A Reason For Hope
November 25th, 1973 @ 8:15 AM
A REASON FOR HOPE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 3:15
11-25-73 8:15 a.m.
On the radio we are sharing with you gladly, happily, with thanksgiving to God, this service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled A Reason for Hope, or In Defense of the Faith.
In our preaching through the first letter of Simon Peter, we are in the third chapter, and have come to the fifteenth verse: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” [1 Peter 3:15]. And the exact words of the text: “Be ready always to given an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” [1 Peter 3:15].
The word translated “answer” is apologia; we’ve taken the word bodily into the English language, and for many years and somewhat today the word is used exactly as it is here in the Greek text, apologia. But in our modern time, the word “apology” has somewhat come to mean an obeisance in asking for pardon for something that we’ve done in mistake or wrong. But the original word apologia has no overtone of that meaning at all. You see the word used in such famous pieces of literature as the Apologia Socrates, the Apology of Socrates, the Defense of Socrates; or the Apologia Pro Vita Sua that was the defense of the great theological decision made by John Henry Newman in England. Apologia means “defense.” The great defenders of the faith in the early Christian centuries such as Justin Martyr, such as Tertullian, such as Athenagoras, they were called the apologists: they were the defenders.
“Give an apologia, a defense, an answer to everyone that asketh you a reason of the elpis, hope, that is in you” [1 Peter 3:15]. Well, why does he use the word elpis instead of pistis, faith? “To give a reason for the faith that is in you.” He uses the word hope [1 Peter 3:15]. Well, the answer is very obvious: the word hope here is used in the same way that you’ll find it in the twenty-eighth chapter of Acts [Acts 28:20], and the first chapter of Colossians [Colossians 1:5, 23, 27]. These Christians in the Diaspora, to whom Peter has addressed this letter [1 Peter 1:1], were under great trial and persecution [1 Peter 4:12]. And whenever a Christian community is under heavy trial, this is a psychological turn in it that is always true: the creed of the Christian takes on it a color of the future, a hope, a deliverance of the future. And that’s why he will use the word hope here [1 Peter 3:15]. As the Christian people, God’s people, were under such severe trial by the hand, the iron-mailed fisted hand of the Roman Empire, their creed, their faith took on a sublime hope for the future. So he uses the word hope instead of faith [1 Peter 3:15]. Today, I think in our speaking of the text we could use either one; we can us the word “faith” or “hope.” Whatever the word, it encompasses the whole Christian religion.
Now, I’m going to do that this morning. It is a rare, rare thing, not once in a decade or maybe two decades that I will preach a sermon like this; but, I’ve come to it here in the text, and it does my heart good to prepare it, and I pray God shall bless it as it is delivered. Not in the sense of belligerency, I’m not pugnacious or polemical or particularly forensic in what I want to do this morning; I’m just, as he says in the text, “with meekness and fear,” I’m just going to answer some of the things that I hear about the faith and especially as it is preached here in our Baptist communion and in this particular pulpit. So let’s begin.
We are admonished; we are adjured by our apostle who writes the text, to be ready to give an answer, an apologia, a defense to anyone that asks you a reason for the faith, the hope that is in you [1 Peter 3:15]. Why do you believe such and thus? And why do you commit your life to such and thus? All right, first: the faith itself, the religion itself, a plea for Christ. Any number of times have I had an answer like this: when I would speak to a man about Christ, and invite him to the faith in the Lord, any number of times he will answer me like this: “Now that’s all right for weaklings, that’s all right for,” sometimes they’ll say, “women and children; but it’s not for me because I can stand on my own feet. Religion is a crutch, and I don’t need the crutch.” That is the answer in the invitation to come to our Lord. We shall look at that for just a moment. “I don’t need it. I don’t need the Lord. I don’t need His salvation or His promise or His hope. I can stand on my own. Religion is a crutch, and I don’t need a crutch.”
Possibly the best way for me to speak of it is by looking at some of the things that I have read in history. Is religion a crutch? Is it for the weakling? Is it for the man who can’t stand on his own? Is it? In 1912, the unsinkable Titanic brushed an iceberg in the cold bitter waters of the North Atlantic, and went down. It was the maiden voyage from Liverpool, where the great ship was built, to New York City. And the illustrious, the elite of both continents, America and Europe, were on that ship. It was one of the tremendous ventures of mankind. They had built an unsinkable boat.
