For God Forever
May 31st, 1970 @ 8:15 AM
FOR GOD FOREVER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-7-70 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 For God Forever. And the text is unusual: "But if not, but if not." We are preaching through the Book of Daniel, and in the third chapter, we are presented, we are introduced to a giant image covered with gold. It is made by Nebuchadnezzar, a despot, a tyrant, an absolute monarch who has the whole civilized world in his hands. And this monarch has brought together all the rulers of all the provinces of all of his vast empire, and he has instructed a herald to cry aloud and to say, "It is thus commanded to you, that at the time you hear the cornet, and the flute, the harp, and the sackbut, and the psaltery, and the dulcimer, and all kinds of music, you are to bow down and worship the golden image" [Daniel 3:5]. And it is somewhat difficult to argue with a man who can back up his premise with this threat: "And whosoever falleth not down and worshipeth, shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace" [Daniel 3:11]. It was kept for the cremation of dead bodies; "and you will be thrown into it if you do not bow down before this golden image."
At the sound of music everybody in the empire, all the satraps, and all the governors, and the counselors, and the sheriffs, and the princes, and the people, they all bowed down. But there were three Hebrew children named Mishael, Hananiah, and Azariah – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – when the whole world bowed down, they stood up straight. And the report was brought to the king: "They all obey thy command except these three." And the king, incredulous and unbelieving, sent for those three, and said, "Is it true? I cannot believe my ears or the report from my counselors. Is it true that you do not serve my gods nor worship the golden image which I have set up?" And those three answered and said, "O King Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer," that is; we don’t even have to think about it, it is not even a problem of discussion on our part: "we will not bow down" [Daniel 3:16-18]. Now that is the story as it is introduced to us here in the third chapter of the Book of Daniel.
Duty and religious conscience were first in their lives. I have always been an admirer of an Anglican preacher by the name of Stoddard Kennedy. He was pastor of the church at Worcester, and he was a gloriously brave, dedicated chaplain in the First World War. And I quote from a letter that he wrote home:
The first prayer I want my son to learn to say for me is not, ‘God keep Daddy safe,’ but, ‘God make Daddy brave, and if he has hard things to do, make him strong to do them.’ Life and death don’t matter, Pat, my son; right and wrong do matter. Daddy dead is Daddy still; but Daddy dishonored before God is something awful and sad and too bad for words. I suppose you’d like to put in a bit about safety too, old chap,
Isn’t that English? Where is Rodney? Where? Oh, he’s in Denver. Huh, isn’t that a sight? He’s in Denver when he ought to be here.
I suppose you’d like to put in a bit about safety too, old chap, and Mother would. Well, put it in; but afterwards, always afterwards, because it really does not matter near so much. Every man, woman, and child should be taught to put first things first in prayer, both in peace and in war; and that, I believe, is where we have failed.
Ah, these lads, un-intimidated, un-appalled by the prospect of death.
I saw the martyr at the stake;
The flame could not his courage shake,
Nor death his soul appall
I asked him whence his strength was given;
He looked triumphantly to heaven
And answered, Christ is all
["Christ is All"; W. A. Williams]
"We will not bow down." Those three boys had been carefully taught the second great commandment: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness in heaven above, or earth beneath"; no virgin image, no saint image, "no image or likeness of any kind; and thou shalt not bow down thyself before it" [Exodus 20:4-5]. They had been taught that carefully. And when the music sounded and the world bowed down, they refused to bend.
Now there are plains in our lives, and on those plains are golden images, public images, private images. And there are two ways that a Christian can face the fashion and custom and temptations of the world to worship before these graven images on the plains of public life and in our hearts.
One: we can compromise with a hurting conscience. Do you remember when Naaman, the leper from Syria, was cleansed? And he came and stood before the prophet Elisha to thank Elisha for the gift from heaven that cleansed him, fleshed him again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. And as he stood before Elisha the prophet and praised God for his cleansing and accepted God as the true God of the whole earth, then he added this: "The Lord pardon thy servant in this: that when the king of Syria goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this manner." And Elisha said, "Go in peace" [2 Kings 5:18-19]. Naaman was the captain of the hosts of the king of Syria, and his high office under the king demanded that he bow by the side of the king in the house of the god Rimmon. That’s one way that a Christian can meet the demands and the fashions of the world: that you conform, that you bow. You can do it with a conscience that hurts.
There is another way that a Christian can meet that demand on the part of the world, and that is: "I will not bow; king or no king, life or no life, life or death, a fiery furnace or deliverance, we will not bow." That’s another way that a Christian can meet the demands and the fashions and the compromises of the world, but when you do that, you get ready to face a fiery furnace, and it is inevitable; you will not escape [Daniel 3:16-23].
