The School of the Prophets, Part 1
March 19th, 1971
1 Samuel 10
SCHOOL OF PROPHETS: PART 1
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Samuel 10
I would take it for granted that everybody who is here today are in sympathy with some of these things we believe. Those who are not in sympathy I also take it for granted they are not around, and that is all right.
Now, we are going to begin, as so many times that we do, down on our knees with all those staff members that you have just been introduced to. Let us come, and let us kneel down here, starting right in front, let us all of our staff members come and kneel. And I want to lead us in a prayer, that God will bless us during these pivotal and precious days.
Our Lord in heaven, we have thought and dreamed and planned for these days through years and years; and now that pivotal and epochal and glorious hour has come. O Master, with what depth of gratitude do we praise Thy name for this open door. May every fellow worker in the vineyard of our Lord be richly rewarded and richly repaid for spending these days with us. And for Thy guidance in every class session and for the open heart the Lord will give us to learn, we shall thank Thee forever through the blessing of Thy people in a better workman by which God can use us, in the dear name of Christ, amen.
As you know, because of the nationwide Bible conference, our session this year is just three days. It is today, Friday, tomorrow’s day, Saturday, and then the Lord’s Day, Sunday. That compels us largely to decimate what otherwise we would have tried to present. Actually, in teaching we have just two days; Sunday will be a day mostly of looking, observing, seeing. There is so much that I pray we shall be able to add to this week. Next year, the date of the conference will be March, the first week in March. I thought I wrote it down, but evidently I didn’t; yes, March 6 through 12, next year our School of the Prophets will be March 6 through 12. It will be the whole week, Monday through Sunday. This year, because of the shortened time, we are compelled just to present methods: this is how the work is done, and this is what God blesses. And as you look in your syllabus, you will find that each one of us will be presenting that facet of the work for which he or she is particularly charged. And that’s all we can do this time. But next year, I am hoping that we can not only present methods that God seems to bless, but that we can also present some studies in God’s Book. Such as, it might be possible, with a concentrated study, to go clear through the Revelation; we might be able to go through the Book of Daniel; we might take some of the other tremendous books in the Bible, such as the Book of Acts, that are especially pertinent today and in our life and our generation.
Now next year, that’s my dream and hope; is to present teachings from God’s Word and especially in areas that sometimes are not generally taught. But this year we have no other choice but to concentrate upon methods; what God does that He so wonderfully uses here in this church. This is not a metaphysical, philosophical, speculative appeal; there will be nothing here as one would spin out in a philosopher’s chair. Everything will be, “This is what God blesses, this is what we can do; this is used of the Lord, and just look at it with your eyes.”
Why, the thing overwhelms me as I look at it. I am astonished at it! Such as, the beginning of this service here at 8:15 on Sunday morning: I look for two hundred, three hundred, I’ve never been in a church that had any sizeable number; you can’t get in the building, you’ll have five hundred people down there in Coleman Hall at an 8:15 service. And the other services of the day, and the Sunday school, it is growing as much now as it ever has. Last Sunday it spilled over six thousand in registered attendance. These things are phenomenal to me. As I look at them, there is nothing unusual or particular or spectacular or fantastic; it is just an approach, a way, a method that God blesses.
I’m not saying that in every rural church and every village that the same numerical results would obtain; but I preached out in the country for ten years, I preached in village churches, pastored little towns, little county seat town, then a little city; there’s hardly a church that any man has been pastor of that I have been pastor of a church just like it. I began my ministry and stayed there for years at Devil’s Bend and Pulltight; those were my two beginning churches. I mean they were out, they were away, didn’t have any highways, didn’t have any railroads, didn’t have any stores, didn’t have anything, way out there. And I preached there for years. There’s not any problem that any rural pastor faces that I haven’t faced. I was unmarried in those days; I was single in those days. For those ten years I lived with those people, and here’s what I have found: they are no different from any other people, they’re just the same. The methods and the approaches that God blesses here are the same methods and approaches that God will bless there and anywhere.
Another thing about people: radio and television and newspapers and public media, they have made everybody everywhere acutely aware of the world situation. You’re not preaching to dumb provincials, I don’t care where you are; you are preaching to people, and you’re seeking to guide, and win, and train, and teach people who are with it. They’re up, they know; don’t you persuade yourself that because you’re out there somewhere, there you are stuck with old codgers, and geeks, and yahoos. No sir, they are as alive and as sensitive and as quickened as anybody else in the whole earth. Therefore, what we study here, even thought it may not be on as grandiose a scale as it is in this particular spot, yet the same thing will obtain, the same methods will work, God will bless you there as He has blessed us here, if we give ourselves to these ministries.
