The Preacher and His Mandate (SBC)
June 2nd, 1971
Southern Baptist Convention
St. Louis, Missouri
THE PREACHER AND HIS MANDATE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 3: 15, 16
June 2, 1971
Dr. Leavell and my brothers and sisters in Jesus, I never heard such a testimony in all of my life as just now from evangelist Ayers. Last week he wrote me a note. And here is what he wrote. “Dear Dr. C, I speak at Pastors’ Conference just before thee. If you come and hear me, I will stay to hear thee. No thee, no me. Your pal, Walter Lee.”
So I came up here on this platform for him to be sure to see that I was me, listening to thee. God bless you. I cannot help but be overwhelmed by my fellow Texans here. Joann Shelton, Dr. Leavell, Jimmy Hester, and all these people; they seem absolutely unintimidated. As though the Mississippi River were not enough, I would just like to know what kind of a croquet ball they knock through that enormous wicket down here on the edge of this town.
I thought we did big things in Texas. We are playing tiddlywinks down there compared to what they are doing up here in St. Louis. And Dr. Leavell I have been preaching at these Pastors Conferences for over twenty years; and there never has been one that even approached the attendance that you have had in this conference in St. Louis. Oh, this is just overwhelmingly encouraging!
The assigned topic for me is The Preacher and His Mandate. And looking at that subject closely, The Preacher and His Mandate, I turn therefore to the one in God’s Book that especially, and particularly, and emphatically, and significantly is directed to the preacher. In the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the pastor at Ephesus, Timothy, one verse: “From a child thou hast known the Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation” [2 Timothy 3:15]. The next verse: “All Scripture, panta, all, all of it, all Scripture is theopneusta God breathed. All Scripture is inspired of God” [2 Timothy 3:16].
Next verse: “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word!” [2 Timothy 4:1-2] The preachers, a special mandate: “Preach the word.” That solemn and sacred and serious adjuration; why? “Before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; Preach the word!”
Why that serious, sacred, solemn adjuration? Was he about to preach something else? Was there another gospel? “Preach the word.” And can I, in intellectual honesty, do it? Can I? “All Scripture, all of it, all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, all of it” [2 Timothy 3:16]. “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, preach the word” [2 Timothy 4:1-2]. Can I in intellectual honesty do it? This introduces us to the long and bitter controversy concerning the inerrant and infallible and inspired Word of God.
Plotinus and his disciple, pupil Porphyry, in the 200s AD saw in the rising Christians a threat to their Neoplatonic philosophy; the last development of Hellenic teaching. And Porphyry wrote, in the 200s AD fifteen books against the Christians. So disastrously serious were those books against the Christians that Eusebius of Caesarea, the father of church history, felt compelled to answer them.
And Methodius, the brilliant, gifted bishop of the Greek Church, joined hands with Eusebius, in that apology for the Christian faith, against Porphyry. And the emperor Theodosius II, by that time a Christian, in 335 AD, burned all of the books of Porphyry. What kind of books were those, the fifteen that Porphyry wrote against the Christian faith?
One of the ablest, most gifted of all of the philosophers who ever found himself an antagonist against Christ and the Christians was Porphyry. As Porphyry observed the Christian preacher, he could not help but notice that he had a Book in his hand. And when the Christian preacher, in the 200s AD in the Roman Empire, stood up to preach the gospel of the Son of God, he did so on the basis of the authority of the Book that he held in his hand. And it was there that Porphyry centered his attack. The attack was against the Book; for Porphyry, the brilliant philosopher, reasoned that if we can undercut, and undermine, and destroy the authority of the Book, we can therein and thereby destroy the Christian faith!
Satan is a subtle beast, and in many devious and ingenious ways does he attack the revelation of God. But always it is ever the same. He opposes and he attacks the inspiration of God’s revelation. “Yea,” did He say, to our first parents, “Yea, did God say thou shalt surely die? It’s a lie! Thou shalt not surely die” [Genesis 3:4]. That has been his devious approach to the destruction of the revelation of God through the centuries.
We live in no less a day of vigorous opposition, and antagonism, and destructive criticism of the Word of the Lord. Whether it be the false philosophy of a Porphyry or it be the pseudoscience of Jannes and Jambres, it is ever the same. They avow to us, “You had as well preach ‘Jason and the Golden Fleece’ as to preach Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden. You had as well preach ‘Hercules and the Twelve Labors’ as to preach Moses and the twelve tribes. You had as well preach ‘Achilles and the Trojan War’ as to preach Joshua and the conquest of Canaan. For the Bible,” they avow, “is like Aesop’s Fables. It is filled with fairy tales from whence one can point a moral.”