And suppose God does not intervene? Then what? Suppose you march straight into a fiery furnace, you lose your friends, maybe you lose your house and home, maybe you lose your money and your possessions; you go straight into a fiery furnace, and there’s no intervention from God – then what? To answer that question demands a double portion of God’s Spirit and a triple portion of faith from the Almighty, for that’s exactly the answer of these three young Hebrews. "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace. But if not," and that’s my text, "but if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" [Daniel 3:17-18]. "But if not, whether God delivers us or not, we will not bow down." Isn’t that a remarkable thing? They did not pivot their obedience to the second commandment, and they did not pivot their conviction concerning God on whether God delivered them or not. If He delivered them, fine. If He did not deliver them, equally fine. They would be true to their religious convictions.
And that is a circumstance that’s going to happen to you in your life – and for many of us it has already – there will be times in your life when God does not intervene, and He lets you walk into the fiery furnace. There are times when your faith will be tried almost to obliteration. "Where is God? And why doesn’t God help? Why doesn’t He intervene?" It is as though God did not exist. I thought He lived, and I thought He was good, and I thought He cared; but there’s no evidence of His presence. There’s no gesture on God’s part that He is helping. I might as well live as though there were no God, for all that God’s doing for me."
Like the philosophy of the ancient Greek Epicureans, they said, "If there is a God, He is so far removed and so indifferent that it makes no difference." They were practical atheists. And we face those times in our lives when practical atheism overwhelms us, the temptation to be persuaded that God doesn’t exist. "We don’t see Him, and He doesn’t care, and He doesn’t help, and He doesn’t intervene." The child is sick and dies, a horrible accident happens, takes us in violence out of the earth, or a sickness cuts us down, and we pray, and there’s no answer. Or invalidism overwhelms us for the years, and sorrow, and sadness, and disappointments, and despair like ten thousand floods overcome us; then you say, "You know, I thought I had faith, but I have come to the place where I don’t believe I have faith in anything. God doesn’t exist for me."
And there are times when God hides Himself. I think all of us can enter into the spirit of this author because we have seen what has happened to the Christians and to the Christian churches in Russia. There is a book called Red Bread written by Maurice Hindus, and it draws a pathetic picture of a Russian priest caught in the terrible confusion of trying to sustain his faith in God in the midst of conditions where it seems that God doesn’t exist. And I quote from that book, quote this priest talking: "Don’t you suppose," he said:
If God made Himself known, people would flock back to Him? Of course they would. They would bow in repentance and promise to believe, and obey, and worship. Yet here are we, His servants, waiting, waiting, and nothing happens. Sometimes I say to myself, ‘If He does not care, why should I care?’ Or is He merely trying us out to see how much we can endure? Perhaps, who knows? But it is so hard, so very hard on us His servants.
God just lets the church waste and be destroyed, and God lets the whole world of suffering and tragedy obliterate us, and there’s not any answer, and He doesn’t intervene and He doesn’t help. I read about a week ago, somebody said, "Dear God, no wonder You have such few friends, from the way You treat them." But that’s my text: "It may be so that God will deliver us from the fiery furnace, but if not, whether He delivers us or not, we are going to be true to that religious commitment and that religious faith whether God comes down and intervenes or not; if not, we are going to be true just the same."
Did you know there are literally millions and millions of God’s saints who have been just like that? They do not pivot their faith. They do not hinge their faith on whether God delivers them or not. They are true to God, no matter whether they suffer or not, whether they live or die, whether they are thrust into the fiery furnace or not. They have made a great commitment of their lives to God, and that’s forever; no turning back, no changing, a great faith that shines in the dark that never goes out. I copied from Martin Luther. As you know, on his way to the Diet of Worms before King Charles V, another absolute monarch, before all the prelates of the church, the princes and governors of the land, he was brought there to make him recant, and on the way he said this:
My cause shall be commended to the Lord, for He hears and lives and reigns, He who preserved the three children in the furnace of the Babylonian king. If He is unwilling to preserve me, my life is a small thing compared with Christ. Expect anything of me except flight or recantation. I will not flee, much less recant. So may the Lord Jesus strengthen me.
As he went up before the king, expecting to die, he did not say, "May the Lord Jesus make it easy for me." Nor did he say, "May the Lord Jesus make this confrontation salubrious and felicitous and fine." But what he did say was, "As I go up to face the king and the Roman prelate, may God strengthen me; for," then in another instance as he stood there, he said in his defense, "Here I stand, so help me God, I can do none other." But if not, I will be true just the same! But if not, I will believe just the same! But if not, I will worship God just the same! Whether He hides His face or not, whether He intervenes or not, whether He helps or not, I will be faithful to God.
