A Matter of Survival
August 16th, 1970 @ 8:15 AM
A MATTER OF SURVIVAL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-16-70 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled A Matter of Survival. And the title refers to the Christian faith, and message, and church in the earth; A Matter of Survival. Not as a basis of exegesis or exposition, but as a background, the imagery of a background, I turn to the twelfth chapter of the Revelation, and in the twelfth verse and reading of the verses that succeed:
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 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]
The imagery of this outline in the twelfth chapter of the Revelation, “knowing he has but a short time” [Revelation 12:12], that is, before the great judgment of Almighty God. He is wroth. He is making war against the seed of the woman [Revelation 12:17]. And he casts out of his mouth a mighty flood that he might drown her, carry her away in the waters [Revelation 12:15].
And as I look at the Christian message and faith and church in the world today, there could not be a truer picture of what is happening to us in this present generation and century. We face a veritable floodtide that would drown us and sweep off the face of the earth. For one thing: heathenism and paganism comes in like a flood. There are seven hundred million more people this present minute who don’t know Christ than at the turn of the century, seven hundred million more. On all of our mission fields we win about sixty-five thousand converts a year, on all of our Baptist mission fields. But on those same fields, there are sixty-five million who are born.
A newspaper called me and the reporter said, “What did you mean when you made the statement that unless there is an intervention from God the Christian faith will be almost extinct after the year 2000?” “Well,” I said, “do you have a piece of paper there? Then write this down and see for yourself.” About 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 if that projection continues, a blind man and a stupid man could see that the Christian church is about to be drowned and overwhelmed in the floodtide of darkness and paganism and heathenism.
A second thing: for the first time in the history of humanity there are governments that are openly and statedly atheistic. That is a new phenomenon that has happened in my lifetime. No ancient Greek would make a decision without first consulting the Oracle at Delphi. No Roman general would go to war without first propitiating the gods. But these governments and these nations bow at no altar, and they call upon the name of no deity. This is a phenomenon that has developed in our generation, governments that are openly, pronouncedly, statedly, atheistic.
Three: the floodtide that would overwhelm us. As the Lord God looked down from heaven upon the antediluvians, those who lived before Noah, the Lord saw that the human race was corrupt and that violence filled the earth [Genesis 6:1-7]. It is no less so today. The curve of criminal statistics is alarmingly ascending in every Western nation of the earth, and most so in America. Last year alone, more than one million of our boys and girls entered careers of crime.
Fourth: the floodtide that would sweep us away, at a time when the church and the Christian message ought to be at its most virulent strength, its most dynamic thrust and march; at this very time, the church in the earth and its message is honeycombed with every dilution of compromise, and liberalism, and denial that modern theologians can give themselves to. It is an unbelievable thing that the church has become anemic and weak, compromised, diluted, hesitant, with no positive message and no “Thus saith the Lord.”
Liberalism, modernism, unbelief, has almost swept the strength of the church out of the ability of God Almighty to use it. Consequently, it is increasingly apathetic and weak. It gives the appearance of anemia, of dying. It looks like a corpse. For the most part it is dead, and has no influence for God in the earth.
“And the serpent cast out of his mouth a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away in the flood [Revelation 12:15]. And the dragon was wroth, went to make war with the remnant of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” [Revelation 12:17]. Now that’s the background of the message this morning, A Matter of Survival.
If the Christian faith, and if the gospel message, and if the churches of Jesus Christ are to survive in this present world, there are four things to which we must give ourselves: first, that gospel message must be authentic. It must be real. There’s no such thing as hoping for any victory or any triumph in this world when the minister of Christ and the churches of the Lord go forth with fables and legends and myths, as they say composes this Book.
How are you going to fight evil, and corruption, and unbelief, superstition, and darkness, and paganism, and heathenism, with myths, and legends, and fables, if this is the pronouncement of the modern theological world? If we are to survive, we have to go forth with an authentic message, one that has in it the truth of Almighty God. The Christian faith was born in blood and in tears and in persecution and in trials of the earth [2 Corinthians 4:8-10]. It is that kind of a message that can stand in the face of the onslaughts of Satan and a world of unbelief.
The message must be authentic. It must be genuine. It must be real. And the message of Christ, and the message of this Book, can be confirmed by human experience. Take it from beginning to end, it gives itself to stark reality. The message says that the judgment of God is upon humanity, and it tells the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, and the judgment of God upon a fallen human race [Genesis 3:1-24]. I read that in the Book. I see it in human history and human experience.
Then the Book avows that the judgment of God is upon nations that forget
Him. “The wicked shall be turned into hell,” says the Book, “and all of the nations that forget God” [Psalm 9:17]. Sodom, Gomorrah, Israel, Judah; this is the message of the Book, and human experience and human history confirms it: wherever a nation has departed from God, there the judgment of the Almighty falls. And the same pronounced judgment is upon individual lives, individual souls, upon men and women, there is a judgment of God upon sin, upon our transgression, upon our disobedience [Deuteronomy 28:15, Romans 2:5]. And God has said, “There is none other name under heaven, whereby we must be saved,” except the name of Jesus Christ [Acts 4:12]. And those who depart from that commitment to the Lord face an inevitable and exorable and an eternal judgment. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” [1 John 5:12]. Yet there’s not a handful of ministers in the world who believe that!
