A MATTER OF SURVIVAL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-16-70 10:50 a.m.
If you are listening to this service on radio, or if you are watching this hour on television, you are with us, God’s people, in the congregation of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled A Matter of Survival, and it is a message regarding the existence of the Christian faith, and message, and church, in the world – a matter of survival of our very existence. As the imagery of a background, not as a passage for exegesis or exposition, but the exact image for a background of the message this morning, I turn to the twelfth chapter of the Book of the Revelation – Revelation chapter 12.
This is an apocalyptic vision of the conflict between Satan and Michael the archangel. And there was cast out of heaven – after the war between Michael and his angels, and the dragon and his angels – there was cast out of heaven Satan and those who followed in his train – then beginning at verse 12:
Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. And when the dragon – which is Satan – and when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man Child.
And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might drown her, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.
And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
[Revelation 12:12-13, 15, 17]
That is the exact image of the background of the message this morning. "And Satan was wroth, and he persecuted the woman and made war with the remnant of her seed, those who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ [Revelation 12:17]. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood to drown the woman, to carry her away in the flood" [Revelation 12:15]. This is a precise and exact image of the position and the status of the Christian message and church in the world today.
We face a veritable flood of heathenism and paganism. There are seven hundred million more people today who do not know Christ than at the turn of this century – seven hundred million more, two hundred million more than a half-a-billion – just since the turn of this century. On all of our mission fields we win and baptize about sixty-five thousand a year, but in those same mission fields, there are more than sixty-five million who are born.
A newspaper reporter called me on the telephone, and he said, "What is this statement that you made at this conference, that unless there is an intervention of God in the twentieth century, the church will be almost extinct?" I said, "Do you have a piece of paper and a pencil? Just get it out and figure it for yourself." A hundred years ago twenty-five percent of the world’s population was evangelical Christian. Today, it is eight percent. By 1980, it will be four percent. By the year, 2000, it will be less than two percent.
And I said to the reporter, "Just follow the graph down, and if it continues in these future decades as it has in these past years, the day is coming when the church will be practically nonexistent in the world – the floodtide of paganism and heathenism."
Second: for the first time in the history of mankind, there are governments that are openly and statedly atheistic. This is a phenomenon that has come to pass in my lifetime. No ancient Greek ever made a decision without first consulting the oracle at Delphi. No Roman general ever went to war without first propitiating the gods. But these rulers and these governments bow at no altar and call on the name of no deity. It is a phenomenon in the history of mankind, the blatant, blasphemous atheism of modern governments.
Three: when the Lord God looked down from heaven in that antediluvian day, before Noah, God saw the whole world corrupt, and violence filled the earth. When the Lord God looks down from heaven today on this earth, He sees no less the corruption and the violence that He saw in that antediluvian day. The graph of criminal statistics is rising fearfully in every Western nation, and most so in America! If God does not judge this world, and if God does not judge America, somewhere, sometime, He must apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. Paganism, heathenism, atheism, and corruption, and violence – like a flood – are veritably seeking the extinction of the message of Christ in the world.
And again, fourth: at a time when the church and the messenger of God ought to be at his greatest virulent strength, when he ought to set up a standard to oppose the floodtide of evil, at this very time, the church is at its weakest! Its testimony is anemic, and compromised, and mostly denied.
The liberal, the modernist, the pseudo-intellectual stands to face the flood, and he does so with no conviction. He denies the very Book, and he denies the very doctrines for which he is commissioned of heaven to preach in the world. The church is bloodless. It has a lethargy and a deadness like a cadaver. It lacks strength, and life, and conviction, and virulence. It has washed up and washed out at a time when the greatest challenge to its existence has been laid down like a gauntlet at its feet.
So the background of the imagery of the text: "And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood that he might carry away the woman [Revelation 12:15]. And the dragon was wroth with her seed, and made war against them, even those who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" [Revelation 12:17]. Now that is the background of the message this morning, A Matter of Survival.