This is the attitude of the modern intellectual world toward the revealed, infallible, theopneusta God-breathed Word of the Lord. These kids come home from college, and they say to me, “I have given up the faith. I have found there is no meaning or purpose in life. The Bible isn’t true. God doesn’t live. Jesus isn’t the Lord, and I have given up the faith.”
“Well,” I say, “That’s amazing!”
“Yes,” they say to me, “I have learned that I came from a green scum.”
“Yes, I have found that I was a paramecium, then I was a tadpole, then I was a fish, then I was a fowl, then I was a marsupial, then I was a monkey, then I was an anthropoid ape, and last of all, I just happen to be here, a human Homo sapiens, as you see me now.”
I say, “Huh? What?” I can’t help but repeat that old hackneyed doggerel:
Once I was a tadpole, beginning to begin
Then I was a frog with my tail tucked in
Then I was a monkey in a banyan tree
And now I’m a professor with a Ph.D.
So I ask those college youngsters, “What makes you so sure and so certain that you came from a green scum and developed up through the tadpoles and the marsupials and finally you’re a man? What makes you so sure?”
“Oh,” they say to me, “it has been positively; it has been certainly, it has been assuredly proved by drosophila.” Well, drosophila, that’s the name of the ordinary fruit fly, and for years, and years, and years, and scores of years, they have been bombarding the chromosomes and the genes of drosophila with X-rays. They discovered that X-rays can mutate the genes on the chromosomes. There are two of them in drosophila. And for years and years and scores of years, they have been bombarding the chromosomes of drosophila with X-rays. It is now as though drosophila had lived through billions and billions and billions of generations. And it is true that they have mutated those genes. But that’s not the point! The point is, you may have drosophila tri-cornered, and oblong, and green-eyed, and with wings, and without wings, and with six legs or four legs or no legs, but the point is, he is still drosophila! He is not a June bug or a bumblebee! He’s still the same!
There has never been an instance in anthropology or in paleontology, there has never been an instance in botany or zoology, there has never been an instance to known true science where there has ever been a transmission from one species to another. God made that an unbroken chain just like He said here in the Book! [Genesis 1:21, 24-25].
Some of the so-called profound, profound pronouncements of the pseudoscientist is overwhelming to hear. In East Texas they raise lots of chickens. A virus spread among them. The Department of Agriculture from Washington sent a team of scientists down to see what was the matter with the chickens. So they studied, and they probed, and they analyzed. And they sent back their report to the Agriculture Department in Washington and said: “We cannot isolate the virus. We don’t know why these chickens are dying, but we have found one thing. We have discovered that the chickens that get sick and linger awhile have a far better opportunity for recovery than those that die immediately.”
But these college kids come and say, “Pastor, we just can’t believe the Bible. It is filled with historical and scientific errors.” Well, you say it is filled with historical errors. Listen, young man, listen, the science of archaeology has probed and dug for hundreds and hundreds of years. They have unearthed civilizations. They have unearthed empires. They have unearthed cities. They have unearthed ten thousand times ten thousand artifacts. There has never yet been one spade of the dirt turned by the archaeologist that contradicted the Word of God, not one, not one, not one, not one! And there are ten thousand confirmations on the other hand of the truth of the inerrancy of the report of God in that Holy Book.
Why, I can remember when they said, “Moses could not have written the five books. Writing was not invented. Then in Ugarit up there in northern Syria on the coast, they discovered a vast Canaanitist Ugaritic literature and found that writing was used centuries and centuries before the days of Moses.
I can remember when they said, “There never were any Hittites. That’s a figment of some biblical imagination back there. Hittites never lived.” Then I can remember when the LIFE magazine––excuse me, I’ll wash my mouth out after this is over––I can remember when the LIFE magazine printed a whole issue on the Hittite Empire, an empire as great as the Assyrian and the Egyptian.