In the darkness of that night, when the boat began to sink, the orchestra who had been playing for an all-night dance, the orchestra gathered on the part of the ship that was last to go down. And as the ship gradually settled beneath the cold waters, the orchestra that had been playing for the dance began to play; and they played this hymn, until they too sank beneath the surface of the sea. The hymn they played was:
Nearer, my God, to Thee
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me
Yet my prayer shall be
Nearer, my God, to Thee.
[“Nearer, My God, to Thee,” Sarah F. Adams]
And something like sixteen hundred, one thousand six hundred of the socially elite of America and Europe found a watery grave that night.
So the man shall say, “It’s a crutch, and I don’t need a crutch.” Is that right? Is that correct? “I’m able to stand on my own, and I don’t need a crutch.” And with the wave of his hand, he dismisses the tragedy of the death of over a thousand six hundred of the flower of America and Europe. Is it a crutch?
Or take just once again; the incident that plunged America into the First World War was the German U-boat’s sinking of the liner, the Lusitania. Practically all of the hundreds and hundreds on that passenger ship were drowned in 1915. In the group was the Royal Welsh male chorus; and that group of fine singers somehow managed to gather around a broken life raft. And in the pitch darkness of the night, in the cold, cold waters of the North Atlantic, they tried to save themselves, desperately so, and to save each other. But they were helpless before the great swells of the sea and the broken raft to which they clung, and one by one the members who sang in the chorus began to give way and to sink in drowning death beneath the waves of the sea. And the little group that remained, some of whom were rescued, the little group of the Royal Welsh male choir that remained sang a song. In the cold and the darkness of the night, as they saw their friends and the members of this choir one by one sink beneath the cold, dark waves, guess what song they sang? I will quote it for you:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; O Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
[“Abide With Me,” Henry F. Lyte]
And with a gesture of the hand, “It’s a crutch, and I can stand on my own. I don’t need it.” Are you real sure, are you? Are you fully persuaded? My sweet friend, there will come a time, it will inevitably come; there will come a time in your life when you need God. It’s no crutch. It’s no extenuation. Nor is it the leaning on a cane or a bruised reed. We’re just not able. A man made of the dust of the ground needs God [Genesis 2:7]: he cannot help himself. And that God, in His grace and love, is mediated to us in Jesus our Lord. “Be ready always to give an answer to anyone that asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you” [1 Peter 3:15].
Number two: “I notice that when you make appeal for Christ that you invite people to come down to the front and to stand before men and angels and confess your faith publicly, unashamedly, in the Lord Jesus. Now,” and now I’m just quoting things that have been said to me, “now listen, pastor, I can do all of that in my heart. I can accept the Lord, I can ask Him to forgive my sins, and I can be a Christian, and stay back here where I am. I don’t need to go to the front. And I don’t need to make a public confession of my faith. I can be saved just as I am where I am, and there’s no reason for my going down to the front.”
Why do we do that? Why do we make appeal and give an invitation after every service that you come forward? Why? There are two reasons. One, it is commanded of the Lord. It is not something your pastor invented, or that the church or the communion to which he belongs has imposed; it is something mandated from heaven, it is something God has asked of us. For example, in Matthew the First Gospel, chapter 10, [verse 32 and 33], “If thou shalt . . . whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father in heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I deny before My Father which is in heaven” [Matthew 10:32-33]. The Lord there asks us publicly to confess our faith in Him.
Or take again the passage I almost started to quote a moment ago: in Romans 10:9-10; “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that He liveth, that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness,” not a man’s kind of righteousness, but God’s kind of righteousness, a righteousness that comes by faith in Christ; “For with the heart one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” [Romans 10:9-10] The Lord mandated it, commanded it. It is not something that I invented. And when you’re invited to come and stand in His presence before men, to confess your faith openly, publicly, it is something God has asked of us. “For with the mouth confession is made unto salvation”—“I do hereby accept the Lord as my Savior.”
