The Only Gospel
June 25th, 1972 @ 8:15 AM
THE ONLY GOSPEL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-25-72 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, the second one, from the Book of Galatians. In our Sunday morning services, we are preaching through the Book of Galatians.
At the Sunday night service, always, and as long as God gives me length of days, I preach through the life of Christ. We are now in the Gospel of John, the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John, in the evening service. And the text tonight from that seventeenth chapter, the high priestly prayer of our Lord, will be this: “For their sakes I consecrate Myself. For their sakes I sanctify Myself” [John 17:19].
A deepening dedication, True Sanctification: that is the service tonight at 7:30 o’clock in this holy place. In the daytime, on the Lord’s Day, I am preaching through the Book of Galatians. And this is the second message from the Book of Galatians.
The message is a sermon on dogmatism, on finality, on authoritarianism which is a strange kind of a message to hear today in the midst of our taught and fetid, broad-minded liberalism. The very tone of the text is antithetical to everything that we are taught in the academic world. I read from the first chapter of Galatians, verses 6 through 12:
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ.
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by revelation of Jesus Christ.
Isn’t that strange? “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed—anathema esto” [Galatians 1:8]. And the emphasis is on anathema. It’s the first word. Anathema esto; anathema—literally, let him be devoted to destruction; let him be damned; let him be accursed. In the Greek, anathema, accursed, damned; esto, let him be. And then as though that were not enough, he says it again: “As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, anathema esto, let him be accursed” [Galatians 1:9]. Devoted unto destruction; esto, let him be.
Oh, it is a different world when I look at the Book and when I look at our present, liberal, broad-mindedness, eclectic inclusiveness. We’re not to believe anything, not really. Today, you certainly are not to be dogmatic about anything. We’re to be latitudinarian. If you wish, in modern society, and especially in academic circles, if you wish to present the image of being narrow-minded and provincial, then believe something. Have conviction about something: “Here I stand, so help me God. I can do no other” [Martin Luther].
We are taught, we are studiedly taught, not to close our minds, but to keep our minds open. And by that they mean, don’t believe anything with finality. Let everything remain in solution—some kind of a limbo.
I wish to point out, to begin with, three things that follow that broad-minded provincialism, anti-provincialism, that narrow-minded stricture. First: when we do that, there carries with it an innate and congenital concomitant that speaks of cheap shallowness, like a river that is three miles broad and three inches deep. The only difference between a swamp and a river is that one has banks and runs in a channel, and one is broad and spreads itself all over the plain of the valley. It is possible, easily possible, to be so without conviction that we are as shallow as though we were jellyfishes—no backbone, no strength, no morphos, no form at all.
There was a broad-minded liberal minister who resigned, and after the service, a man came up to him and said, “Oh, how we feel the loss in your leaving.” He said, “You know,” talking to the minister, he said, “you know, before you came, I cared not for God, or man, or the devil. But under your fine preaching, I have come to love all three.” The first result of this broad-minded convictionless attitude and spirit is: we become cheap and shallow.
The second attendant, accompaniment, results, the second one: we become so anemic, so without iron and strength, that we find ourselves incapable of opposing even an undisguised enemy; anything can sweep us away, mold us into something else. I often think as you do, and you read the Bible, I often think of these—and Dr. Fowler spoke of it in his prayer this morning—I often think of these who in the first Christian centuries—and I shall speak of it further in a moment—who laid down their lives for the faith. Conviction and persuasion was so deep in them that refusing to compromise rather than give up an iota of their commitment to Christ, they suffered unto death. The men did not make the doctrine—the doctrine was revealed from heaven [Galatians 1:11-12], Paul says—but the doctrine made the men: strength, conviction, power lay in their faith. They believed something unto death, sealed it with their death.
A third thing that always follows this broad, liberal latitudinarianism: to believe nothing in particular. Those sweet, honeyed words of the half-infidel, of the unbeliever, the saccharin, perfumed, Christianette; those attitudes and those pronouncements ultimately destroy the faith itself.
This week, I was speaking with a fellow minister, and we were talking about the Southern Baptist Convention that met recently in Philadelphia. And he was speaking to me about a denominational leader. And this denominational leader is very suave and most affable and very broad, including in his circumference anybody of any faith of any persuasion. And we were talking about how personally attractive and affable he is.
And I said to him, “I have never seen a liberal but was that way. However it is, they’re nice about it. However the thing goes, they’re pleased about it. They are the most gracious of gentlemen.” I personally have never met a liberal who was not affable, congenial. He doesn’t believe anything in particular. Why should he object to anything? Why should he speak out against anything? His broad-mindedness includes anything and everything. But he drowns the faith in his honeyed words.
