and they did it with little arches, just about like that. If you’ve ever been out to Golden Gate Bridge across the San Francisco Bay or the Bay Bridge or the Washington Bridge, those bridges are over a mile long in a span. They are tremendous things. Progress! Progress!
And buildings. When they built the pyramids it was by sweat and brawn. Making a ramp up out of dirt, making a ramp up and pulling slave labor, one hundred thousand men working by relays every day until they dropped dead, hoisting those great tremendous stones up there in the air, building a pyramid. Out there in Hoover Dam, used to be called Boulder Dam, I saw that thing go up, all of it built by tremendous electrical and mechanical equipment, hoist and levers, raising up those untold thousands of tons of concrete and poured it into place.
Or Solomon’s temple. Some of those stones you can see, there in Jerusalem, some of them forty-five feet high, ninety feet long, thirty or thirty-five feet broad; a tremendous thing done by human labor. Stand in New York City and look at that skyscraper called the Empire State Building, all of it done by machinery. One thousand two hundred and forty-eight feet tall. Or was it one thousand two hundred forty-seven and a half? Just look at that thing up there in the air. First time I went to New York City I got my throat sunburned just staring around all over the place.
Remarkable, progress, progress! And the luxuries of life, oh, what a change, what a new day. When those Roman plutocrats and aristocrats were reveling in Bacchanalia, they had their slaves dash down with pumping lungs from the heights of the Alps carrying snow to cool their wine. Today, there is not a poor critter among us that doesn’t have an electric refrigerator stuck away somewhere in his kitchen or in his side room.
Progress. Progress. And in the long ago dating, and in the long ago day, there would be these bedecked women and these beribboned dandies who would be carried on the shoulders of porters and slaves. In sedans those men slush through the mud and the mire and the rain and the snow in order to carry that aristocrat, set him down at some ballroom floor.
Today, look down any street, and there is a limousine and yonder is a limousine and here is a limousine. And all of us have got enough money to get in a limousine at least to go out to Love Field, on a long trip over there to Ft. Worth International Amon Carter Airport.
Man, that’s progress, that’s progress. And we are persuaded that we have found the secret of the evolution of the world. Samuel Butler, a militant atheist and an author of another generation in England, Samuel Butler said, and I quote, “Give the world time, give the world time, an infinite number of epochs, and according to its past and present system, like a coming tidal wave, each epoch will advance on each, man’s body becoming finer to house his finer mind, till someday man becomes not only an angel but an archangel.” This is the attitude of modern education, and it’s the attitude of modern society. Give us time. Give us time and man will become not only an angel but an archangel. Just give us time; progress.
Well, that’s what I want to talk about tonight. There was an old man with a long flowing beard and long flowing hair. And he was a rich old codger. And a con man came by and was going to sell him a luxurious automobile. So he took the old fellow, who was blind and couldn’t see, and he sat him in a chair, and he put a fan in front of him, and he turned on that fan a little higher and a little higher, and that fan began to blow his hair and began to blow his beard. And on the seat he was sitting, that con man began to jiggle it up and down. And he said to that old codger, “Man, are we a-traveling, are we a-going? We’re going thirty miles an hour, and now we are going fifty miles an hour. Now we are going seventy miles an hour. Now we are going a hundred miles an hour. Man, are we going!” And he sold the old codger a luxurious automobile and the fellow hadn’t moved out of his seat, hadn’t gone anywhere! That is the finest picture that I know of modern society! Man, we’re moving. We are going. We are progressing. Look at us. And we haven’t gone anywhere!
I’m not denying that there is not development, that there is not evolution, that there is not progress in every area of life. That is from immaturity to maturity; from a T-Model Ford to a modern Lincoln sedan. I am not saying there isn’t that revolutionary progress, an ongoing. But don’t forget that you have that same kind of progress in the effectiveness of aerial bombing and in the use of radio and television for the propagation of political lies! It is as vicious in one as it is in the other.
And when you think that this world is progressing, there is not one iota of evidence in all the history of mankind that good ever triumphs over evil or that we are reaching someday, sometime a fairer and a better day. There’s not an iota of proof, there is not a scintilla of evidence for it. Not at all! Not at all!
A man displayed in the picture window of his store a thing that he called “Finished Business.” Finished business, and what was the picture? It was a picture of a nation whose cities were in desolation, and whose population was in blood, and who had lost its very existence in the holocaust of war; finished business. That is a prognostication of the future of the world, which is corroborated by the Word of God.
The Word of God says that this civilization and this world shall find its consummation and its end in a bloody, indescribable holocaust!. And the Bible calls it the war of Armageddon [Revelation 16:13-16]. First there is the rider on the white horse who comes delivering mankind as we think we are going to be delivered by progress and by achievement. Then that rider on the white horse is followed by a rider on the red horse, which is war. And he is followed by the rider on the black horse, which is famine and pestilence. And he is followed by the rider on the pale horse, which is Death [Revelation 6:2-8].
