WHAT MEAN THESE STONES?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-23-72 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing a message concerning an assignment, a responsibility, what God has laid upon us. The title of the message is What Mean These Stones? It is just a text. It is a background. It is not an exposition. It is the beginning of a presentation of a work that lies ahead for us. If I could read the story in the fourth chapter of the Book of Joshua:
It came to pass, when all the people were passed over Jordan, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying,
Take you twelve men, one out of every tribe,
and take up a stone, and place it on the bank . . . That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask your fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones?
Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when we passed over Jordan, the waters were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.
What mean these stones? What are you doing? And why?
This last week, upon a lot, a property that we own, facing Ervay Street between the Burt Building and the Salvation Army building, this week there was begun a Christian Education Building. A structure that shall be at least six stories high; we need it to be eight stories; and shall raise it to that height if our people greatly support us. And it is to be called our Christian Education Building. Why that building; its need and the vast amount of money that will be poured into it?
The answer lies in something that is happening in our church. In the last few years, and particularly and especially in the last several months, there has been a great turning in our church. We are giving ourselves to another and a new emphasis. Not that anybody sat down and said, “This is what we’re going to do, and this is the turn we’re going to take”; but rather it has come from a directive of the Spirit of God. It is something that heaven has led us to do. And that tremendous emphasis, that turning that has come to our church and our people lies in the great commitment that we have made to an educational program.
I see it, for example, in the founding and the launching of our Bible Institute. This is just the beginning of a tremendous work that lies ahead. Please God, and as the Spirit is leading even now, there will be a vast development and enlargement of that teaching ministry, our Bible Institute. I see it again in the launching of our elementary school, our First Baptist Christian School. It will open this fall. It begins with seven grades. Again, if there is the blessing of God upon it, I look for that school to grow and to grow, finally have all twelve grades of a primary, secondary high school.
I see it also in the increasing emphasis of our people upon wanting the Bible taught. Not coming down here listening to platitudinous clichés that we’ve heard and listened to all our lives, not little moralisms, little sermonettes and little devotions; but that we be taught the Word of God. I see that desire in our people, in our families, in our leaders, even among little children. What we are at is teaching God’s Word; and I see that emphasis all throughout our Sunday school, the educational arm of our congregation.
Now, is there a reason for it? Can it be supported, this emphasis that our church is taking, and this turn that we are following? Can it be supported by the Word of God and by our own understanding of the message of Christ in the world? To me, it can. To me, it is one of the finest developments that I have seen in the life of our people.
There has been nothing to which we have given ourselves that has in it the possibility of such great, and lasting, and significant good for God, for the kingdom, for the message of Christ in the earth, as the turn that our church now is taking. Now, I’m going to speak of that as I look at it, and as I understand it in the mind of Christ, in the revelation of the Bible, and in the assignment, the responsibility that the Lord has laid upon our people.
As the Bible looks at a man, sometimes, as in the fourth chapter of the second letter of Paul to Corinth, sometimes Scripture will look upon a man as a dichotomy. He has two parts. In the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul will refer to the exōanthrōpos, the outward man, this man, the man that you see. Then in the same chapter he will refer to the esōthen anthrōpos, the inward man, the man that you don’t see, the inanatomical man. He will describe us as being two parts [2 Corinthians 4:16]. We are body, exoanthrōpos. We are spirit, we are soul, we are esōthen anthrōpos, we are a dichotomy, body and soul.
Then sometimes the Bible will refer to us, a man, as being a trichotomy. We are three parts. It will use the word a sōmatikos anthrōpos, a sōmatikos man, a body man, the animal man [1 Timothy 4:8]. Then sometimes it will refer to us as being a psuchikos anthrōpos, a psuchikos man, the intellectual man, the intelligent man, the sentient man [1 Corinthians 2:14]. Then sometimes the Bible will refer to us as a pneumatikos anthrōpos, a pneumatikos man, that is a spiritual man, a man made in the image of God [1 Corinthians 2:15].
