June 6th, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-6-71 8:15 a.m.
I am preaching this morning on God’s Extravagances, and it is a sermon taken from the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of John:
Then Jesus six days before the Passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, who had been dead, whom He raised from the dead.
There they made Him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with Him.
Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.
Then said one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, which should betray Him,
Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor. . .
Then Jesus said, Let her alone: against the day of My burying hath she kept this.
For the poor always ye have with you; but Me ye have not always.
And here is raised that equation that always comes up as between doing something beautiful, extra, and feeding the poor. "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence?" [John 12:5]. A pence would be a day’s wages for a laboring man. "Why was it not sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? Why this great waste? Just what good is ointment, perfume? Why was it not sold and given to the poor?" And of course, it is Judas Iscariot who asked it. When I was working on one of these buildings, and I’ll speak of it later, doing something beautiful in it, one of the members of the church came to me and greatly objected to it, saying, "Why do you not take this money and give it to the poor?" I said, "You know, somebody in the Bible asked that same question, that same question." He said, "Oh? Who was it?" I said, "Judas Iscariot. Read it in the Book. Read it in the Book," God’s extravagances.
I listened to an address at one of our conventions of a president of one of our colleges. And it was one of those typical socializing addresses whereby he was hammering on that old, worn-out and trite theme that what America ought to do is to take her wealth and give it to the poor and underprivileged nations of the earth. It happened to be that I sat on the plane with him after the convention was over. So he asked me what I thought about his address. I said, "Do you want me to tell you the truth, or would you like me to string you along and say how magnificent it was?" Well, he paused before that. Finally he said, "Yes, you tell me the truth." Well, I said, "I’ll tell you exactly the truth. I have two comments to make about it. First comment: I have just returned from a trip around the world, visiting Pakistan and India and Indonesia, and all of those subtropical countries around the earth." I said, "First of all, you could take all of the wealth of America, all of it, and give it to these poor nations, and they would still be just as poor! And if they were not, they’d be just that poor tomorrow. That’s my first observation. And my second observation is, I think there is more to the life and soul of a man than just feeding his mouth. There is something over and beyond in a man than that animality." All right, we shall look at it – God’s extravagances.
Look around you. "Circumspice, lector," look around you. Just what benefit is all of the color that God puts in the world? His gorgeous sunsets, and if you get up early enough, His beautiful dawns and sunrises; just what good is a rainbow, the most beautiful colorful spectacle in the earth? Why isn’t it all just gray? The emerald of the meadows and of the forests, the great towering purple mountains, the blue of the deep blue sea, and the color you see in the feathers of birds like the strutting peacock, just color everywhere. And His light: the soft moonlight, and starlight, and God’s glorious sunlight. And the marvelous sounds that we hear: the wind blowing through a pine tree or a spruce tree, the sound of the rippling of water, a mountain stream. Why does God have to put all of these extras around, these extravagances that have no particular purpose at all? God just did it.
I bought ten thousand sunsets
And a friendly old oak tree
And a hundred thousand violets
When my farm was deeded to me.
Ten thousand dewy mornings
With a mockingbird to sing
And a mossy glade with a willow shade
And the music of a spring.
The owner thought he sold me land;
How poor a trader, he!
But it all was fair for it all was there
For all the world to see –
A meadow starred with daisies
And a wild rose rambling free
And a squirrel’s den and a nested wren –
And it all belongs to me.
I paid the man his money,
And he did not understand
He had put a price on paradise
When he thought he sold me land.
["Attitude," C.C. McWhorter]
How do you like that? God’s extravagances – but some people never see it; they’re clods – God’s glorious world.
I do not deny that there are animal needs that must be satisfied in the human life. We get hungry and we ought to eat; we need to eat. We get thirsty and we need water to drink; it’s a whole lot better than tea and coffee. We need water to drink – and milk for me. I don’t deny that. When you get tired you need to sleep, and when you are cold you need clothing and shelter; I do not deny that. And there are people who look upon men – I think the whole communist world does – who look upon men as just utilitarian pieces. They’re to work, they’re to produce, they’re to plow, or they’re to build, or they’re to work with their hands and that’s all, the prosaic life. But in God’s Book, and in God’s nature, and in God’s image He placed in us, there is something else. There is something in a man that God put there, that cannot be expressed except in poetry, or in music, or in art, or in architecture. It’s true what the florist says: there are some things that cannot be said except with flowers.