I was interested in a bulletin that came to my desk this week, and I cut out the first little column:
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.” He discovered the word “hell,” and asked his pastor about it. 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 risqué stories, and went their way.
But the matter did not end there, for the new Christian kept on reading his Bible. Again, again, the subject of hell was mentioned. The more he read, the more he concluded that the motivation of the urgency of Jesus Christ in His earthly ministry was hell, to save us from damnation. He learned that hell is not in this life, and is not man’s anxieties and tensions, but hell is eternal punishment, prescribed and ordained by Almighty God. And the new Christian’s greatest puzzlement was why his pastor did not know it, though he was a man who was supposed to be versed in the Word of the Lord.
You don’t have to go far to see what has happened to the Christian faith. It is anemic. It has no message, and it denies the very Book that gave it birth. If we are to survive in this day, our message must be authentic. It must be real. It must be genuine. It must deliver the truth of Almighty God [Romans 1:16].
Second, a matter of survival: if we are to survive in this world, our message and our gospel must be authoritarian. That is, it is not a product of a man’s speculation. It’s not a result, a record of a man’s groping. It is not hypothecating or theorizing, but the message is authoritary, it is grounded in the revelation and being of Almighty God.
There are several bases of authority for a man’s life, his belief, his course of action. And all of us worship at some kind of shrine. All of us believe some things. You can’t escape it. Your life follows after. There are several of those bases, several of those grounded authorities for what a man does, the basis of his life, his philosophy, his persuasion of truth.
One: there are those who ground their authority for the interpretation of life and the meaning of life, they ground it in personal, human experience, in the five senses. Why, I’ve heard men say, “What I can’t test, I don’t believe.” Everything they believe must be scientifically demonstrated. It must be placed in a test tube and verified. They base the authority for all of life, and the outreach of life, upon the five senses, upon human experience.
They call themselves scientists. I call them pseudoscientists. That is the most foolish of all of the stupid things that a man could give himself to in life. How would you put purpose in a test tube? How would you put vision in a test tube? How would you put love in a test tube? How would you put anything that really matters in human life in a test tube, as though we were animals? There is nothing in life but the material blocks out of which the material universe was erected, but that’s one basis of authority, human experience, the five senses.
Another basis of authority for human life and deportment can be found in those who elected as according to a man’s private, personal judgment. The authority lies in him [Judges 17:6; Proverbs 21:2]. That is largely the theology of neo-orthodoxy. The Bible is only the Bible; that’s the Bible to you. And what isn’t the Bible to you, is not the Bible at all. Spiritual experience is only valid according to you, you individually, personally; and what isn’t valid to you is not valid. That’s the second basis of authority, in the individual.
A third basis of authority can be found in those who believe in the hierarchy of a church. A thing is true because the church says it is true. A doctrine is promulgated as being the truth because the hierarchy has said it is true.
But there is a fourth basis of authority, and that basis is found in the self-revelation of Almighty God. “The Lord has spoken” [Isaiah 40:5; Ezekiel 24:14]. God has revealed Himself. And the basis of our life, and of our doctrine, and of our church, and of our deportment, and of our belief, and of our faith, all this is grounded upon the self-revelation of Almighty God. That’s the same spirit as the preaching of the prophet Amos, when he said, “The lion hath roared, who will but fear? The Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?” [Amos 3:8].
The message to survive in the world today must be authoritative. It must be authoritarian. It must be grounded in the self-revelation of God. A matter of survival: if we are to survive, the message we bring must not only be authentic, real; it must not only be authoritarian, grounded, based in God [Romans 1:16]; but third, it must be absolute. That is, not variable, not changing, not conditioned, not extenuated, but it is absolute. It is eternal. It is unchanging and invariable. All truth is like that. There is no truth that is not like that. All truth is absolute and unchanging.
Mathematical truth is like that. Wherever two plus two are found, they reach a certain number. All mathematical truth is absolute. You could never get it two-and-a-half, or two-and-a-third plus another two-and-a-half, or two-and-a-third would equal four. It will always come out the same, for truth is invariable. So all of the truth in God’s physical universe, it is unchanging, and it is invariable.
There are laws of physics. They never change. Like the laws of mathematics, they never change. Like the laws of thermodynamics, like the laws of acoustics, or the laws of optics, the laws of the generation of power and the movement of electricity; just name it, in any field, chemical, physical, anatomical, astronomical, God’s hand, wherever it’s found is absolute. Truth never changes. So the truth of Almighty God in the gospel message that we bring, it never changes. It is absolute [John 17:17].
That is true in the world of righteousness, and morality, and ethics. There is no such thing as situation ethics; that is, what’s right now might not have been right yesterday, but it’s right now.
Fourth: righteousness and morality are grounded in the being and the character of Almighty God, and He never changes [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8]. It’s not what a legislature says or what a man says, or what a judgment says, or what a court says, but what is right and what is wrong is what God is, and it’s absolute. It never changes.
