Two-Edged Sword (SBC)
June 13th, 1969 @ 7:30 PM
THE TWO-EDGED SWORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1969 SBC Presidential Address
I shall speak concerning the theme of our convention and the dedication of our people to its realization in the earth: The Two-Edged Sword.
The Roman legions conquered the entire civilized world with the double-edged sword. With it they overwhelmed the heretofore invincible Greek phalanx. Fearlessly charging the enemy at close quarters, they outmaneuvered the spearmen with their long javelin, the cavalry with their frightened horses, and even the footmen with their heavy armor. With that two-edged sword Rome literally cut armies to pieces. The fearsome and formidable weapon had two sides; it was two-edged. As such, it is a picture in God’s Book of God’s Holy Word. Hebrews 4:12:
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
And that two-edged sword is also a type of the message of the gospel of Christ. In the glorified vision of our Lord that the beloved apostle John saw on the isle of Patmos, in [Revelation 1:16] he said, “And out of His mouth proceeded a sharp, two-edged sword.”
The Christian faith has two cutting edges. One is faith, and the other is works. One is believing; the other is doing. One is evangelizing, and the other is ministering. The Christian religion is a great conviction; it is also a great commitment. It is a great doctrine; it is also a great deed. It is a great message; it is also a great ministry. It is a great sermon; it is also a great service. It is a mighty sermon. It is an eloquent propaganda. It is a glorious practice. It is an eloquent propaganda. It is also an incomparable belief and life. It is a noble orthodoxy; it is also a magnificent orthopraxy. These are the two hemispheres of the Christian religion. Separated, the message from the ministry, they bleed themselves white; but together they are a glory and a power before the Lord.
We are to deliver the whole message of Christ. For a whole man needs a whole religion: half a religion is not enough. Any theological dualism or dichotomy that separates a man’s body from a man’s soul is alien to the mind of Christ. The ministry and the message are to the whole man. Even in this life we don’t put a man’s body in one place and a man’s soul into the other place. And according to the revelation of the Scriptures, in the world to come we are to be reunited, the regenerated soul in the glorified and resurrected body [1 Thessalonians 4:15-16]. The New Testament abhors disembodiment, as nature abhors a vacuum. God made our spirits; God made our bodies. And the ministry of Christ is to both [Matt 11:28].
We are to preach the whole message of Jesus:
- Jesus dying for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3];
- Jesus raised from the dead for our justification [Romans 4:25];
- Jesus ascending into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], our Intercessor, able to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him [Hebrews 7:25];
- and someday Jesus coming again in glory and great power [Mark 13:26].
- But we are also to preach Jesus, moved with compassion, which is ever His enduring name [Matthew 9:36];
- and Jesus ministering to the multitudes [Matthew 14:14];
- Jesus feeding the hungry [Matthew 14:15-21, 15:32-39];
- Jesus cleansing the leper [Mark 1:40-42];
- Jesus healing the sick [Matthew 8:16].
There is no contradiction ever between the Good Samaritan attitude toward the earth and the gospel of the regeneration of the soul. In fact, the Christian message is just words, it is sounds, it is syllables until it is translated into dedicated service. It is the translation of the message, of the sermon, of the idea into reality that gives its power and relevancy.
A great scientist one time took me into his laboratory, and there on a large table he had worked out a way to crack up the molecular structure of crude oil into high octane gasoline. And the large table was covered with Bunsen burners, and test tubes, and glass. Then he took me to the window, and pointed to a full square mile of tremendous industrial complex, installation. And pointing to the laboratory table, he said, “This,” and then to the great industrial complex, he added, “is that. This is that.”
So with the Word of God; all of the great ideas in Scripture are dynamic, they are workable, they are pertinent, they are relevant, they move; they work. The ideas of Scripture are never static or dormant or passive.