Now, the purposes of our School of the Prophets; one, we’re going to sit at the feet of our Lord and learn of Him. That is His invitation, “Come unto Me, enroll in My school, take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me” [Matthew 11:28-29]; that’s an old rabbinical phrase, “take my yoke upon you.” That is, “enroll in my school”; that’s exactly what it means. I do not deny that other meaning, as they always say, the Lord has got His neck in this side of the yoke, and He invites you to put your neck in this side of the yoke, I don’t deny that spiritualized meaning. But the phrase is a common, ordinary rabbinical phrase. “Take My yoke upon you”; that is, “enroll in My school, and learn of Me; sit at My feet.” That’s the best learning in the world, and that’s the best Teacher in the world, sitting at the feet of Jesus. And that’s what we shall seek to do in these days, to sit at the feet of our Lord and learn of Him. What does He do, and how does He reach these people?
Now I hope we can learn together. We’re still studying. As I get into these lectures on preaching, one of the astonishing things that I read in the life of Phillips Brooks: he studied homiletics all of his life. Even after he was possibly the most famous preacher of the generation here in America, he was still in classes learning homiletics. We’re going to learn together; God has many things that He would teach us, and we’re going to learn them and ask God to bless us as we implement them back there in our churches. Then, of course, we’re going to look at the approaches that God has blessed here in this particular place.
There are so many facets in our complex world, oh dear! I grew up in a little white crackerbox of a church, a little town, of say, three hundred people. And in that little church the methods that we used, they were sufficient and adequate for any problem or need or exigency in the day. Our Sunday school, in that little church, we had a curtain that went from there to there, and then we had a curtain that went from there to there; that made four magnificent, adequate classrooms. And I have a far better remembrance of the privilege of attending that than these kids today. Today, when they come down here they’re shunted off into these rooms, you know, and they have to listen to the teacher. I didn’t. When I went to Sunday school as a boy, why, I’d sit here and listen to that teacher, and if I disliked that one, I tuned in on that one there. If I didn’t like that one, I tuned in on this one here. If I didn’t like that, I tuned in on this one here. I had a choice.
And in those days, the revival meeting was an epoch; it was an event. I can never remember a revival when the stores of the town did not close at ten o’clock in the morning, and everybody went to church. Even in the morning the stores closed; it was revival time.
The town infidel lived right back of our house. Why, I can hear that fellow now in memory, cuss! You could hear him all over the earth as he milked his cow in the morning. And she’d kick over the pail. Oh, brother! He came to church, sat right there on the second seat and just make fun of the preacher. I thought, “Man, what he’s going to do in hell someday,” as a little boy as I watched that guy. Oh! It was an event; and that was all that was needed. My brother, it is no less true where you live than it is where I live: that won’t work today; it won’t even approach the touch of the need today. Why, I could announce a revival meeting here in this pulpit, and if we don’t prepare, and get ready, and work, and visit, and pray, and plead, and appeal; oh dear me! I believe I’d be here almost by myself; my own people will not come to revival today just by announcement. It is a new day, it is a new generation, and we have to cope with it. I don’t have any other choice. God must give us instruments and means to move in this fast moving world. And this is why we’re here. God help us and bless us as we try to wrestle with the complex problems of our day.
Now we’re going to have the pastor: how do you do as a pastor? And then the financing manager: how do you do with our stewardship program? Why, this church here, as I said last night, will give $3,400,000 to its work, just passing these collection plates. It is phenomenal how people will respond; but we need to know how to guide them to respond. Our music program, our educational program, our missions, these other facets such as our recreational program and our tremendous mission program: well, let’s look at them, let’s just look at it and just ask God to give us these ideas and know-hows and geniuses of approach, that when we go back home we can implement some of them and see if God does not bless them there.
Now I want to turn to the Word of the Lord. And if you have your Bible I want you to turn with me. A thousand times have I been asked, “Where did you get that name, ‘School of the Prophets,’ and what do you mean by ‘School of the Prophets’?” This is what we mean by it, and all of you are conversant with it anyway. From the days of Samuel there were schools of prophets in Israel [1 Samuel 10:5, 10, 19:20]. It probably originated like this: around some older, experienced prophet there gathered other men, particularly younger men. And they sought to receive from him a measure of his spirit, and to learn of his ways. Almost certainly that is where the school of the prophets came from. And in my humble opinion—and oh! I pray God will bless us in this effort through the years—that is the best way to learn.
I was in Russia; I was amazed, as some of you have been when you go there. Go to those churches in Scotland and England; they have got that many in it; put them up here on the stage, some of them, up here on this platform. Go to the churches of Europe, the same decadence. Go to the churches of Scandinavia. When I visited the First Baptist Church in Helsinki—they had one baptism the entire year before—I looked in their baptistery, it was full of debris and stuff. You can hardly believe the death of our Baptist work in Scotland, in England, in the continent.
Then I went to Russia. The services there would be three hours long. There would be several stated services every Sunday, and then sometimes during the days of the week. And the people would be out in the yard; the only reason we got in anywhere was because we were visitors from America. Otherwise, we’d have been out there in the yard; standing in the yard every service we attended. Well, I said, “I don’t understand, and I wish somebody would explain this to me. You can’t have a Sunday school by law; you can’t have a school, you can’t have a seminary, you can’t publish literature; can’t even publish a Bible. I don’t understand. How do you carry on your work, and how do you train preachers for this ministry?”