Now of those three levels, if you could liken them, you could call it a basement level and a first story and a second story, a top story. Of that trichotomy, of the three parts of which a man is, the component constituent parts of his being—first: the sōmatikos man, the body man, the animal man [1 Timothy 4:8]; there are many who live in the basement of life. They are clods. They are animals. They are dumb, and they are stolid; they live in that kind of a world: a low, base world of animality. The sōmatikos man, just the animal man. Then there are those who aspire to live on the level above; a psuchikos man, pyschikos man, a psuchikos man [1 Corinthians 2:14], a man of intelligence. They aspire to know, to be trained in mind and intellect.
I read a moving story one time. In Illinois, in the coal fields of southern Illinois there was a cave-in, and more than sixty miners were trapped down there, six hundred feet below. There was a small opening in that cave-in through which a small boy might drag a pipe, to bring air down to be pumped into the cave-in where the sixty some odd men were buried. There was a little boy named Fred Everest; an orphan boy who lived with his widowed mother, a poor boy. And he worked on the dumps. He was slight and emaciated. And the foreman of the mines said to the lad, “If you can go through, crawl down through this hole and drag this pipe with you, we may be able to pump air to those sixty and more men and save them, and keep them alive until we can dig them out.”
The little boy said, “Sir, I’ll do the best I can.” So dragging the pipe he went down, and down, and down, and down, and finally came to the buried men, sixty or more of them. They kept them alive until they were able to dig out the mine, and all sixty and more of them, with the little boy, were saved.
The governor of Illinois heard about it, and he called the boy to the governor’s mansion, that he might be recognized. The little fellow, so untaught, so poverty stricken, was overwhelmed as he stood in the presence of the great, good man and the glittering men of state around him. So the governor said to him, “Son, you have done a marvelous thing, offering your life that these men might be saved. And we want to do something for you, son. What would you like?”
And the boy standing there in the presence of the great man said simply, “Sir, I would like to know how to read.” Not only did they send the boy to the grammar school and high school, but they paid his way through the university, and he became a noble citizen of the state of Illinois. That is praiseworthy; to have an ambition to know, to read, to understand, to be aware of the world around you is a glorious commitment. That is the psuchikos man, the man of sentient understanding [1 Corinthians 2:14].
But there is another level, a higher level, the highest of all; and that is the pneumatikos man, the spiritual man, the man who can know God [1 Corinthians 2:15]. And this brings us to the highest aspiration of human life: to learn about God. And this is the superlative, scintillating, marvelous vista that Christian education sets before us; that we might be taught in the things of God. This is the capability of a human soul: that he can know God, as the Lord said, “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” [John 17:3]. And as the Proverbs begins, “This is the beginning of wisdom: the fear, the reverence of the Lord” [Proverbs 1:7, 9:10].
Now what is Christian education? Christian education is education in the environment and in the atmosphere of our Lord. The president or the master of the school is a Christian. All of the teachers are Christians. The subject matter is so largely Christian; the chapel services; the Bible read; the bowing in prayer; the example unconscious of the teachers and the leaders of the school; all of it Christian in an atmosphere of the mind of our Lord. And how a subject is taught, reflecting the mind of Christ—it is an astonishing thing how the same subject matter can be taken by two teachers; one is an atheist, or an infidel, or an unbeliever, and the other is a devout Christian, teaching the same subject matter how different, how poles apart is the presentation. To a Christian, for example, history, all history is His-story, His-story, all of it. All of it represents, and demonstrates, and exhibits the hand of God.
It is a wonderful thing how a man of Christ can take science and make it glorify the Lord. In geology, He is the Rock of Ages [Isaiah 26:4]. In astronomy, He is the Bright and the Morning Star [Revelation 22:16]. In botany, He is the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley [Song of Solomon 2:1]. In zoology, He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah [Revelation 5:5]. And in eschatology He is the coming and reigning Prince [Revelation 19:16]. Oh, to the Christian teacher, every subject offered is an open door to exalt the person and glory of Christ! His hands made the firmament above us [Genesis 1:1, 6-8; Colossians 1:16]; and His sovereign grace guides the story of mankind to its ultimate and final goal [Hebrews 4:3]. This is Christian education.