Poetry: it’s just something in the soul. Just what utilitarian purpose,it’s just God in us; He is like that. For example, the little quatrain from Wordsworth:
Flower by a mossy bank
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.
[adapted from "She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways," William Wordsworth]
It does something to your heart.
Or music: there are a thousand feelings in the world in which I live that are expressed in no other way but in music:
Happy day, happy day
When Jesus washed my sins away!
He taught me how to watch and pray,
And live rejoicing every day.
Happy day, glorious day
When Jesus washed my sins away!
["O Happy Day, That Fixed My Choice"; Author Unknown]
Can’t say it any other way, can’t express it. Or God’s love in Christ Jesus:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy flowing wounds which flowed,
Be for sin a double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.
["Rock of Ages," Augustus M. Toplady]
Or when I think about my dear old mother and my saintly father:
There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith I can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.
In the sweet by and by.
["In the Sweet By and By," Sanford F. Bennett]
There’s just something in us that says it like that.
Beautiful art – you could take a photograph; that’s not it – a photograph will be an exact delineation. But a painting will be what the poet feels. That’s what the painting is. This is how the artist felt it in his soul. Or a great sculptured piece: here is a massive piece of marble, but the artist sees something in his heart, and he feels it in his soul, and he takes his chisel, and he makes that, oh, a PietÃ ; you can just feel when you look at it. Or Moses, just something in the soul of the man; like an architecture, a building, and it has symmetry, and grace, and beauty, and embellishment. Why, it would be morally wrong to make a column crooked; there’d be something on the inside of your soul that would rebel against it, for a column must be straight, however embellished. It’s just the way you are made.
And how much more so, and how much more so is that true of the intimate life of a man, the heart of the man, the inside of the man? Life’s extras, the extravagances of life: an engagement ring – just exactly what utilitarian purpose is an engagement ring? Just what? Yet I think every boy when he picks out that girl to marry her ought to buy the finest, the most expensive engagement ring that he can afford, if he has to pay on it for the rest of his life. That’s what I think. All of you girls say amen. "Amen!" That’s right – the extravagances of life.
Let me tell you girls about a boy: any girl ought to be interested in learning something about a boy. And I’m going to tell you this, and when I do, immediately you’re going to see there are volumes in what that little boy did, volumes. All right, now listen to it. In the days of the Depression, when I started my ministry, in New York City, there came into one of those greasy spoons a ragged newsboy. He asked the price of a glass of milk. He already knew, it was a nickel. He asked the price of that sweet roll; he was hungry, and it looked so appetizing and delicious. It was a dime. He asked the price of the doughnut; it was a nickel. So he said to the waitress, "Let me have the glass of milk for a nickel, and let me have the doughnut for a nickel." So the ragged newsboy drank the glass of milk and ate the doughnut. And then when he left, the waitress looked, and underneath the glass he had left a nickel tip for her. Aren’t there volumes there? He could have taken the nickel tip and have bought for the dime the sweet roll; but he ate the doughnut instead and left the tip for her. Honey, wouldn’t you like to have a husband like that? Oh! That’s what puts life together: the poetry of it, the music of it, the extras of it; it just does.
As some of you know, you’d have to be an old-timer here to know, I went on a preaching mission to Japan; over there three months preaching in Japan. My last assignment was down there at Ijuin, what they call a rural church; it was in a town of eighteen thousand people, but the cities are so large in Japan that an eighteen thousand population town is a rural town. That was my last assignment, down there at the very bottom of Kyushu Island in Kogashima Prefecture. Those three months I lived in the homes of the Japanese people. It was too soon after the war for the country to be affluent as it is today; they were struggling to recover from the awful, catastrophic blow of that World War II. In every Japanese home, in every home, in the living room there’ll be a little raised platform about that high, about that high in the corner of every Japanese home. And in that corner will be something pretty on that little platform. It’ll be a vase of flowers, or it’ll be one of those pretty scrolls, or it’ll be something pretty, just over there. So, I was the guest in Nagino’s home, the pastor of our Baptist church in Ijuin. I had been to the high school; and they were very proud to tell me about Satsuma porcelain, that the new was no-account, the cracks in the new. You know Satsuma has fine hairline cracks, and they greatly prize those cracks. That’s the beatenest thing you ever saw. But the glaze has little cracks. Well anyway, showing to me over at the high school how the new was no good, the cracks were not good; but the little tiny feather cracks in the old was so much better. Well, Nagino had in his house one pretty thing; that was all, just one. The rest of his life was down there trying to eek out some kind of a miserable, bare existence for him and his children.