On the day of Pentecost [Acts 2:1], Simon Peter opened God’s Book to Joel’s prophecy of the Holy Spirit, and said, “This,” then pointing to the marvel at Pentecost, added, “is that” [Acts 2:16]. The apostle John opened God’s revelation to the revelation of the Almighty God Himself, and said, “This,” and then described Him as the Logos [John 1:1], the expressive God toward which the philosophy of Plato and Philo moved. “This is that”; and then described God as the great Creator of the universe [John 1: 3]. God moves. He necessarily advances, He never recedes. His creation is followed by redemption; and His redemption is followed by sanctification; and His sanctification is followed by glorification [Romans 8:28-30]. All of the ideas in Scripture are dynamic and relevant; they move.
The idea of faith: author of the Epistle to the Hebrews opened his Bible and said, “This, faith, by faith, Noah, is that, built an ark [Hebrews 11:7]. This, by faith Abraham, is that, he went out into a country that he should afterward receive for an inheritance [Hebrews 11:8]. This,” said the author of Hebrews, “by faith Moses, is that, he spurned to be called Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” [Hebrews 11:24-25]. And the sainted apostle John in his first epistle said, “This, love, is that: God so loved us He gave His Son to die for us [1 John 4:9]. This: the man that loves God is to love his brother also [1 John 4:21], is that, the expression of love in our lives as Christian people.” The glory of the Christian faith is this: that it is demonstrable truth, it is experiential truth; you can see it for yourself. You can look at it. You can hold it in your hand. You can touch it, and you can feel it.
The son of a professor of systematic theology in the seminary said to his father at the breakfast table one morning, “Dad, why didn’t you ever tell me about the power of the gospel to change life?” And the systematic professor, said, “Why, why, lad, I’ve been telling you that ever since you’ve been born.” But the boy replied, “Daddy, somehow I never did see it until last night, down at the rescue mission.” It’s words, it is syllables, it is sentence, it is theology until it is turned into reality, until it is incarnate in human life. When that boy saw the flotsam and the jetsam off the streets, singing,
Saved by the blood of the crucified One
All praise to the Father, all praise to the Son
All praise to the Spirit, the great Three-in-One
Saved by the blood of the crucified One
[from “Saved by the Blood,” S. J. Henderson]
It was a new day for that boy. It’s a new day for any heart and life to see the message in reality.
We sing, and I love it; I even like to clap my hands and pat my foot with it—we sing, “The Old Time Religion.” Makes me love everybody, it’ll take us all to heaven, it’s good enough for me. Makes me love everybody; red and yellow black and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loved the many peoples of the world. The arms of the cross outstretched, wide, wide open; far as the east goes east and the west goes west, the arms of our Lord outstretched to the whole earth. And like our Savior, our arms are outstretched: open arms, open hearts, open doors, open churches, open schools, open colleges, open seminaries. As wide as the world is wide, our arms are outstretched to the peoples of the earth.
Tell me, what would you do if someone came to you and said, “Show me the faith”; what would you do? I know what many of us would try to do: we’d take the man to our convention, and pointing to this great throng of thousands we would say, “That is the faith.” Jesus never mentioned it, nor did He refer to it. Some of us might take a man to hear an eloquent preacher; and as he rose from one great peroration to the other, we would say, “That is the faith.” Jesus never mentioned it; He never referred to it. Some of us might take a man like that inquirer to a cathedral, and after watching a pompous service, say, “That is the faith.” But Jesus never mentioned it; He never referred to it.
But our Lord did have something to say about a cup of cold water offered in the name of a prophet [Matthew 10:42]. He did have something to say about seeking the one lost sheep [Luke 15:1-7]. He did have something to say about knocking at the door [Luke 11:5-10]. And He did have something to say about honoring a despised, outcast Samaritan [Luke 10:33-35]. Our ministry is with the people. Our message must be translated into that dedicated love.
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, “I am down here, among My people.”
This double-edged ministry of our Lord, dying for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3] and ministering to human need [Matthew 20:28], is the record of the true church of Jesus through the centuries. The apostolic church had its apostles, who gave themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. And they had their deacons, who represented the church in ministering to the poor and waiting tables [Acts 6:1-6]. You can name the great preachers of time, and they have that double-edged ministry. I suppose one of the greatest evangelists of all history is Charles G. Finney. But there never was a foe of slavery more outspoken than evangelist Finney. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the greatest preacher we’ve ever produced, had an amazing affinity for and ministry to the poor of industrial London. F. B. Meyer in England, and D. L. Moody in America, offered themselves in pity and in loving service for the orphaned. There never was anyone who ever fought the liquor traffic like Billy Sunday. He’s the one who said, “As long as I have a fist I can double up, I’m going to hit the liquor traffic.” He said, “As long as I have a foot with which I can kick, I’m going to kick the liquor traffic.” He said, “As long as I have teeth I can bite with, I’m going to bite the liquor traffic.” Then he added, “And when I lose my teeth, I’m going to gum it!”