Why would you give yourself to it? Why would you lead the church to follow after it? Why would you lay it as a burden of support and responsibility on the souls of our people? There are several reasons. I name just a few. One; because of the genius of the American government, there is a separation between the state and the church. To us, and especially to us who are Baptists, no man should be taxed to support another man’s religion, nor should there be levied upon any people public monies to support other beliefs. I am free. My sole responsibility before God and what I teach of faith and religion ought to be unencumbered by the directive of any arm of the state. Let Caesar’s dues be paid to Caesar and his throne, but conscience and soul belong to God alone [Matthew 22:21].
And the genius of our American government has sought to implement that great principle. The things of Caesar are Caesar’s, but the things of God are God’s [Mark 12:17]. Therefore, in our public school system and in the educational instrument of the state, there is by law the directive that religion and religious faith shall not be taught. Am I in favor of that? I am. I would not want to send a child to the public school and have an infidel teach him infidelity, have an atheist teach him atheism, nor have anyone else teach him any faith that I don’t believe in.
I want to teach the child the faith that I believe in, the Christ that I have accepted, and the Holy Scriptures that I reverence and preach, which means that I must accept the responsibility for the teaching of the child. It is not the prerogative of the state or the public school to teach the child the faith. This is our prerogative, and it is our responsibility, and it ought to be taught by us!
We had a very serious deacons’ meeting. We were discussing the possibility of the launching of our elementary school, which will open this fall. There was great askance concerning it, and questions about it. And one of the noblest men in this world is Dr. Nolan Estes, the superintendent of the public school system in the city of Dallas; that man is a giant. He’s a giant physically. He’s a giant spiritually. He is a giant in his heart and commitment to Christ and God.
In the midst of the discussion, Dr. Nolan Estes stood up, and he said, “It would be a tragedy were the day ever to come when education were solely a responsibility of the government. We need,” he said, “the Christian school and the private instruction offered by people who are dedicated to the molding of the mind and life of our children and our young people.” In what Dr. Estes said I concur completely, absolutely, prayerfully, under God. When education becomes solely in the hands of the government, you have the tool for the creation of a totalitarian state. You’ve got it and there’s no redress from it. But as long as we are free to teach the spirit of Christ, the mind of Christ, even thought it may be a minority that we reach, yet that minority can color and decide the very destiny of our nation and of our people. It is a vital part of the American life itself and our freedom that we have the Christian school.
I mustn’t tarry. Second: why the Christian school? Because of the desperate need for Christian leadership in every area of human life; there’s no exception. In every part of the American scene, in business, in education, in economics, in every area of life there is the need for the Christian leader. In the banking, in the insurance, in the merchandising, in the political world, in the jurisdictional world, in every area of human life, there is that vital need for Christian leadership. Roger Batson, who is one of the greatest observers of the American scene, Roger Batson said, and I quote him, Roger Batson said, “The desperate need of the day and of the hour is not for more factories, and more materials, and more railroads, and more steamship lines. Nor is it,” he said, “for more armies or greater navies. But,” he said––and listen to this, and how simple it is––but he said, “The desperate need of the day and the hour is for more education in the simple things of Christ, in the simple things of Christ.” That’s what we need. Taking our young people, our boys and girls, and preparing them to be Christian leaders in the world that is teeming America; and what a difference does that teaching make!
There is a bum, a tramp, and because he’s hungry he breaks into a railroad boxcar and steals a can of tomatoes. Dress him up, send him to Harvard Business College, he’ll steal the entire railway system, and get away with it. The difference in men is not really in education or in wealth or in fame; but the great fundamental difference in men lies in difference in heart, in soul, in commitment to Christ.
I hasten. Why Christian education? Third: because the very existence, the very destiny of the church lies within it. My dear people, here in this church we are so blessed, and God has been with us. We forget in the blessing of heaven upon us, we forget what is happening in that great outside world. The Christian faith in this day and hour is literally fighting for its very existence.
Why, did you not read in the paper this last week where one of the great, great denominations of America is closing down some of their seminaries? They don’t need them. And in some of these tours that I have made, such as on the mission fields of South America, I have seen those seminaries and seminaries and seminaries that are absolutely darkened. They are closed. I mean great buildings that cost multiplied hundreds of thousands of dollars and campuses that are deserted.