Let me give you a classical illustration of that. I don’t suppose there is anyone who has read about art and literature and theology but to whom the French skeptic Renan is a household word: Renan (R-e-n-a-n), Renan—a very famous French philosopher. He was educated to be a minister. He was a professor in a theological school. He was a skeptic of all skeptics. Yet he had a romantic and dramatic attitude about Jesus that I’ve even quoted him in some of my own sermons. The things he’d say are just superlative. But you look at this observation: [Edmond] De Pressensé said of Renan, and I quote from him, “Renan very skillfully undermines Christianity while profuse in its praise. He buries it in flowers. He comes to the tomb of the Savior not to weep and worship like the women of the gospel, but to stifle with perfumes and spices any lingering spark of life in the religion of Jesus. He does not deal a blow with a sharp sword; no, he embalms it. But the result is the same as though he had made a violent attack.” It is possible, literally, to destroy the Christian faith in sweetness, and in perfume, and in broad-minded, convictionless liberalism.
Now let’s start. The Christian faith is all things and first of all authoritarian. It is noncompromising. It is absolute and final. It is that or nothing at all! Now, referring to those first Christians; did you know, do you realize that the Roman Empire did not demand of those Christians whom they fed to the lions, whom they burned at the stake, whom they plunged into boiling caldrons of oil, whom they crucified, nailed to crosses—the Roman Empire did not ask that they give up their faith in Christ, or that they cease attending churches, or do anything whereby they would separate themselves from their Lord. The Roman Empire was of all things broad-minded in its religious policies. When they conquered a nation, they accepted the nation’s god. They brought the god to Rome; put him in a pantheon like all of the rest of the gods they had there. One of the secrets of the success of the building of the Roman Empire was that broad-minded attitude toward the religions of the provinces. It made no difference to the Roman.
Now as time went on, Rome began to see that they needed some kind of a faith, some kind of a religion to put cohesiveness in the empire, to kind of pull it together, to hold it together. So, allowing all of these gods—you could worship any god. If you liked Neptune, there he is. If you like Osiris, there he is. If you like Isis, there she is; or Venus, there she is; or Diana, there she is; or Jove, there he is. You could worship any god that you pleased. Then as time went on, it kind of developed—I don’t think anybody purposely set out to do it—it kind of developed that they started to worship the emperor. So wherever they had these shrines, there they’d have one to the emperor. They could worship all the gods that they pleased, but they also were asked to bow before the image of the emperor.
Now the Christian was asked to do that. How was he asked to do that? In a little, simple thing that you would think would be nothing at all. As a matter of patriotism, as a matter of loyalty to the government, the Christian was asked—now, you look at this. The Christian was asked to take a little pinch of incense, a little pinch of incense—that’s all—a little pinch of incense and put it on the altar of fire before the emperor as an act of loyalty and patriotism to the government. The Christian refused to do it!
When Polycarp was burned at the stake in Smyrna, the pastor of the martyr church at Smyrna, the judge asked him to do that, and he’d spare his life—a pinch of incense on the flame that burned before the altar of the image of the emperor. What was the matter with the persecution of the Christians in the Roman Empire? It was a new thing for Rome to persecute in the name of God or religion. But the Christian refused. He refused any other faith, any other act of worship, except before Iēsous Kurios, Jesus the Lord.
Now that’s the kind of finality and non-compromising authoritarianism that made the Christian faith. Now the sermon this morning is to point out to you that that’s the thing itself. It is that. It is that or it is nothing at all. And I speak of it again in three categories. I speak of it, first, in the finality of Christ; second, in the finality of the Book; and third, in the finality of its way of salvation—that there’s room for none other.
All right, first, the finality of Christ, the manner and spirit of our Lord; this is an evil word today. And when I put it with our Savior it may sound strange, but I’m speaking of the dogmatism of Jesus. The dogmatism of Jesus! He never comes forward with a series of opinions and then lets His hearers choose which one he might like. The Lord never spins out diametrically opposite theories and then lets you hang on the horns of the dilemma as to which you will choose. When the Lord speaks, He never speaks comparatively. He speaks finally and absolutely. His words are always superlative. His words are not an exposition; they are the text itself.
Now look at that for a minute: let’s take Matthew and just pick out two or three things in the Gospel of Matthew. First, in the Sermon on the Mount:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That you resist not evil . . . If a man smite thee on one cheek, turn the other also.