The record of our missionaries has been no different. Adonirum Judson fought the despotic East India Company all of his missionary life. Through the untiring efforts of William Carey, there was a law passed in India against throwing babies into the Ganges River. And finally, due to his untiring efforts, there was a law passed in India against the self-immolation of the widow on the funeral pyre of her husband.
And this has been the double-edged ministry of our Southern Baptist Convention for its one hundred twenty-five years of existence. In assembled sessions we have spoken out about war, and about peace, and about disarmament, and about race, and about poverty, and about crime, and about immorality, and about a thousand other things that overwhelm our nation. And now we come to this present day and this present hour. Shall we cower before the world and the onslaughts of Satan like craven slaves? Shall we? The sword is a weapon for advance. It’s not a defensive weapon; it is an offensive weapon. The Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples the night before He was crucified, He said, “And he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one” [Luke 22:36]. And His prophetic outline of the future, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” [John 16:33]; it finds its fulfillment in the warriors of Christ battling darkness, and battling sin, and battling paganism, and battling materialism, and battling heathenism, and battling racism, and battling atheism, and battling materialism, and a thousand other things that would overwhelm the kingdom of God.
We are in a war from which there is no discharge. We may be the church triumphant someday, but we are the church militant today. And it seems to me that Satan has thrown down his gauntlet to our generation. He has not only blunted our attack, but he has stopped our forward progress. This can be seen in the statistics that we read. They tell us 185 years ago, 25% of this earth was evangelical Christian. Today, it is 8%. In 1980, they say, it will be 4%. And in the year 2000, they say, it will be 2%. And not only that, but Satan is seeking to dissolve the fabric of our society with filth and violence and crime. He is forcing us now to pay 12,500 times as much on filth and crime and violence as we spend on all of the religions in our boundaries. We face a tragic hour.
This is no time to divide! This is no time for internal quarreling and fighting and divisiveness! We are struggling for our very existence in this earth. And how shall we survive? In my humble persuasion, as God has given us the picture in His Word, we ought to go on the offensive; we ought to attack, we ought to move, we ought to conquer. The best defense is an offense, always.
Someone asked Alexander the Great, “How did you conquer the world?” And he replied, “By never turning back.” So marches the army of our Lord. In the words of the mystic William Blake,
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
We shall not cease from battle strife,
Nor shall the sword sleep in our hands,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In this fair and pleasant land.
[from “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time?”]
This is our commitment under God: marching together, striving together, living together, working together, praying together, facing the exigencies and crises of this hour as one great committed association of churches.
Now in our preaching and in our message we are to be up, not down; we are to go forward, not backward. We are to preach positively, not negatively. We are not to preach our doubts and our unbeliefs, but our convictions and our answers. If God has said anything, let’s tell it to the world. They are eager to hear what they can believe.
I nearly fell out of the chair in our pulpit when a learned, rich, and educated layman stood up there and said, “I had rather hear a man say, ‘I seen,’ if he has seen something, than to hear a man say, ‘I have seen,’ if he ain’t seen anything.” Which is another way of saying the world is weary of being told what they cannot believe. They are frank to say that if the church is nothing but a conglomerate of political tappers and tinkers, and if the Bible is so unreliable it cannot be accepted as being true, and if the Christian faith is built upon a gigantic fraud of a man who is supposed to have risen from the dead but didn’t, then why try to modernize the whole mess? Just throw it out and be done with it. And that’s what many students, and what businessmen have done: they listen to the preacher who believes nothing, has no convictions, has no message; they yawn and they go out and play golf.