I stayed in his home for three days, preaching in a three-day revival meeting that God so marvelously blessed. I slept in the living room. Their beds, as you know, are just pallets rolled out, and they all sleep in the same room together, just like cordwood; put the pallet down and then roll it up. I slept in the living room. And there in the living room was that corner, with the little raised platform, and on top of it was one little pretty piece; the only pretty thing he had in the house. Upon a day, while I was there, I went over and I picked it up; and it was one of those old, old pieces of Satsuma. So, I said to him, "That is so pretty, it is so pretty. Where did you get it?" He said that in the days of the war that the Japanese army was quartered upon the people; and usually they confiscated their homes, and just turned it over to the army. But he said, "We pled with them to let us stay, live back here in this little tiny room, so we could take care of this house, which is all we have in the world; little cheap house." So he said, "They let us stay." Well, when the Americans came" – and [they] were described as vicious beasts to the Japanese people – "why, everybody fled in terror, and first of all did the Japanese army flee." Now he said to me that the Japanese army, when they were quartered in the houses, they just took whatever they wanted; and one of those Japanese soldiers had picked that little incense burner up in one of the houses in which he was quartered, and he carried it around with him; a beautiful old piece of Satsuma. So, because evidently Nagino was such a fine, godly man, and was kind to the soldiers, when the Americans came and the soldier fled away, this one, he pressed into the hand of Pastor Nagino that little incense burner, and said, "I want you to take this for being so gracious and kind and good to me." Nagino with reluctance took it; and it was there in his home. And when I admired it, when time came for me to leave, he put that in my hand. I said, "Oh no, I don’t want to take that. I don’t want to take that. I have opportunity for so many other things, and that’s the only little pretty thing you have in the house. I don’t want to take that." But I could see he was hurt if I didn’t. So I took it, and have kept it ever since; even the feet are little faces. Why? Just what good does that do in Nagino’s home? None at all; none at all.
Just what good is this tie around my neck? It is a monstrosity, I tell you, in the hot summer time, to wear this thing around your neck! Just what good is the lapel on that coat? And brother do I have it agin’ these haberdashers! Heretofore you could buy a suit and wear it all of your life and it be in style. Now if you don’t have a wide lapel here – you poor deacons down there, you’re out of style. You’re out of style.
And life’s extras, God’s extravagances for Jesus: this ointment, three hundred pence [John 12:5], three hundred days’ work. The Lord said, as He told the story in the twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew by inspiration, "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, this shall also, that this Mary has done, be told as a memorial for her" [Matthew 26:13]. And I am fulfilling that prophecy this morning – something extra for Jesus.
These stained-glass windows – when we built our activities building across the street that they call the Criswell Building, there was an elder in the Methodist church who had married into a missionary family of us Baptists, and he gave me the money for Embree Hall. And what I did was, I put six beautiful stained-glass windows in Embree Hall; just exactly what for, because they’re all inside? There is a solid brick wall behind each one of those six windows. They’re not windows for any utilitarian purpose at all; but I did it just because I like something beautiful for Jesus. That’s all; no other reason at all. And there they are. I worked with that man Jacobs in St. Louis when he came down here, and we worked out the design in those windows. To me they are as beautiful as any I have seen in the world; just something extra for Jesus.
We had a dear, sweet woman in this church named Stella English. And she left $10,000 to the church for me to do what I wanted to with, $10,000. You know what I did? I bought a $10,000 Steinway, right there. And because it was for the church, Mr. Steinway gave it to me for $7,500. And he came down here himself, and presented that beautiful piano to us. And I took the other $2,500 to help enlarge the choir. Couldn’t you get along with one of those tin-can things that Mr. Ramseur could buy for fifteen dollars? We could do just as well with it, just as well, but that’s for Jesus, and I wanted the finest for the Lord, in memory of sweet Stella English.
Adorning the house of Jesus, that steeple up there has no utilitarian purpose at all; just something extra for the Lord. And something extra in the doctrine of the faith: I don’t know anything that is more unattractive than dead, cold, rectitudinous theology: so orthodox, so straight, so correct, and so dead, and so cold!