And this was their answer: “We don’t have any school, that’s correct; don’t have any seminary, that’s right; we have no literature, we’re not allowed to publish it; but this is what we do: around every one of these pastors in Russia, around every one of them, we have young ministers, and they are trained by that elder pastor.” That is their training; they stay with him for years. First Baptist Church at Moscow would have at times as many as forty of them. They were there, living with the pastor, assistants in the church, training in the ministry. And you know, as I’ve turned that over since the days I was there, I believe that is the best way for a minister to learn that you could devise. That’s the way Timothy was taught with the apostle Paul. That’s the way Titus was taught—with the apostle Paul. And the association of those ministers, with that elder pastor, he learns to preach the Word. You won’t find any liberals in Moscow; just like you don’t find any of them in Ohio: it’s too hard. They are centered in the Book, and they are taught the shepherdly care and love for the people. That is exactly the school of the prophets in the Old Testament. They were men who gathered around an experienced elder man of God. They sat at his feet, and they learned of him.
Now look at the Book, just for a minute; and we shall hastily. In 1 Samuel, in 1 Samuel, chapter 10, in 1 Samuel chapter 10, the prophet Samuel says to Saul, whom he has just anointed, “As you go, you will meet a company of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a tabret, a tambourine, and a pipe, and a harp, before them; and they shall prophesy: And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee” [1 Samuel 10:5-6]. Now there you have it, “a company of prophets.”
All right, turn to Samuel chapter 19, 1 Samuel chapter 19 and verse 20. First Samuel 19:20:
And Saul sent messengers to take David: and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as appointed over them—
he was the elder prophet around whom these young men were gathering—
he saw the company of the prophets, and Samuel standing as appointed over them.
[1 Samuel 19:20]
Now let us turn to 1 Kings, 1 Kings. I want to look at a passage here— well, we don’t have time, 1 Kings, let’s turn to chapter 19—1 Kings chapter 20, verse 35: “And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said unto his neighbor” [1 Kings 20:35], here you have another instance of that school of the prophets. Now let us turn to 2 Kings chapter 2. This is the story of the translation of Elijah.
- “And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven …and then he said to Elisha, Tarry here” [2 Kings 2:1-2].
- Now verse 3: “And the sons of the prophets that were at Bethel came forth to Elisha, and said” [2 Kings 2:3],
- now look at verse 5, “And the sons of the prophets that were at Jericho came to Elisha, and said” [2 Kings 2:5],
- now look at verse 7, “And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off [2 Kings 2:7]: as Elisha and Elijah approached the Jordan River.”
- Now look at verse 15: “And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came and bowed themselves to the ground before him” [2 Kings 2:15].
Now let’s look at chapter 4, verse 1: “Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets”’ [2 Kings 4:1], evidently they were not monks, they were married. Isn’t that funny? Simon Peter was married; all the apostles were married, all of them, the Book says so. But there are people, you know, who say that ministers shouldn’t marry. Isn’t that funny? “Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets” [2 Kings 4:1]. Now look at verse 38: “And Elisha came again to Gilgal: and there was a dearth in the land; and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him” [2 Kings 4:38]; they were gathered around the prophet Elisha. Now look at 6:1, “And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha…” [2 Kings 6:1]. Well, I have just picked these out to show you, to show us, to remind us again that in the Old Testament these sons of the prophets were schools, the companies of the prophets were schools that gathered first around Samuel, then the prophets through the years, such as Elijah and Elisha.
Well, what did they do? Briefly, there was a communion, a koinōnia, a fellowship in prayer, in meditation, in listening to the Word of God. They encouraged each other in the faith. I had a physician last night that was one of the handsomest men I ever saw in my life, from Kentucky, a handsome man, I wish I could have remembered his name, but when you’re just shaking hands with a throng of people it is difficult to do that. He looked to be about six feet three inches tall, one of the finest looking men I ever saw, a doctor. And he said to me, “You know, we are intimidated; we don’t hear anything like this ever. We are intimidated.” And then he named some of those that intimidate them.
That is why we need the koinōnia, the fellowship, the communion. Don’t you persuade yourself that the enemies of the cross are just among the infidels, and among the bartenders, and the pimps, and the procurers, and the whoremongers, and the harlots. In fact, I don’t think they hurt us, I don’t think so. When you look at a pimp and a harlot, when you look at a bartender and a procurer, you won’t find anything there that threatens to plow you under. The enemies of the cross that destroy us are those on the inside. They’re the ones that decimate us. And this doctor said to me last night, “We are intimidated.” I’m just reporting to you what he said. Whether it’s true or not, I’m just telling you what that deacon said. We need the koinōnia, we need the communion, the friendship and the fellowship and the faithfulness that comes from this gathering of God’s sainted leaders.
All right, another thing they did: they brought to pass and kept in remembrance God’s works of old. And they are the ones who wrote it down; and that’s where your Bible came from. Your Bible came from those schools of the prophets. By oral tradition they passed it from one to the other to the other, and then they wrote it down.