Why, I can remember when they scoffed at Belshazzar, “There never lived anyone named Belshazzar of Babylon.” We can veritably write a biography on Belshazzar today. I can remember when the critics scoffed at the Gospel of John, the Fourth Gospel, and said the theology in the Gospel of John is so far advanced it could not have been written before 250 AD. And while the critics were saying that, they discovered a papyrus in Egypt that shows the Gospel was written at least by 98 AD! Historical errors in the Bible? There are none, there are none!
And the so-called scientific errors in the Word of God, let me quote from an eminent theologian. I am copying exactly what he says, quote, “Of course there are scientific errors in the Bible. However, we can excuse these mistakes on the ground that the Bible is not a textbook of science, and therefore we do not expect it to be scientifically accurate.”
Now I agree with that eminent theologian. The Bible is not as such per se a textbook on science. But I also have this to say out of the deep of my heart. If that Bible has in it scientific errors, then it is the work of fallible men and not the Word of the infallible God; simply because God knows all of the facts. And if those facts are not correct, then God didn’t write it; a fallible man did it.
But before I am quick to observe so-called scientific errors in the Bible, let’s be sure about our facts. Let’s be certain first about our scriptural facts. There was a biblical lecturer going all over America, and wherever he went he published in the paper an ad offering a thousand dollars for anybody who could point out something in the Bible that contradicted a proven fact of science. He did that for years.
Upon a day, a woman wrote him a letter and claimed the thousand dollars. “For,” she said, “it has been scientifically demonstrated that no apples can grow in the Mesopotamian Valley. Now we know, that the garden of Eden,” she said, “was in the Mesopotamian Valley. And it says in the Bible that Adam and Eve ate an apple. Therefore I want the thousand dollars.”
And he wrote back and said, “My dear lady, you’re correct. Paradise, Eden, was in the Mesopotamian valley, but God’s Word does not say Adam and Eve ate an apple. It says they ate of the forbidden fruit. It doesn’t say they ate an apple.” So after a long while she wrote back and said, “I have searched the Bible and I can’t find where it says an apple, but I know it was an apple because my college professor said it was!” Let’s be sure of our scriptural facts.
Let’s also be certain of our scientific facts. Science changes everyday. It’s like a chicken. It molts all the time. I have been told that there are three and one half miles of obsolete books on science in the Louvre Library alone in Paris, France.
There are always those who are coming forward wanting to update the Bible and wanting to rewrite the Bible according to the latest science of the day. What if they had done that in 1000 BC? What if they’d done it in 500 BC? What if they had done it in 500 AD? What if they had done it in 1000 AD? Had they done so the Bible would have been nothing other today than a composite of useless absurdities without relevance to truth or the revelation of God!
The miracle of the Word of the Lord is astonishing, unimaginable! I hold it here in my hand, written by forty men, over a period of a thousand five hundred years, and it was closed two thousand years ago. It was written against differing cultural backgrounds, differing civilizations. Why, we can look at those civilizations. The science of archaeology, for example, can place in our hands, and we can read them, the very texts that Moses studied. The Book says that Moses was learned in all of the arts and sciences of the Egyptians [Acts 7:22]. We can read those texts that Moses studied. The Egyptians had a science of cosmogony, of creation. They taught that a great, winged egg flew around and around and around, and when the process of mitosis was finished, out hatched the world.
So I open the Bible to read about that flying ovoid that Moses was taught in the science of the Egyptians. And instead of reading about that winged egg, I read the ten most comprehensive words in human literature, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” [Genesis 1:1].
The Egyptians had a science of anthropology. They believed, they were naïve evolutionists, they believed that all mankind was hatched. We came from those white worms they observed when the Nile overflowed. They had doubtless watched the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. As I think of their naivete, I think maybe they have something there. Wouldn’t you rather be the descendent of a nice, clean, white fish bait than to be the progeny of some flea-bitten anthropoid in some primeval jungle? That was the anthropology of Egyptians.
Against the background of the Babylonians so much of the Bible was written. The Babylonians had a cosmogony and an anthropology. They describe the battle between the chaos monster Tiamat and the great god Marduk; and Marduk was victorious, and he slew Tiamat; and they flattened out Tiamat’s body, and that became the earth, according to the Babylonians. And when Marduk spit, where he spat men came up. Then men began to spit, and where they spat women came up. And the women began to spit, and where they spat animals came up. That is the cosmogony of the Babylonians. When I turn here in the Bible to find that monstrous error, there’s no syllable of it. When I read that I couldn’t help but think about one of those signs that Jimmy Hester’s talking about in a warehouse, “Don’t smoke, remember the Chicago fire”; and a wag wrote underneath, “Don’t spit, remember the Johnstown flood.”