A newspaper reporter called me on the phone in my motel room and he said, “What is this, what is this that I hear you say that by the end of this century evangelical Christianity will be practically nonexistent? What is that?” Well I said, “Do you have a pencil and a paper?” He said, “Yes.” Well I said, “Just look at it for yourself. A hundred eighty-five years ago, twenty-five percent of the population of the whole world was evangelical Christian. Today it is less than eight percent. By 1980, it will be less than four percent. And by the year 2000 it will be less than two percent. Now,” I said, “follow your graph into the century that is yet to come.”
The world has been overwhelmed by the totalitarian state, and by atheism, and communism, and rejection, and unbelief, and secularism. And the church is desperately fighting for its life; if it exists or not lies in the imponderables of Almighty God. Literally, we stand at the great continental divide of civilization, at the watershed of the Christian destiny and future itself. We are opposed by changes that are revolutionary to the very heart and to the circumference of human life. The French Revolution was a political revolution. The Renaissance was an intellectual revolution. The Reformation was a religious revolution. But we don’t have one revolution; we have a thousand of them going on now.
There are revolutions in the economic world, in the political world, in the social world, in the moral world, in the ecclesiastical world, in the spiritual world. There is no place in human life in which the ferment of seething change and revolution is not now taking place. And we’re caught up in it. We’re a part of it. We ride this planet with the others who are looking for new days, and new ways, and changes. There could not be a time when there was crystallized in the church a greater need for a great commitment to the faith of our Lord—that is, if we are to exist, if we are to be.
These are some of the reasons why without plan, just led by the Spirit of God, our church is increasingly turning toward those educational ministries; mediating, teaching the mind of God that was in Christ Jesus.
You know, the old prophets had a habit of calling their people back to the remembrance of their forefathers. As Isaiah cried, “Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah who bare you” [Isaiah 51:1-2]. When we turn back and look at the dedication of our forefathers in this deed, oh with how much fervor did they give themselves to these teaching ministries.
Today, there is a tendency to let the secular world take the minds of our children and mold them according to materialistic values, or worse values. We need to come back to those first dedications, when men of the pulpit and men of the pew believed that education belonged in the heart of the church. They built these schools. There has never been a school in the centuries passed but that came out of the church.
The public school came out of the church. The Sunday school came out of the church. Every great university that has been founded came out of the church. They felt that the education of the child belonged in the heart and in the hands of the church. And we’ve forsaken it, forgotten it, fallen away from it; and because of it we are fighting for our very existence.
Well, shall we lie down and die before the floodtide of secularism? No, no. That’s what God is doing with our people. He is raising us up a standard, a banner against it, just like this, shining high the flag unfurled.
Somebody asked Alexander the Great, “How did you conquer the world?” And he replied, “By never wavering.” When he died without an heir, somebody asked him, “Whose is the kingdom?” And Alexander replied, “It’s for him who can take it.”
In the beautiful poem of the mystic William Blake,
Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.
We shall not cease from battle strife,
Nor shall the sword sleep in our hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In this fair and pleasant land.
[from “Jerusalem,” William Blake]
We are committed, so help us God.
And that’s our building across the street, our Christian Education Building. Well, I want you to stand up. Let’s all stand up. All the way around, wherever you are, across every aisle, I want you to join hands. Let’s join hands. Now, sing with me:
Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No there’s a cross for everyone,
And there’s a cross for me.
O precious cross! O glorious crown
O resurrection day!
Ye angels from the stars came down
And bear my soul away
[from “Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone,” Thomas Shepherd, 1693]
That’s the way I feel; just like that.
You may have your hand in the hand of a friend, both of you come, you and the friend. The family, the couple, or just you; I’ll be down here waiting. We’re going to sing our hymn of appeal. In the balcony round, on the lower floor, down a stairway, into the aisle and here to the front, “Pastor, I’ve decided for God, and here I come.” Do it now. On the first note of the first stanza, “We’ll Work Till Jesus Comes,” and here I am. Do it now, make it now, while we remain standing and while we sing.