If the gospel message is to stay alive in the earth, and if the churches of Christ are to continue to exist, there are some things that we must possess, and that must characterize our gospel message. And the first one is this: it must be authentic. It must be real. I cannot conceive of the messenger of God going forth to face this floodtide of evil, and he is armed with myths, and legends, and fables, such as he says composes the Word of God.
The Word of God, the Christian faith, was born in a blood-red earnestness. It was born in fire, and in fury, and in trial, and in tribulation, in persecution unto death. It was born in a day of livid, vivid, slaughter – the fagot, the flame, the fire, the sword, the crucifixion, the persecution, and the death. And yet today the minister of God goes forth to face a world that is set like a flood against it. And he arms himself with legends, and fables, and myths, and purports to deliver in the name of God a message that is fabricated, honeycombed with unbelief and compromise. If the message is to live, it must first of all be authentic. It must be genuine. It must be real. It must be true. And that truth we have in the Word of God, confirmed by human experience.
When I turn to the Book, the first I read is the judgment of God upon the human race. The Book describes our fall, Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:1-6], and the judgment of God upon human transgression. "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" [Genesis 2:17]. And that truth, that realism, I find in human experience. There is a judgment of God upon the entire human race. All sin, all are under judgment, and all face inevitable death! This is no myth. This is no fable, this is real, authentic, the truth of God!
As I turn the pages, I read of the judgment of God upon cities and nations who forget the Lord. "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God" [Psalm 9:17]. And there follows the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the ten tribes of Israel, and Judah and Benjamin, the judgment of God upon a nation that forget the Lord. And that judgment, that reality, that authenticity I find in all human experience. There is a judgment of God upon a people wherever they forget the name of the Lord.
As I turn the pages of the Book, I find a like judgment upon our individual souls. There is no other way for a man to be saved, to escape the second and eternal death, outside of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. This is no myth. This is no legend. This is no fable; this is the truth, the reality of Almighty God. "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son hath not life; but the wrath of God abideth upon him" [John 3:36; 1 John 5:12]. But the church, and the messenger of Christ, has lost that message.
I was interested this week in a bulletin – a church bulletin – that came to my desk, and I took my scissors and cut out the first column. I read:
A friend of mine told recently of a man who had been a Christian for only a few months. He began to read his Bible. He discovered the word, "hell," and asked his pastor what it meant.
The pastor replied, "Don’t worry about it. Hell is only the Bible’s expression for the anxieties and tensions of our time." Whereupon they both had a good laugh, told a few risquÃ© stories, and went their way.
But the matter did not end there, for the new Christian kept on reading his Bible. Again and again, the subject of hell was mentioned. The more he read, the more he concluded that the motivation for the urgency of Jesus Christ in His earthly ministry was hell, to save us from the judgment of damnation. He learned that hell is not in this life and is not man’s anxiety and tension, but hell is eternal punishment prescribed and ordained by Almighty God. His greatest puzzle was why his pastor, who was supposed to have a knowledge of the Scriptures, did not know it – did not realize it.
Well, I can tell that man why his pastor did not know it and did not realize it – because he purposefully, and knowingly, and willingly, and volitionally has denied the Word of God! He has turned from the authentic revelation of Almighty God to human speculation. He has substituted, for the message of Christ, a man’s gospel.
If we are to face the floodtide of evil and paganism, we must have a message that is authentic, that is real; one that is self-revealed of the Lord from heaven and is confirmed by human experience.
Does my human experience confirm that? My brother, in the forty-three years I have been a pastor, the first and foremost of all of the impressions I have of human life is this: that men are lost without God! However you extenuate it, philosophize about it, follow all of the deviations of psychology, even go back to a dead theory that by evolution sin is nothing else but the drag of our ancestors; however you philosophize about it, the hardest, crudest, rudest, harshest fact I know in life is that men are lost without God!
Our message to stand before this world must first be authentic; not tawdry, cheap, compromised, filled with speculation and hypothesis and theory, but one that is from heaven; one that is true to the revelation of God; one that can be confirmed by human experience.