My brother, listen to me: if you persist in handing out stones when the people ask for bread, they’ll quit coming to the bakery. And if you continue to offer serpents for fish and scorpions for eggs, the market is ready to close. But we need not follow so disastrous a course as that. Underneath there is a psychology in our Southern Baptist Convention, that if we give ourselves to social ministries, that somehow we will follow the example of other denominations whom we watch, who have lost their zeal for saving the lost. They have forsaken their missionary passion, they have lost their institutions, and they are dead or dying in their churches. And we are fearful that if we give ourselves to this double emphasis, that the working end of that will so overwhelm us that we’ll forget to preach the gospel of the saving grace of the Son of God.
You know better. If we will do two things, one, if we will be true to the motives for our social work, and if we will be true to the divine pattern set by our Lord and His apostles, no such disaster will ever overwhelm us. The motive for our work is our relationship to God. An infidel can do social work, and sometimes does. An atheist can do social work, and many times does. An unbeliever can do social work, and many times does. But the motive for our commitment lies in our relationship to Jesus Christ, in uour relationship to Jesus Christ. And then, again, if we follow the divine pattern set by our Lord and His apostles—and Dr. Scott Tatum preached on that in this very pulpit a moment ago—there is an emphasis in the Christian faith, Jesus said so. He said there is a first commandment, and that commandment is for God. A first commandment as well as a second, there is a first commandment. You’ll find that in the order of the Great Commission. The order of that Great Commission is as inspired as its content. There is one imperative in that Great Commission spoken by our Lord; all of the other verbs are participles. And that imperative is, “Make disciples” [Matthew 28:19-20]. If we are true to that, we will never stumble, we’ll never fall.
And this is the place where we and the world divide, we part company. The world does not believe in the necessity for the gospel of redemption and regeneration; and that’s where we differ. And they speak to us bluntly, and rudely, and crudely. They say, “If you have tractors to move mountains, you don’t need faith. If you have penicillin, you don’t need prayer. If you have positive thinking, you don’t need salvation. If you have the state, you don’t need the church. If you have manuals on science, you don’t need the Bible. And if you have an Einstein or an Edison, you don’t need a Jesus.”
They interpret life in materialistic terms and values. But the great need of humanity is in the spirit, it’s in the soul, it’s in redemptive message and work, the ableness and power of the gospel of the Son of God. The gospel addresses itself to man’s deepest need: the need for spiritual rebirth. This is the great message and emphasis of the Christian faith. The Christian faith is some say, it is an ethic. Well, it is ethical. Some say it is a theology. Well, it is theological. Some say it is a reformational. Well, it does have cultural and social and political overtones. But the great message of the Christian faith, at its heart and its center, is always redemptive and regenerative.
This is found in the sign of the Christian church. The sign of the Christian church is not a burning bush; it is not two tables of stone; it is not a seven-branched lampstand; it is not a halo above a submissive head; it is not even a golden crown. But the sign of the church is a cross, a rugged cross; a naked, rugged cross in all of its hideousness, as the Roman would have it. A cross in all of its philosophical irrationality, as the Greek would have it; but a cross in all of its power to save as Paul preached it. Paul came to the center of the Roman Empire, to Rome itself, to preach the gospel of Christ. Rome was a city of slavery. He did not center his gospel against slavery. Rome was a city of lust. He did not center his gospel concerning moral reform. Rome was a city of economic oppression. He did not center his gospel concerning the redistribution of wealth. Rome was the center of violence, gladiatorial combat. He did not center his gospel against those manifestations of bloodshed. Rome was a city built on the spoils of war. He did not preach pacifism. But he came to Rome to preach the power of the gospel of the Son of God to regenerate human souls. And those evils fell in their days. Go look at the Coliseum; it has fallen into disuse. Crucifixion has been forgotten among civilized Christian mankind. And a thousand other evils, slavery, the degradation of woman, the exposition of children, all of them have fallen in their time.