If a man sue thee at law to take away thy coat, give him your cloak also.
If a man compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
“Resist not evil, I say unto you…” [Matthew 5:39]. All right, look at the end of that Sermon on the Mount. “And when He had finished speaking, they were astonished at Him because He spoke as one having authority, and not as the scribes” [Matthew 7:28-29]. All right, take the next chapter:
And there came unto Jesus a centurion . . .
Saying, Lord, heal my servant.
And the Lord said, I will come and heal your servant.
And the centurion said—the one in Capernaum—and the centurion said, Lord, I am not worthy that You come under my roof. You just speak the word and my servant will be healed.
And Jesus said, I have never seen such faith, no, not in Israel.
And the man said, I am a man under authority. I have authority, men under me. I say to this man, Go—he is a centurion—this man, he comes. This man, he stays. This servant, Do this and that; and You can do that.
Oh, what an attitude the centurion had toward the Lord, the finality of Christ, all of it in His hands! “And the Lord said: You go your way, your servant is healed. And he was healed from that very hour” [Matthew 8:13]. That’s the Lord!
Let’s take just one other in the moment: on the top of the Mount of Transfiguration, the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, when Peter saw Elijah and Moses there on either side of the Lord; he said: “Lord, let us stay here and build three tabernacles, three booths—it was the time of the Feast of the Tabernacles—one for You and one for Moses, and one for Elijah” [Matthew 17:4]. And there came a voice out of the heavenly glory saying, in effect, to Simon Peter: “Shut up! This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him! [Matthew 17:5]. Hear Him! His words are final and absolute and authoritarian!”
Came across this poem:
Hushed be the noise and strife of the schools.
Volume and pamphlet, sermon and speech.
The lips of the wise and the prattle of fools,
Let the Son of Man teach.
Who has the key to the future but He?
Who can unravel the knots of the skein?
We have groaned and have travailed and sought to be free,
We have travailed in vain, bewildered, dejected and prone to despair,
To Him, as at first, do we turn and beseech.
Our ears are all open, give heed to our prayer.
O, Son of Man, teach!
Tell us what to do, what to believe. Reveal to us the word and the revelation and mind and wisdom of God. Do it, Lord! Do it, Lord!
Dogmatic? Authoritarian? And look at His severity in it. Now I am talking about the blessed Jesus, who took little babes in His arms and blessed them [Mark 10:13]. I’m talking about the gentle Jesus who said: “Come unto Me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in soul, in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” [Matthew 11:28-29].
I’m talking about that gentle Jesus. All right, look at Him. You turn to the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew and see His ringing, bitter denunciation of the scribes and the Pharisees: “You hypocrites! [Matthew 23:23]. You whited sepulchers! You—full of dead men’s bones! [Matthew 23:27]. Ye who shall receive the greater damnation! Ye generation of vipers, of snakes” [Matthew 23:33]. That’s the same Lord Jesus. Or listen to Him again as He speaks of the fires of hell [Matthew 23:15, 33]. Practically all that we know about hell comes from the lips of our Lord; the severity of Christ.
Take again, entering a little turn that usually you don’t think about: there came running unto Him in the way, a rich young ruler. And Jesus, looking upon him, loved him, all of those commandments had he kept from his youth up [Mark 10:17-22].
“What lack I yet?” [Matthew 19:20]. And the Lord said to him: “You are rich, man, and your riches divide you from God. Your heart is where your treasure is in this world and what you have. Get rid of it! Get rid of it! Sell everything you have and give it away. Come, follow Me” [Mark 10:21]. And the young man stugnazō [Mark 10:22]. Twice is that word used in the Bible, stugnazō. One, when the Lord said: “When you see the sky red and lowering…”stugnazō—lowering—the sky lowering, dark; you know, the clouds are boiling [Matthew 16:3]. The other place it’s used is in the face, describing that rich young ruler—stugnazō. The war in his soul was registered in his face, in his countenance—stugnazō. And he turned and went away, sadly [Mark 10:22].
All right, now, the Lord, why didn’t the Lord say to him as he walked away: “Young man, come—come—come back? Young man, come back! Don’t go away like that. Let’s talk about this. Maybe we can soften the blow. Maybe we can compromise the request. Maybe we can work out some detail. Come back, don’t go away.” For the demand was very complete, and it was exceedingly harsh: “To give away everything that you have in order to come and follow Me” [Mark 10:21].