And yet we persuade ourselves this is progress. I am not denying that we can’t go. But are we going better places than in the days of Abraham? Are we? In about two or three days ago, I read where Howard Hughes is going to build the largest and most luxurious hotel in this earth! Where did the newspaper say Howard Hughes, that playboy, that billionaire playboy they call him, where is he going to build that hotel? At a shrine where Jesus was born, where godly people go to bow at the cradle of the Savior of the world? No. Is he going to build that luxurious hotel, most expensive and most luxurious in the world, and the biggest the world has ever seen, is he going to build it in some great center of commerce and merchandise? No. Is he going to build it in some political place? No. He is going to build it in Las Vegas, Nevada, in order that more thousands can go out there and watch those naked women squirm and shake and shimmy, and where they can drink and guzzle liquor, and where they can gamble their fortunes away. That’s where he is going to build it. This is progress!
We can go but are we going better places? We can see but are we seeing better things? And we can hear but are we hearing finer things? Are we? I was in an evangelistic conference the other day, and one of those young whippersnappers got up there, he belongs to this generation. And he said, “You know what?” He said, “You know, a child, a teenager, a youngster by the time he is sixteen years of age has spent five thousand more hours looking at a television than he has spent in all of his life in school.” Looking at what? I tell you the violence and blood and crime on television is enough to warrant, to assure the disintegration and decay of a civilization. No wonder they call it an idiot box.
Progress. Evolution. Look at us and where we are going and what we are a-doing. Yes, some time ago a little diminutive missionary by the name of Ray Crawford wrote a book, Thinking Black. Thinking Black. And in that book he describes one of those big black men who had been won to Christ. And the time came when missionary Crawford was going down to the seaport, out to the heart of Africa, down to the seaport and on a furlough back home.
And he gathered around him some of his finest black men who had been saved and baptized and now belonged to the body of Christ. He gathered some of those finest black Christians, and he took them with him down to the seaport. And they were big men, giant men, a large statured African tribe. And he began to tell those men what they were going to see out of the heart of the jungle and the wonders of the civilization.
When I was down there in the Amazon jungle, Tyrere’s children, two of Tyrere’s children were flown into Yarinacocha, and that was the first time they had ever been out of the jungle. It was the first time they had ever seen anything besides the trees and those huts, and the tribal life of those headhunters, headshrinkers; never had such an interesting time in my life, watching those two children.
And while I am thinking about it, just let me say this. The first time they ever came to the camp, after an hour or two of their arrival, we ate dinner together in the missionary’s house, and those two children were there. They had never been at the table. They had never seen silverware, eating things. They had never seen anything, a rug, draperies, a house, anything. They’d never seen anything. And they had such a hard time. It was very difficult for them.
So the next morning I went to another missionary’s house on the compound, and they had those two children over there for breakfast. And the missionary said to me, “Now we are not going to have them eat here at the table. We are not going to have them eat at the table. We are going to let them eat over there by themselves on the floor.”
So she spread out a little tablecloth on the floor, and those two children of Tyrere’s ate there on the floor with their hands, by themselves. But what impressed me about them was this. We sat down to eat and they sat down over there in the corner, on the floor, around that little tablecloth. And those two headhunter’s children bowed their heads before they ate, and he prayed a prayer, it seemed to me ten minutes long.
Isn’t that something? Well, that’s like I am going to tell you about with missionary Crawford. Those big black men were following him down to the seaport, the great city on the ocean. They were helping him with his luggage and with his baggage, helping the missionary on his furlough. So the missionary began to tell them what they were going to see; electric lights; think of that, electric lights. And an automobile; think of that. And a paved road; think of that. And houses, and water, and all the things that goes with a luxurious modern living.
And as he described those things, those black men would open their eyes and say, “Oh, I didn’t think of that.” And another one, “Oh! Imagine that.” And “Oh! I never saw anything like that.” All except one. And finally missionary Crawford turned to him and said, “Well, don’t any of these things impress you? What do you think about them?”
And missionary Crawford says in that book that big black man laid his luggage down and drew himself up to his full height and folded his arms and looked down at the missionary, and said, “But sir, to be better off is not to be better.”
First time I ever heard that sentence, and I’ve heard it a thousand times since. To be better off is not to be better. This is not progress. This is not achievement. I don’t want to be misunderstood. But just may I illustrate these things as I see them in life?
I pick up this sweet and blessed Book, and over here, after the Book of Judges, I read one of the most precious romances in all literature. I read about Ruth, sweet and precious Ruth. Ruth, to Naomi, a mother-in-law:
Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall by my people, and thy God my God:
And where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried; God do so, and more also unto me, if aught but death separate between me and thee.
Ruth, who lived three thousand years ago.
All right. In the Fountain Blue hotel in Miami, Florida, I sat and watched a modern Jewess smoking one cigarette after another until her fingers were yellowed, drinking one glass of liquor after another, and on her face every line and lineament of dissolution and worldliness. Yet you say, “This is progress!” Compare Ruth who lived three thousand years ago and that modern Jewess in the Fountain Blue hotel. Progress, progress, man, progress.