And this is the great ministry of the church: it is a redemptive, saving message for which Christ died [1 Timothy 1:15]. If the church is nothing other than just a social agency, why bother with a church? If a minister is nothing other than just a social worker, why bother with being a minister? But there is a unique, divine, God-given commission that the minister and the church has, that no other agency or organization in the earth possesses. The church is not the church when it’s just a political platform. The church is not the church when it is just a center of social activities. The church is not the church when it is decorating the pigpen instead of getting that prodigal out of it and back home where he belongs [Luke 5:11-32]. The church is not the church when it is scolding and denouncing. The church is a true church when it is preaching the gospel of hope to hopeless men. The church is really the church when it is evangelizing and converting. The church is really the church when it is indoctrinating and teaching the mind of God that was in Christ Jesus [Philippians 2:5]. The church is really the church when it is battling sin, and evil, and darkness, and disease, and frustration, and death. The church is really the church when it is pointing to Jesus the Lamb of God [John 1:29]. The church is really the church when it says to the world, “This is the answer of all human need.” The church is really the church when it calls men to repentance and faith, a new life in Him [Acts 20:21]. The church is really the church when it pleas for a disciplined life [Philippians 4:5]. The church is really the church when it reminds us that we are citizens of two worlds: this and the world to come [Philippians 3:20]; and we’re to glorify God in both [1 Peter 2:17].
If we fail in our social ministries, there are other agencies that doubtless can take it up and carry it on. But if we fail in this great ministry of preaching the regenerating, redemptive, reconciling gospel of the Son of God [2 Corinthians 5:20], there is no other agency to carry it on. As my great predecessor, Dr. George W. Truett, said to this convention in his day, “Let every agency, and let every board, and let every organization of the Southern Baptist Convention be aflame with the passion of evangelism.”
I close. Bear with me as I close this address.
As long as Southern Baptists do not embrace an anemic, emasculated, enervating theology, as long as Southern Baptists believe that the Bible is the Word of God, as long as Southern Baptists believe that men are lost without Christ [1 John 5:12]. He is ordained and commissioned us to win them to the faith [Matthew 28:19-20]. As long as Southern Baptists repudiate the subtle doctrine of universalism, that all men are saved anyway, as long as Southern Baptists believe that Christ died for our sins [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3], and that men can come to God for forgiveness in Him [1 John 1:9], and as long as Southern Baptists preach and extend an invitation, our social commitments will never weaken us. They will strengthen us in the power of that two-edged sword, to believe and to do, to preach and to minister.
But if Southern Baptists ever come to the place where they do not believe the scriptural doctrine of judgment and damnation, we shall be universalists and not evangelists. If Southern Baptists ever come to the place where they do not believe in the deity of the Son of God, we shall be Unitarians and not Trinitarians. If the Southern Baptists ever come to the place where we do not strive for the conversion of the heathen but rather further an institutionalized Christianity, we shall be westernizers and not Christianizers. And if Southern Baptists ever come to the place where they do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we shall be apostates and not apostles of the faith. And if Southern Baptists ever come to the place where we do not strive to convert men to God, we shall be keepers of a stagnate aquarium, and not fishers of men [Matthew 4:19]. And if Southern Baptists ever come to the place where we do not strive to carry out the great commission of Christ [Matthew 28:19-20], we shall be dead and not alive, and God Himself will remove our lampstand from our midst [Revelation 2:4-5].
My brethren, we stand at a critical juncture in the one hundred twenty-four years of our history. We’re not going to divide. Like a mighty army moves the church of God; brethren we are treading where the saints have trod. And we have committed ourselves to the creation of the brotherhood of the redeemed, bought by the blood of the crucified One [1 Peter 1:18-19]. And we are working for and striving for, we are building the true temple of God, with jade from the Orient, with coral from India, with ebony from Africa, with ivory from the hands of the white man, with pearls from the isles of the sea. And we are persuaded that in God’s grace and in God’s time our eyes shall see the King and the coming kingdom, even as He taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth,” this earth, “as it is in heaven” [Matthew 6:10].
To that commitment, we’re not divided, all one body, we, one in faith and doctrine, one in charity. My brethren, however we may differ over many interpretations, or many procedures, or many methods, fundamentally and deeply we commit ourselves tonight to the Holy Scriptures, to the saving gospel of the grace of the Son of God [Acts 1:8], to the evangelization of the world, and to our ministry in it, offering hands of love and sympathy and help.