Do you remember the passage in the second chapter of Titus, where Paul addressing servants, asking them in God’s name to be obedient and to do their work well? Then he closes it: "Adorning the doctrine of Jesus our Lord" [Titus 2:10]; adorning the doctrine, making it beautiful and attractive, adorning the doctrine, the gospel truth of Christ: adding to it something beautiful and extra.
Why, bless you, there was an appeal made in the church for clothing, used clothing for the poor, going to give it in the missions. So this mother in the church went through the clothing of her boy and saw an extra pair of pants, so she decided to give the pants for the mission. And when she, you know, went through the pockets of the pants, she felt something in one of those pockets; and you can find anything in a boy’s pockets, remember? She felt something in those pockets, and she pulled it out, and it was a handful of marbles. She took the marbles out, and then it came to her mind: she took the marbles, and put them back in the pocket, and put a note to the mother that would be given that gift for the little boy, that she wanted the little boy to have the marbles too. And upon a day, the mother got a letter from the poor, degraded woman. And the letter said, "I want to thank you for the pants, but most of all I want to thank you for the marbles."
That’s adorning the doctrine of the Lord: making it beautiful and attractive. And that leads me to my last appeal for my own soul and yours: "Lord, that I could add an extra in my life for Thee, an extra, something over and beyond." Like Hannah: "Lord, this boy is lent to Thee all the days of his life" [1 Samuel 1:11, 23]. Or like David: "Master, You say I cannot build the house of God [1 Chronicles 28:3]; but I will gather the materials, and they’ll be the finest that I can find in the earth for God" [1 Chronicles 1:2-5]. Or like the apostle Paul: "Lord, I give you my life. What wouldst Thou have me to do?" [Acts 9:6]. And the Lord said, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake" [Acts 9:16]. And the apostle Paul wrote, "Therefore I take pleasure in reproaches, and necessities, and persecutions, and trials; for when I am weak, then am I strong" [2 Corinthians 12:10].
Just going over and beyond what is necessary, doing something extra for Jesus; beyond the course of duty, beyond the legal requirement, just over and beyond and above; just doing it out of love. I think that’s what God did for us. So you’ve got His pretty sunsets, just extra for us; got His beautiful rainbows; have His glorious emeralds, the meadow, the forest, the trees, the mockingbird that sings.
Yesterday afternoon I had a funeral service. And while I was waiting for the pall bearers to get in the car, and the flowers to be taken first to the graveside – it was a service for a glorious mother that was translated in triumph – I just stood by the side of my car, and right there in the cemetery in a tree was a mockingbird, just singing to the top of his voice. Oh, I know there is drabness, and necessities, and want, and labor, and toil, and age, and death; but God has a little harbinger for us, He has a little earnest for us. There’s something better, God says, He has prepared for us: the glories and the beauties of heaven for us [1 Corinthians 2:9]. And the earnest is these extravagances: listening to a mockingbird sing in the cemetery, just looking at the soft starlight and moonlight at night, or just watching God’s glorious sunsets; just promises of what God’s going to do for us.
And Lord, just to show a love for Thee, going a second mile, giving a little extra, just being a little more patient for Jesus, just loving God in some way, in a song, something of the soul. That’s God in you that makes you want to do something extra for Jesus.
Well, we must sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, to give your heart to the Lord – I know that the Bible presents to us that the only way for us to be saved, to escape judgment and damnation, is in Christ; but there’s another side to that also: the only way to be happy is to be happy in the Lord, only way to be glad is to be glad in Him, only way to have a sweet and blessed home is to have it in Jesus, the only way to rear up your children is in the love and nurture of Christ. Oh, this is the glory road! Every day is a glorious day in Christ. Come and share it with us and with Him. A family you, a couple, or just you, while we sing the hymn, down one of these stairways if you’re up there in the balcony, down here into this floor if you’re seated on this lower floor, into that aisle and here to the front, "Here I come, pastor." On the first note of the first stanza, make it now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Some define life in terms of handouts
A. University president says problems solved by giving away wealth
1. If we give them all, the poor will still be poor
2. There is more to a man than just feeding his mouth
B. God loves extravagance
II. God’s world of extravagant beauty
III. That world of beauty in the soul of a man
A. There are necessities to life
B. There is more to a man than his animal nature
1. Made in His image
2. Poetry, art, music, architecture
3. In personal life
a. Engagement ring, in the home, personal beauty
IV. Something extra for God
A. Breaking the alabaster box (Matthew 26:13)
B. Church building
C. The doctrine (Titus 2:10)