Not only must it be authentic, but the message – if it is to live and survive in his world – must be authoritarian. There has to be some basis, somewhere, upon which a man can build his life, his actions, his deportment, his faith. And all of us have that basic human persuasion. We worship before some shrine. We bow before some god. We follow some set of beliefs. If the message of Christ is to exist and to survive, it must be authoritarian. It must be based upon the truth and the reality of Almighty God. There are several bases on which a man can build his life; raise the superstructure of whatever he does with his hands, and his mind, and his heart. There are several of those bases.
One: you can find the authority for life – for judgment, for the whole summation of what it is to exist – you can find it in human experience, in the five senses. There are many pseudoscientists who say, "I receive nothing, and I believe nothing that I cannot place in a test tube and verify." Their lives must be scientifically demonstrated or they don’t accept anything in it. To me – and this is the prevailing intellectual climate of our modern world – but to me, that is the stupidest of all of the attitudes toward life that I could imagine. What would you do – seeking to place in a test tube, for verification – what would you do with vision, or purpose, or love, or any other of the great dynamic things that sweep through the human heart, and that ultimately guide and turn human life? Most of the things that move us, and change us, and make us what we are, you cannot place in any test tube or work it out in any formula. It is invisible and intangible; it’s of the spirit and of the soul!
Yet, I would say that the entire intellectual climate of the modern world is, the only basis for life is some kind of an experience that we can know by our five senses, something that we can put in a test tube, or equate out in a mathematical formula.
Again, a basis of life can be the choice of the individual, what he thinks, and what he believes, that’s all the basis of life. That’s kind of like neo-orthodoxy, the system of theology that has pervaded most of this twentieth century. Briefly stated, it would go like this: the Bible is only the Bible, if it is the Bible to you. Any part of the Bible is only true, if it is true to you. All spiritual experience, they say, is only valid if it is valid to you. And the human being is the great arbiter and judge of what is true, and what is not true; what is revealed, and what is not revealed; what God says, and what God doesn’t say; what God is, and what God isn’t. So the basis of life, and belief, and deportment – according to these neo-orthodox theologians – is the individual. He is the great arbiter and judge of all of life, and nothing is true except what is true to him. This is a basis of life, the individual.
Again, the authority and the basis of life – by some – is to be found in a hierarchy, and in the judgments of the church. A thing is true because the hierarchy said it is true. The dogma is promulgated and is true because the church says it is true. All of the great bases of our faith, according to them, is to be found in the promulgation, the announcements, the dogmas of the hierarchy. That is the basis of life, faith, belief, action.
But there is another – there is yet another – and that other is to be found in the authoritarian judgment upon this self-revelation of God: what God has said, what God has revealed, what God has made known to us in these sacred pages. And the authority for all of life; the authority for all doctrine; the authority for deportment and action and belief; the authority for hope and vision; the authority for the church and its doctrines and its ordinances; the authority for all of the meaning of existence is to be found in the Word of God. And that to me is the second great characteristic that must characterize those who face the floodtide of evil and paganism in this world.
Not only is our message to be authentic, it is to be real, but our message is to be authoritarian! It is to be a, "Thus saith the Lord God," in the same spirit of the preaching of Amos the prophet, who came to Bethel and said, "The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?" [Amos 3:8], delivering the revealed Word of God, the authority of the Lord God.
But not only must our message be authentic, and not only must it be authoritarian, but third: it must be absolute; that is, without changing, without variation. The message from God, the truth of God is never variable. It is never changing. It is eternal. It is like God Himself, "the same yesterday, and today, and forever" [Hebrews 13:8]. All truth is like that, whether it is the truth of God in the Lord’s Book of creation, or whether it is the truth of God in the Lord’s Book of Self-revelation. Wherever God is, there is truth eternal, for truth is grounded in the being and character of God, and it never changes. It’s always the same. It is absolute!
Mathematical truth is like that. There’s no way in the world by which a man can make two and-a-third, plus two and-a-quarter equal four. It is two plus two, anywhere in the earth, anytime, any generation, any age, and forever. Mathematical truth is unvarying and unchanging.