Now the other reason for it is a human reason: I have thought of it for all the days of my life, why God would ask that a man come openly, publicly to accept the Lord. I can see a human reason for it: when a man does that, it encourages another man. In fact, it encourages everybody. The church is encouraged, the pastor and his staff are encouraged, the saints are encouraged, the angels are glad, and it is a marvelous witness to the whole world when a man openly, publicly confesses his faith in the Lord Jesus.
In one of our Midwestern cities, an evangelist, a world famous evangelist was holding a revival meeting under a big tabernacle. In that city was a law firm, and there were two partners in it; they’d been together for years and years. They were the best of friends; they were close. Upon a night of that evangelistic crusade, one of those lawyers went down the aisle and accepted Christ as his Savior. Knowing that his friend and partner was a bitter antagonist of the Christian faith, that night as he turned it over before God, he came to the conclusion that it’d be too difficult to stay in the law firm, for he knew that all that his partner would do would be to ridicule what he had done. So he decided early the next morning to go down to the office and to take his personal effects and to move out. Then when his partner came later, he’d be gone, and there’d be no bitter or sarcastic confrontation.
So early that morning this man that had found the Lord the night before made his way down to his law office to move out. When he opened the door, to his surprise he found his partner already there. And kind of embarrassed, he said, “I did not expect to find you here. I came early to move out, because last night I gave my heart to Jesus, and I knew it would be something ridiculous to you. And I thought it best for me to move out.” You know what the partner said? He said to him, calling him by name in endearing tones, he said to him, “Last night, I just happened to be driving by the big tabernacle. I stopped the car. I went in and sat on the back row, just to look at what those people were doing.” And the man said, “I saw you last night go down that aisle and accept the Lord as your Savior. And I saw you standing there in confession of your faith in Christ.” And he continued, “You know, you and I have been together for years and years. We’ve stood together through many a trial in the court, and many a difficult situation in our practice.” He said, “You know, as you stood there confessing your faith in the Lord, I felt that I ought to be standing by your side. And I’m here this morning because I thought you’d come. I’m here this morning for you to tell me what you have found. I also would like to find it. I’d like to be a Christian. I want you to tell me how.”
That is not unusual. When a man finds God and gives himself to Christ, the people who know him and see him are overwhelmed by the public commitment. You couldn’t help but be if you saw somebody, your friend, stand in the presence of God and give himself to a great faith. I don’t care who you are, you couldn’t let it pass unnoticed. That’s why God invites us openly, publicly to give ourselves to the blessed Jesus [Romans 10:9-10].
I don’t quite know now what to do. Those are just two things, and I had many more, and I don’t know what to leave out. Let me choose among them, maybe one or two more.
We go to church. When the Lord’s Day comes, it’s His day, and we go to church. So when I invite someone to come to church, why, they will say, “Now I don’t have anything against the church. If that’s what you want to do, why, that’s just fine. I have no reason against it. But I can worship God under a tree by myself, or out under the blue of the sky, or on the side of a hill just as well as I can worship God in the church. I don’t need to go to church, and I don’t need to belong to any church. And I can be a religionist, and I am,” usually they’ll put that in, “I do worship God and I do serve the Lord in my own way; but my way is not down there at the church. I can be a Christian, and I can serve the Lord out here where I am. And I had rather do it under the starry sky at night or under the blue chalice of the heavens in the day, or under the tree, or in a meadow by myself. And I can do it just as well as going down there to church.”
Well, why do we insist, not just invite, but insist that we come together in God’s house, that we be together in a koinōnia, a communion? Why do we do that? There are two reasons why, and both of them are from the Bible.
First: God asks that we assemble together. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, by inspiration the author has written to us, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” [Hebrews 10:25]. God expects His people to be together. He has asked us to meet in His name. It pleases God that we meet in the services of the church.