“Come back, young man, let’s talk it over.” Did the Lord do that? No! He watched the young man go away. He never lessened the demand. Never! Oh, the finality of the demeanor and manner of the Lord Himself. He was like that, uncompromising, tender, precious; laid down His life for us [1 Corinthians 15:3], but never lowering the standard of that appeal.
Sweet people, I haven’t time for the other two, the finality of Christ, the authoritarianism of Christ. Second, the authoritarianism of the Book, of the Book, to the law and to the prophets: “If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” [Isaiah 8:20]. The finality of the Book: “He that shall add to the words of this book, God will add to him the plagues that are written in it. He that would take away from this book, God shall take away his name out of the Book of Life” [Revelation 22:18-19]. The finality of the Book: it is written; thus did Christ speak. The final word in revelation from heaven is in this Book.
For just the moment that remains, let me speak of the finality of the way of salvation. How many ways of salvation are there? How many of these roads that the broad-minded speak of: “There are many, many, many roads, and they all lead finally to God and to heaven. There are many, many, many ways to be saved. There are many, many avenues.”
Does the Bible say that? Listen to the words of Christ Himself:
Verily, verily—truly, truly; amen, amen—I say unto you, He that cometh not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
I am the door: by Me, if any one enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
[John 10:1, 9]
There is one door [John 10:9]; there is one way [John 14:6]; and there are no other ways [Acts 4:12]. There’s one way! There’s just one way, and that’s in Christ. That’s in Christ! Listen to the passage you read this morning. It closes: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” [Acts 4:12]. Listen again to the sainted John as he writes in the closing words of his first epistle:
He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believe not the record that God gave of His Son.
This is the record: that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in the Son.
Now the avowal:
He that hath the Son hath life: he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
[1 John 5:10-12]
Plainly, authoritatively, and finally stated; it is that simple: if a man is to be saved, he must be saved in Christ. “He that hath the Son hath life: he that hath not the Son hath not life” [1 John 5:12]. “But the wrath of God abideth on him” [John 3:36]. He faces the judgment of eternally being lost.
Oh, when I read these things and study these things, makes me tremble, makes me bow, makes me pray, makes me look up to heaven, makes me plead for grace and mercy and help from God! For the revelation of the Lord is not double-faced, nor is it twofold. It is not as though we were selecting opinions. It is not as though we were in dilemmas choosing theories. It’s not as though we were listening to speculation. But the sound of the trumpet is clear. It is final. It is superlative, never comparative.
The authoritarianism of the gospel: “My brethren, though I, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have heard—anathema esto—let him be accursed” [Galatians 1:8]: “One faith, one Lord, one baptism, one God and Father of us all” [Ephesians 4:5-6]. One Book—one way—just one!
Now we stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, this auditorium, this throng this morning, as full as it can be; in the balcony around, somebody you, on this lower floor, a family, a couple, or one somebody you, today to give himself to the faith, “By the grace of God, I also accept Jesus as my Savior, and here I stand, so help me” [Ephesians 2:8].
You’re not invited to come as though we were speculating, as though we were metaphysically philosophizing, as though we had forty alternatives and this morning we choose this one. No, we are invited to come as though there is only one Savior, and His name is Jesus [Acts 4:12]. There is only one way, and that’s the Christian way. There’s only one God, and His name is Jehovah Jesus [Deuteronomy 6:4; John 20:28]. “There’s only one heaven, and I want to make it. There’s one way to be saved, and I’m accepting it [John 14:6; Acts 16:31]. Like the door into the ark, just one door [Genesis 6:16], and I’m walking in” [John 10:7, 9]. As the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, come this morning; make it now, choose now, decide now. And then when we stand, stand walking down that aisle [Romans 10:9-13]. Do it! Make it now, while all of us stand and sing.
in the Bible so different our present liberal, broad-mindedness
are taught to keep our minds open
1. The effect is cheap
2. We become so weak we
cannot resist even the undisguised enemy
3. We believe nothing
in particular; faith ultimately destroyed
a. French skeptic Renan
II. The Christian faith is authoritarian
A. Absolute and final
religiously broad-minded Roman Empire persecuted Christians because they
refused to participate in emperor worship
III. The finality and non-compromising
authoritarianism of the faith
A. Finality of Christ
His words (Matthew 5:38-41, 7:29, 8:5-10, 17:5)
(Matthew 11:28-29, 23:27, Mark 10:17-22)
B. Finality of the Book(Isaiah 8:20, Revelation 22:18-19)
C. Finality of the way
broad-minded speak of many ways to be saved