Acoustical truth, the laws of acoustics; optical truth, the laws of optics; astronomical truth, the laws of astronomy; chemical truth, physical truth, the laws of physics and the laws of chemistry; the laws of electrodynamics; the laws of electromagnetism; the laws of electro-movement and energy, all are ever the same. The laws of thermodynamics, the laws of all God’s created universe, they are the same forever. They never change. They are absolute.
It is thus in the great revelation of God in the Book, and from heaven, and in the hearts of men. The truth of God is never variable. It is never changing, but it is eternal and absolute.
This is true with morality, and righteousness, and ethics. Morality is not what a man says it is. And righteousness is not as a legislature might legislate it. And ethics is not what a judge might say on the bench. But morality and ethics are grounded in the character of God, not what a man says, but what God is! And that never changes! What was right yesterday, is right today, and will be right forever. What was wrong yesterday, is wrong today, and will be wrong forever. For right and wrong, moral judgments, are in the character of God! It’s what God is, and it is absolute, and unchanging, and unvarying.
It is so with political truth. The dignity of man, the respect for human personality, it is grounded in the image, and likeness, and character of Almighty God. It is absolute and never changes! When those who framed our Constitution and founded our government sought for a basis and a guarantee for human rights and liberties, they looked first to Spain and found that in Spain human rights and liberties and freedoms were guaranteed by a monarchy, by a king. But our founding fathers said, "If a king can grant rights and liberties, that same king can take them away." They turned next to England and found that in England the rights and liberties of mankind were guaranteed by a parliament. "But," said our founding fathers, "if a parliament can grant rights and liberties to a people, that same parliament can take them away." They turned next to France and found that the rights and liberties of the people were grounded in the will of a majority, "But," said our founding fathers, "if a majority can grant rights and liberties to a people, that same majority can take them away and oppress a minority."
It was then that our founding fathers turned to Almighty God and found the basis for the guarantee of the rights and liberties and freedoms of the people in the character and being of Almighty God! And no legislature, and no judge, and no governor, and no president can ever presume to deny to the people, created in the image of God, those endowments that the Lord God bestowed upon the man that He made. They are absolute and unchanging. They are grounded in the character of God.
Not only moral truth, absolute, and political truth, absolute – the same yesterday, and today, and forever – but spiritual truth, it never changes, for spiritual truth is a revelation of the being, and the presence, and the glory, and the character of God! That’s why the Book ends and the Revelation closes, you are not to add to it, you are not to take away from it [Revelation 22:18-19], for spiritual truth is a reflection of the being and character of God. No man is to tarnish it. There is to be no blot on the escutcheon, but is to shine forth in all of its eternal glory and everlasting beauty – the character, and the presence, and the truth of Almighty God. It is absolute, unchanging, and unvarying.
And last, if we are to stand, if we’re to survive, if we’re to exist in this floodtide of evil, and corruption, and blasphemy, and unbelief, and paganism, not only is our message to be authentic, real; not only is it to be authoritarian, based on the Word of God; not only is it to be absolute, unchanging and unvariable; but, last: it is to be apocalyptic. That’s God! It is to be one of the unveiling, uncovering, the unfolding future. That’s God – God’s hand in human destiny and in human history. There is purpose, and there is meaning in all of life, in all existence, and in human history. God moves, and God works toward that great, final, and ultimate consummation. And the Lord unveils that purpose and that consummation in His Book. The message is apocalyptic. It is an unveiling.
This we have seen from the record of God in human history in days past. In Christ’s first coming, we see the hand of God moving in human history. Greeks, under Alexander the Great, conquered the civilized world and gave it a language, a universal language. When Paul wrote to the church in the Latin capital of the Roman Empire, he wrote the Book of Romans, the letter to the church of Rome, in Greek. It was the universal language. Men could understand you everywhere. Again, the Roman Empire put the entire civilized world under one enforced, peaceful government. And the Roman roads went everywhere, and men could travel over the sea, and over the land, bringing the good news of the gospel of Christ – the hand of God in human history!