Number two: in the providence of heaven there is something about the assembly of the saints that can be duplicated in no other way or place or convocation in the earth. There is nothing to substitute for it. Now, I mean, I have something in my mind from God’s Word about that. I haven’t time to expatiate on it—I did last Wednesday night in my class here in the auditorium at seven-thirty o’clock. I was speaking to my group last Wednesday night about the Pentecostal difference. What difference did Pentecost make as between the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament? When the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4], what was the difference? What was it before? What was the difference after? What difference did Pentecost make? Now in answering that question, the first thing I said was this: that at Pentecost the Holy Spirit found a new home; He indwelt a new tabernacle. In the old covenant the Holy Spirit was seen over the children of Israel: in the daytime a pillar of cloud, in the nighttime a pillar of fire [Exodus 13:21]. And the Holy Spirit, when the tabernacle was built, indwelt the tabernacle [Exodus 40:34-35], and He was seen; He was called the shekinah glory of God, He was a lambent flame. And when the temple was built, taking the place of the tabernacle, the priests could not enter the sanctuary because the glory of God filled it: the shekinah presence of God [1 Kings 8:10-11]. In the old covenant the Lord indwelt the tabernacle and the Lord indwelt the temple.
But in the new covenant, the Pentecostal difference, what difference when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4]: in the new covenant, the new dispensation, the age of grace in which we live, the Holy Spirit has been poured out into the temple, the living temple of His church. The Holy Spirit indwells His church [1 Corinthians 3:16], and the Holy Spirit indwells the temple of our bodies [1 Corinthians 6:19]. And when we come together, not only is there a bringing of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, in our souls [1 Corinthians 6:19], but there is an indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God breathing upon the congregation [1 Corinthians 3:16]. God indwells His church. The Holy Spirit indwells His church. There is something of God here, the moving presence of the Lord that is not found in any other measure, in any other assembly in the earth. God has done it.
“Well, is that your experience, pastor?” Oh! How true that is, how true that is, that when God’s people come together in His name, and in sweet love and beautiful fellowship look up in praise and prayer and thanksgiving to God, and listen to the Word, oh, something happens to your soul! I don’t deny that there is private prayer; I’m just saying, according to the Word of God there is also public prayer. I’m not denying that there is private Bible study; I’m just saying, according to the Word of God there is public Bible study. “And all the people stood up when Ezra opened the book” [Nehemiah 8:5]; the convocation of the people of the Lord before the divinely inspired Word. And I’m not saying that there is not the moving of the Holy Spirit in a man’s heart: sometimes shut the door and nobody but you and God, the Holy Spirit speaks to you and you feel His presence in your heart. But I also say, according to the Word of God, that there is a breathing of the Holy Spirit of the Lord upon the congregation, upon His people. There are experiences; there are movings of God’s presence in the house of the Lord that I do not find in any other convocation in the earth.
Now, I could illustrate that world without end. As a boy, as a boy, sometimes ashamed of my tears because I was a boy, as a boy any number of times I bowed my head between the pews, just moved by the Spirit of God in the house of God’s people. Nor could I tell you the number of times that I have been blessed, moved by the singing of the praises of our blessed Lord. Nor could I tell you the number of times that I have been moved beyond words to describe its depth by what God is doing among His people—somebody saved, a whole family brought to the Lord. Nor could I tell you what it means many times when I sit down with my deacons and my fellow ministers and the sweet Christian saints who make up the church, and we break bread together, and we drink of the cup together in the holy memorial of the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. These things are shared things; they are what the Bible calls a koinōnia, sometimes translated “communion,” sometimes translated “fellowship,” but always the word refers to the wonder and the glory that comes to God’s people when they gather together in His name. I need to go to church. It has with it the richest reward that I could ever have coveted. And for me to say, “I can do it better out under a tree by myself,” is to lose all those infinite celestial and heavenly enrichments that God has prepared for us who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. I must close.
Just giving a reason, an apologia, for the faith, the hope that is in us [1 Peter 3:15]—and we share it with you in Christ’s name so gladly, so aboundingly, so thanksgivingly. To give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-10], to come into the fellowship of His church, in a moment when we stand to sing this invitation would you come and stand with us? And welcome. In the balcony around you, on this lower floor a family you, a couple, or just you, one somebody you, while we sing the hymn, make the decision in your heart. And on the first note of the first stanza, come. God be with you, angels attend you as you come down that stairway or as you walk down this aisle, “Here I am, pastor, I make it now.” Do it, come, while we stand and while we sing.