That is so in the political world. What is right in the world of government and politics is forever right. It is absolute and unchanging. When the men who framed the government of the United States sought for a pattern for our Constitution, they were seeking a guarantee, a basis for the rights and liberties of man, and they turned to Spain and saw there that the rights and liberties of man were guaranteed by a monarchy, by a king. But our founding fathers said if a king, if a monarchy, can grant rights and liberties, those same rights and liberties could be denied, and withdrawn by the monarch.
They turned then to England and found there that the basis, the guarantee for the rights and liberties of man, were guaranteed by a parliament. But our founding fathers said if a parliament can guarantee and bestow rights and liberties, that same parliament could take them away.
They turned then to France, and they saw in France that the rights and liberties of men were guaranteed by the will of a majority. But our founding fathers said if a majority can grant rights and liberties, that same majority could take them away and oppress a minority.
It was then that our founding fathers lifted up their hearts, and their eyes, and their vision, to Almighty God. And they found that the rights and liberties of mankind were guaranteed by the character and the being and the nature of Almighty God. These are absolutes that never change with changing man.
That same truth is true spiritually; not only morally is it absolute, not only politically is it absolute, but spiritually it is absolute. There is no variable in God. There is no changing in the Lord. The great spiritual revelation of God from heaven is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever” [Hebrews 13:8]. That’s why the Revelation closes, you are not to add to it and you are not to take from it [Revelation 22:18-19], for it is God’s Word, like Himself, eternally fixed in heaven [Psalm 119:89].
We must hasten. The fourth great foundational principle that must describe our faith and message, and church and ministry, if it is survive in the earth, not only authentic, real; not only authoritarian, based in God [Romans 1:16]; not only absolute, unchanging and unvarying [John 17:17]; but it must also be apocalyptic, that is, it must unveil the future [Isaiah 46:9-10]. It must present a purpose from Almighty God [Isaiah 14:24]. It must be full of hope, and full of glory, and full of the promise of the presence of the coming of the Lord. There is no triumph in the church and in the message of Christ without it. It must be apocalyptic. It must refer to the unfolding and uncovering of the glorious future that lies before us [Isaiah 49:9-10].
This is not something strange. This is the whole Word of God. No man was there when God created the heavens and the earth, yet we read of it in the Book by revelation [Genesis 1:1]. So it is with the end time. No man can see the end; we know it only by the revelation of God. But there is purpose and meaning. There is the hand of God in all human history. And God is guiding the events of time, of tide, of history, of nations, of people of all humanity. God is guiding it toward some mighty consummation. I see that in the first coming of Christ, the hand of God [Romans 5:6; Galatians 4:4]. The Greeks, the conquests of Alexander the Great; never realized what he was doing, but he provided a universal language, a vehicle for the spreading of the gospel message of the Lord.
When Paul wrote to Rome, the Latin capital of the world, he wrote to the Romans in Greek. It was an universal language. Again, the Roman Empire knitted together by roads, by triunes, by government, and by an enforced peace the entire civilized world. Who would have thought, who would have dreamed? Mary lived in Nazareth, but the Book says He would be born in Bethlehem [Micah 5:2]. And out of the imperial palace, out of the Praetorium of the Roman capital, came a decree from Augustus Caesar, they all are to enrolled, and each goes to the home of his fathers for that registration [Luke 2:1]. And Joseph and Mary, being of the house of David, went down to Bethlehem, she being great with child [Luke 2:4-5]; the hand of God in human history. It is no less so as we reach toward the great consummation of the age; the hand of God, the presence of the Lord, the guiding Spirit of Christ, reaching out and forth to the great consummation of the age.
And if we had another hour or two, we might speak of that apocalyptic revelation. There is the binding of Satan, first in the pit [Revelation 20:1-3], and finally in the lake of fire [Revelation 20:10]. There’s the binding of Satan, the casting out of our adversary, who’s oversown God’s world [2 Corinthians 4:4], since we fell in the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:1-6]. There’s the binding of Satan, the apocalyptic revelation [Revelation 20:1-3, 20:10].
There is the great mustērion, the resurrection from 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 mustērion, a secret in God’s heart; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the 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 apocalyptic revelation of God. And the new heaven and the new earth and the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven prepared as a bride for [Revelation 21:1-2] . . . this is the message without which we shall die in the earth; a matter of survival.
And this is the message to which we have given our lives. We have dedicated our souls to this ministry. And how sweet it is.
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.
Oh! The Lord has been so to me, I feel like traveling on.
Until those mansions I can see, I feel like traveling on.
[“I Feel Like Traveling On,” William Hunter]
God’s apocalyptic triumph in the earth, God’s message of hope, and deliverance, and salvation, and forgiveness, and our message, the good news, the evangel for the whole earth.
We sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, or a couple you, or a one somebody you, to give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13], to put your life in the circle of this dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; while we sing the hymn and make the appeal, would you come? In that balcony round there’s time and to spare. Come. Make the decision now in your heart, and come. On this lower floor into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor. I make it this morning.” Do it now. Come now. The Lord bless you in the way. May His angels go before you, as you make that decision and come. Do it now in your heart. In a moment when we stand to sing, stand up, coming. Do it, while all of us stand and sing.