The Lord God said in the Book that the Child should be born in Bethlehem [Micah 5:2], but Mary lives in Nazareth! Unknown to him when he did it, Caesar Augustus made a decree that all should be enrolled, and each one was to go to the home of his father [Luke 2:1-3]. And Joseph and Mary, being of the house of David, went down to Bethlehem to be enrolled [Luke 2:4] – God’s hand in human history.
Not only the Greek, with his universal language; and not only the Roman, with his universal government; but the Jew, with his synagogue: everywhere men were acquainted with the Bible, with the Torah, with the prophets. They were acquainted with the true Lord, and they were acquainted with the messianic hope: God’s hand in human history.
It shall be no less in the great consummation of the age – God’s hand in present history, moving, shaping, guiding toward that ultimate and final consummation of the world. Some of it He has revealed to us in that apocalyptic unfolding and unveiling. There shall be the binding of Satan. He shall be cast out of this earth and into a pit [Revelation 20:1-3], and, finally, into the flaming fire, to be judged forever and ever [Revelation 20:10]. There shall be the exclusion of all sin and unrighteousness from the earth. Satan shall be bound and cast out; God has revealed it.
Again, there shall be a life to God’s saints, a resurrection from among the dead.
This I say, brethren, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. But I show you a great musterion, a secret in the heart of God; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we, we shall all be changed.
[1 Corinthians 15:50-52]
The great musterion of God, the purpose of God in human history, and God’s revelation of the glory of the world that is yet to be: "I saw a new heaven and a new earth. . .and I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride for her husband" [Revelation 21:1-2]. Apocalyptic, the unveiling of God’s purpose through the ages – and in that, our glorious inheritance – we, who for refuge, and forgiveness, and deliverance have turned to Jesus. For us, God hath wrought, and God doth move, that we might inherit the kingdom.
Ah! The sweetness and the glory of the prospect, what God has prepared for us, who love Him.
My heavenly home is bright and fair,
And I feel like traveling on.
No harm or death can enter there,
And I feel like traveling on.
Ah! The Lord has been so good to me,
I feel like traveling on
Until those mansions I can see,
And I feel like traveling on.
[from "I Feel Like Traveling On" by James D. Vaughn]
It must be apocalyptic. It must be filled with the promise of the glory of God. And wherever you find a man, a church, with those four witnessing strengths: authenticity, authority, absolute, and apocalyptic – there will you find God’s Holy Spirit working with His messenger, and working with His church, and the glory of God filling, with His presence, the sanctuary of the people of the Lord.
Our time is far spent. Lee Roy gave me about fifty minutes to preach this morning, and I thought we’re going to have ten minutes of this invitation on television, and we’re already beyond 12 o’clock. I guess we’ll have to look forward to the end of the age, when God gives me a separate planet, and sends me out there, and says, "Now, just preach all you want to – just all you want to. And anybody that wants to listen, just let them come, for we’re going to stick you on a planet out there and just let you preach." Oh! Lord, that’s great. That’s great.
Oh! There’s so much to be said. God has revealed so much. And for us, who love His name, it’s a story of which we never tire. "Sing it over again to me. . .Let me more of His beauty see [from "Wonderful Words of Life," Philip P. Bliss], more, more about Jesus" ["More About Jesus," Eliza E. Hewitt].
Well, blessed, blessed saints – you, in the balcony round, if God puts on your heart to come, do it now. The throng on this lower floor, if God speaks to your soul, come, down one of these stairwells, or into the aisle and down to the front, "Here I am, pastor, I make that decision for God today, and I’m coming." A whole family you, "This is my wife, and these are our children. We’re all coming, pastor." Or a couple you, or just one somebody you, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment, when you stand up, stand up coming. Into that aisle and down to the front, "Here I am, pastor. I make it now." May the Lord attend you in the way. May His angels go before you, as you come, while we stand and while we sing.