When I open the Bible I am overwhelmed by its historical and scientific accuracy. For example, in the twenty-sixth chapter of Job, “He, the Lord God, hangeth the world upon nothing” [Job 26:7]. When Job wrote that, the entire civilized world for centuries before and centuries after believed that the world was steadied, was held, was supported by some solid foundation. Why, you know these things.
The Egyptians believed that the world was sustained by five columns, one in each corner, and one in the middle. I could see how they could guess. Crawl to the edge and find those four columns, but that fifth one right in the middle is sheer postulation. The Greeks believed that the world was held up by a giant named Atlas.
And the Hindus had the best theory of all. They said and taught in their finest science that the earth is balanced on the back of a great elephant, which itself is supported on the back of a gigantic turtle, which is swimming in a cosmic sea. That is the cultural background against which the Bible was written; but the Scriptures say that God hung the world on nothing! [Job 26:7].
Take again; Isaiah speaks of the Lord God who sits above the circle of the earth. It was untold centuries before it was established that the earth was round, but Isaiah said, “The Lord God sits on, above, looks upon, the circle of the earth” [Isaiah 40:22].
Can you imagine the interest of America in going to the moon? Oh, what is up there on the moon? So, these astronauts went up to the moon and they came back. And when they laid out all of their [sciences] before the geologists, and all of the men who study rocks, the scientific community of America and of the world was overwhelmed! They were surprised, amazed at what was on the moon!
Those astronauts said, “The moon is covered with little tiny, fine beads, glass beads.” They said the dust is beads, glass beads. They said the rocks are spliced with glass. They said on the moon there is titanium, so much overwhelmingly so. There’s no atmosphere, and the surface is very irregular. Look at that. Look at that.
When you see a screen in your house and you’re showing movies, little glass beads to reflect the light; titanium is capable of breaking up light more gloriously than a diamond. The atmosphere would have hindered the reflection, and the irregularity of the moon’s surface is like those channels on the glass of the headlight of your automobile. In other words, the moon is nothing but one giant reflector! Just like God said in the Book, He made the moon to give light on the earth at night! [Genesis 1:15-16]. I tell you, had the United States government come and asked me, I could have saved the taxpayers four billion dollars; just like it says in the Book.
These things are spoken just to encourage us and to assure us of the truth of the living Word of the Lord. I don’t think of it as a book of history as such, nor do I look upon it as a book of science as such. To me, it’s God’s gracious revelation of how I can find heaven, how my soul can be saved, how I can be strengthened and comforted in the exigencies and trials of this life.
Once a year, Pat Zondervan comes down to our church. They open their Bibles—this is a Gideon Bible I hold in my hand––they open these Bibles like that, and our people give money to the Gideons to buy these Books to place in schools, and to give to the armed services, and to place in hotel rooms.
Last time Pat Zondervan was there he held up a little New Testament, held it up high like that. And when he held it up, I could see the bullet holes through it. He had just come back, he said, from Vietnam, and a chaplain had taken the little Testament off of a dead body of a Georgia soldier boy—blood stained, riddled with bullets.
And when he came and sat down by my side on the platform at the church, I said, “Pat, just let me hold that little Book in my hand.” And he placed it in my hand, covered in blood, bullet holes through it; an American soldier boy from Georgia. I turned to the back, and there I read this word in the back of the Book, “This day, I, Wilton Thomas, take Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.” And he signed it, and he dated it.
And the lad, whoever he is, from somebody’s home in Georgia, went to heaven with that Book pressed to his heart. No sweeter story in literature than the request of Sir Walter Scott to his son-in-law when he lay dying: “Son,” he said, “Bring me the Book!” And Lockhart said, “Father, what book?” And the great bard replied, “Son, there’s just one Book.” Lockhart brought him the Bible. And Sir Walter Scott died with the Book pressed to his heart.
“There’s just one Book!” cried the dying sage;
“Read me the old, old story.”
And the winged words that can never fade
Wafted his soul to glory.
There’s just one Book, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one gospel, and one Book! [Ephesians 4:4-5]. And this is the preacher’s mandate: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God [2 Timothy 3:16], I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word” [2 Timothy 4:1-2]—the one great assignment of the man of God, our mandate from heaven!