Joseph, sweet, humble but godly, faithful, trusting man of God, child of the Lord. Or Daniel or Jonathan, just look at them! And I can think of a modern Jew who is as cheap and as grasping and as secular and material as the devil himself. Yet this is progress.
Cornelius, an Italian of the Italian Band, a centurion, an Italian [Acts 10:1]: when I was preaching up there in southern Illinois right across from St. Louis, they all take the St. Louis papers up there. And every day while I was there, three days, I don’t know how long it had been going on, I don’t know how long it continued, but for three days the top of the paper, in a band about like that, was describing the Cosa Nostra in St. Louis, and named those Italians who in the underworld were murdering and thieving and destroying. And I think of the godly Italian Cornelius and the Cosa Nostra today. That’s progress, progress!
You listen to me. You walk down the streets of a great city like St. Louis or like Chicago or like New York City, and you are overwhelmed by the tremendous monument genius has raised to the pristine glorious endowments of mankind. These great buildings, and those marvelous sculptured pieces, and those glorious paintings, and all of the things that go into the riches of the culture and life of a great city, but we have never yet found an answer what shall we do with the builder, and what shall we do with the sculptor, and what shall we do with the painter.
There is no progress, just in things and things and things! And the Lord God Himself said in my text: “For a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” [Luke 12:15]. Read it in the Book, on the sacred page.
This is what I call the illusion of progress; things, things, and mostly leaving out God. I must conclude. May I take a little incident out of New York City? So many of you so many times have been there; business, culture, drama, metropolitan, opera, sightseeing, World’s Fair, many, many, many occasions: draw people to this most astonishing of all the modern Babylons of the world.
Upon a day I went up Fifth Avenue, looked at this museum, at that one, Guggenheim, Fisk, Metropolitan; walking around the great Metropolitan Art Museum in New York, one of the great, great assemblies of world famous art in the world. Just walking around, just looking, room after room after room, masterpiece after masterpiece. You know the painting that impressed me the most? If I had the money I would buy it, and I would bring it down here to this church, and I’d hang it up somewhere that everybody could look at it. In that great museum with all those glorious masterpieces was a picture that an artist had drawn, and it was this. You were looking inside a poor, poor man’s cottage. And the elements of poverty were everywhere, a poor man’s cottage. In the center was a rough, rough table, and just beyond, an open hearth with pots and vessels, where the mother of the house was cooking dinner. And there in the room was an old grandmother, aged old mother. And the children were gathering around the table. And one of the older girls had a little baby in her arms, her little sister. And the mother was preparing to set the simple meal on the table.
And the door was ajar and in through the door was walking a laboring man, making his living by the strength of his hands. And one of the little children was going to meet him with gladness and love and welcome on her face. And above the picture in the room the artist had drawn the blessed, and wonderful, and precious, and loving Lord Jesus. You know how an artist would draw. At the bottom it was kind of shadowy, kind of evanescent and then gaining substance and finally the full figure of the blessed Lord. And He had His hands outstretched over the family like this, looking down upon them with His hands outstretched in blessing. And underneath, the artist had captioned his picture, Christ Among the Lowly. That is real progress.
Man, we are going somewhere with folks like that, with a father like that, and a mother like that, and an old granny like that, and with a home like that, and with Jesus like that. This is real progress.
O God, that we could see it and that we could know it: “For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth” [Luke 12:15]. And it isn’t airplanes and television sets and all of the gadgets of modern scientific inventions that makes a nation great. It’s God that makes a people great. And it’s real progress only if we move upward, heavenward, Christ-ward, and God-ward.
Well, I just wanted to get that out of my system. And I’m all right now. I’ve told you what I think about modern life and this modern day. Well, Merle, let’s sing us a song. And while we sing it a somebody you to give himself to Jesus; a family you to come into the fellowship of the church; a couple you coming forward tonight, “Here I am, pastor, and here I stand. I give you my hand. I’ve given my heart to the Lord.” Do it now. Make it now. Out of this balcony round, you come. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, here I come.” As God’s Spirit shall make the appeal to your heart, come. And may God attend your way as you respond. “Here I am. Here I come.” Do it now. Decide now. In a moment when you stand up, stand up coming. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
Sometimes it is very difficult for me to know what to do. It isn’t easy, it isn’t easy to turn loose and give your life completely to God. And many times a man fights in his soul, a civil war rages in his heart. God calls one way and the world, the flesh, and the devil pull another way. It isn’t easy, I know. But I also know that God will help that somebody you, who will trust Him for a victory. He will see you through. If God calls, answer with your life, and let Him win the battle for you! Should you give your heart to Jesus, should you? Should you consecrate your life to Him, should you? Should you put your life in the church, should you? Does God bid you come?
For just a moment let every one of us pray, just your best; and while we pray for you; in a moment when the choir sings an appeal, down one of those stairways or into the aisle and to the front, “Preacher, God helping me, here I come, and here I am.” While our people pray and while the choir sings the appeal, if that somebody is you who ought to come, make it now. Come tonight, trust God for it. Let Him see you through. Make it now, while we sing, while we pray, while we wait.