And I have a persuasion that every man who has ever done that has touched a hand, and has come to know it to be the invisible hand of God. I do not know the truth of this because I’ve never been burned at the stake. But I have read that the martyrs who were burned at the stake were so given to the faith and to the love and praise and worship of the true God, that when the flames enveloped them and their flesh was burned, they felt it not. For they were lost in the love and the praise and the adoration of their commitment to the great living Savior for whom they died. That’s real religion, isn’t it? "But if not"; we believe God is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace, "but if not, we’ll be true and faithful just the same, for we didn’t pivot our religion on whether God delivered us or not."
Did you know, especially among young people, there are a lot of young people and a lot of others of us in this world who are not looking for an easy faith? Kind of like the raging battle and the sacrifice it entails, because if it didn’t cost us something, we’d think it as worth nothing. Now I must hasten.
I want you to see here what these young men said to that king, because in your thinking about that furnace and their faith you likely overlook this. There is a reason why the tremendous spiritual commitment of these young men. Now you look at it.
We are not careful to answer thee, we do not have to study to answer, we will answer right here on the spot. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace. But if not, be it known unto you, O king that we’ll not serve thy gods, nor worship this golden image.
Now look at that verse, the last part of verse 17: "And God will deliver us out of thine hand, O King" [Daniel 3:17]. Now, what did the young men say there? "God may not deliver us out of that burning fiery furnace, but God will deliver us out of thy hand, O king." What did they mean by that? Simply this: that if they were thrown into the furnace and were burned to ashes, they would be beyond where the king could torment them, and burn them, and afflict them, and slay them. They would be delivered out of the hand of the king into the presence of the living God. They believed in a life to come. They believed in the presence of heaven. They believed in the assembly of the firstborn. They believed in the redeemed who someday would live in the presence of God. And they believed that if their bodies were burned to cinders, that they would – beyond the grasp of the hand of the king – they would enter into the glories of Paradise.
And that is the faith that sustains the martyrs and the children of God through the years: the conviction in our hearts that this life is but a moment compared to the immortal life that is yet to come, and the trials and the troubles and the temptations of this world are but as bubbles on the surface compared to the great eternity of the life that is yet to come. And that’s what sustained the martyrs. As Paul said, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" [1 Corinthians 15:19], but there is another life, and there is another hope, and there is another day. There’s another world, and that world is up there with God. And these young men said to the king, "God will deliver us. If we are burned to a crisp, God will deliver us out of thy hand, and we’ll be in the presence of Glory."
"Except a grain of wheat fall on the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." Then the Lord added the lesson: "He that loveth his life shall lose it; but he that hates his life in this world shall gain it," shall win it, shall keep it, "unto eternal life in heaven" [John 12:24-25]. And the young men stood there bravely before the king, knowing that if the fire burned the life in this world, God would give them an eternal life in glory. And that’s our comfort in our illness, in our age, in our troubles, in our sacrifices, and in our death: God has a better life for us in glory. We’re to be obedient, and it’s for God to keep His promise. I close.
There is not a more comforting assurance to me in the Word of God than in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, out of which we read the concluding verses, than in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, when Abraham, by faith, offered up Isaac: "And he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son; for God had said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called, and in that son," the only son [Abraham] had by Sarah, "and in that boy shall the whole families of the earth be blessed," in that boy. And then God commands him to offer him up as a sacrifice [Hebrews 11:17-18, Genesis 21:12, Genesis 22:2, 18].
And the Scriptures say that because Abraham believed God and obeyed God, God made him the father of the faithful and the progenitor of Jesus Christ, because, the Scriptures say, when Abraham offered up Isaac, he believed that God would raise him up from the dead [Hebrews 11:19, Genesis 22:9-10]. It was for Abraham to obey! It was for God to keep His promise, and Abraham, thinking as he plunged that knife in the heart of the boy that he’d see the lad die before him, Abraham believed that God would raise him up from the dead! That’s the assurance and the comfort of the people of the Lord. If the whole world burns down, we believe God will make a new world. If the very heavens fall, we believe God would create new heavens. And if this life is burned or dies in senility, and age, and disease, and death, we believe God is able to raise us up and to give us a new body, one made without hands, eternal in the heavens [2 Corinthians 5:1]. That’s the faith. That’s what it is to be a Christian, and that’s what it is to love God.
We’re going to stand and sing our hymn, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, as the Lord shall lay the appeal upon your heart, will you come and stand by me? "Here I am, pastor. I’ve decided for God, and I’m coming. This is God’s call to me, and I’m answering with my life." "My whole family is coming" "My wife and I are coming." Or just you, do it now. Answer now. Come now. And the Lord open the way before you as you take Him by faith and trust Him for the way. Do it, while we stand and while we sing.