The Bible: Foundation for the Faith
October 28th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
1 Peter 1:23-25
THE BIBLE: THE FOUNDATION FOR THE FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 1:23-25
10-28-73 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are listening to the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering a message, the kind of a sermon that he likes better than any that he could ever prepare. It is entitled The Foundation for the Faith. It is a message on the Bible, the Word of God. It is a presentation of the last three verses of the first chapter of 1 Peter. This is the text:
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.
For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:
But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
[ 1 Peter 1:23-25]
You can easily see why I would love that text. In the heart of it, the apostle quotes Isaiah 40:8, which is my favorite verse in the Bible: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” And he says something in the text that is absolutely and positively astonishing: “Being born again . . . by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” [1 Peter 1:23].
Could such a thing be? We are born again. We are regenerated. We are made
members of the family of God by the household of faith, by the word of God that is preached, delivered in the congregation of the Lord; being born again by the word of God [1 Peter 1:23]. “And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” [1 Peter 1:25].
It is astonishing! It’s almost unimaginable that he could write such a thing: “We are born again by the word of God” [1 Peter 1:23]. But lest we think that such a presentation, a delineation, of the word of God here is unique, separate, different, apart, peculiar, all we need to do is to look at the Bible and see the witness of the Word to itself. And we will find that throughout the Word of the Lord it is just this, stated, said, again and again.
For example, if I turned to the book in front of 1 Peter, to the book written by James, the brother of our Lord and the pastor of the church in Jerusalem, he said in James 1:18: “Of His own will begat He us by the word of God.” We are born again. We are born into the kingdom of God, the household of Jesus, by the word; of His own will begat He us [James 1:18]. Did He sire us? Did He “born” us by the word of God? And unless we think that still to be unusual, the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:26: “Now we are cleansed, we are sanctified by the washing of water by the word.”
It is the word of God that purifies us, cleanses us, regenerates us, presents us blameless and faultless in His great, divine, and holy presence [Jude 1:24]. And lest you think that the apostle Paul must have been somewhat unusual in his persuasion there, listen to the word of our Lord Jesus Himself. In John 15:3, He says to His disciples, “Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you”; the word of God—cleansing us, saving us, regenerating us—being “born again” by the word of God [1 Peter 1:23].
To me this is the exegetical meaning of the word of our Lord to Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, when He said to him in the third chapter of John: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God” [John 3:5]. A man must be born of water—of the cleansing, of the sanctifying power of the word of God! “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The witness of the testimony of the Book of the Holy Scriptures to itself is astonishing: “Born again by the word of God” [1 Peter 1:23], and “this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” [1 Peter 1:25].
Ah, wouldn’t that be defense enough and encouragement enough for a man to preach the Bible? “This is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” [1 Peter 1:25] the power, the cleansing, regenerating ableness of God’s holy word to make us new.
Now, the sermon today is a defense of that, a delineation of that. It is such an unusual thing. So as I study it, these are the things that I see, as I look at what the apostles have written and what Jesus has said. There is no ultimate reality that we know, except as it is revealed to us in the Word of God. We do not know any ultimate reality, except as God writes it for us on the sacred page, reveals it to us in the Holy Scriptures. You cannot know, you will never know—only except as God reveals it—ultimate reality.
Well, that’s an astonishing thing, so we shall look at it. Number one: we only know God as God discloses Himself, reveals Himself, in His Holy Word. There is no possibility of a man knowing God apart from the word of the revelation. A man, by searching, cannot find God. He cannot. I can look into the starry firmament forever and find there a speculatory observation. Whoever made those stars must have been somebody of infinite power. A trillion light years, put a star there; a billion light years, put a star there. But what is His name and who is He? I could never know just by searching.
Or I can look at a beautiful sunset, or a beautiful rainbow, or at the blue of the sky, or of the green of the waters, and I could think that God loved things beautiful. They could be all gray. What purpose is a sunset? What utilitarian reason lies back of a rainbow, or why the blue of the sky? Just that God loved it that way. But who is He that did it and what is His name? I could never know!
Or I can see the great tides of the sea, the ocean, or I could see the power of a hurricane or a cyclone and conclude that the great Maker of this universe is one of power. But who is He? What’s His name? Or I could look inside me and find that I am sensitive to good and evil, and I can conclude whoever made me is also someone who knows right and wrong. But who is He, what is His name? I could never know, never know, except as He reveals Himself. If I am to know God, it must come through a self-disclosure of the Almighty in the Holy Word.
All right, number two: I could never know Jesus except as He is revealed in the Word. Any historian would tell you there is no record of Christ in secular history. Just this one little tiny exception: Tacitus and Seutonius. Early, latter first century Latin historians—Roman historians—were describing Nero’s persecution of the Christians, and, naming the sect of the Christians, Tacitus and Seutonius felt obliged to describe who they were. And the two historians say in their histories that the Christians were named after one “Christ,” who was executed as a felon under the Roman procurator of Judea by the name of Pontius Pilate. And outside of that little historical reference, there is no record of Jesus at all. Even the paragraph in Josephus that names the Lord, the scholars say, is spurious. You would never know Jesus except as He is revealed to us in this blessed Book.
Third: we would never know how to be saved, we would never know the road to glory, we would never find the gate to heaven, except as God revealed it to us in the Book. Do you remember how John Bunyan begins his Pilgrim’s Progress? It starts like this:
As I walk through the wilderness of this world, I lighted upon a den and there I laid me down to sleep. And while I slept I dreamed a dream, and in the dream I saw a man standing with his back to his own house. He was dressed in rags and there was a great burden upon his back. As I looked, I saw that he read a Book, and as he read the Book, he being no longer able to contain, he would break out in a great and lamentable cry, saying, “What shall I do? What must I do to be saved?”
And then John Bunyan continues the story, and there he describes the man as looking this way and as looking that way as if he would flee, but not knowing where to turn, where to go, he just stood still. Then there came up to him one named Evangelist who pointed out to the pilgrim a little wicket gate and beyond that a hill called Calvary and on top of the hill, a cross. And Evangelist tells the pilgrim, “If you go through that wicket gate, you’ll find there at the cross the burden of his sins rolled away and hope and salvation and the promise of life.” There is no knowing that way, there’s no finding that little wicket gate, there’s no coming to God in salvation, except as the Lord reveals it to us in this blessed Book.
Number four: and we could never know the will of God for us, except as the Lord shall write it and reveal it to us in this sacred Book. What does God ask of us? And what does God delineate, define for us in our lives? What is it God wants of us? How is it that a man can obey God and follow in the way of the Lord? We are told in this precious Book.
One of the joys of the pastor, an infinite joy, is to see our people more and more and more seeking God’s will from the pages of this Holy Book. It is not adventitious; it is purposive. It is not incidental; it is central and dynamic. Our people increasingly are rooted and grounded in the faith presented on these sacred pages. What God has written here—I see it everywhere; I see it in you.
For example, we are in the midst of a tremendous stewardship appeal. Our church has given for itself, under God, the greatest financial goal and assignment of any church in Christendom. Do we stagger before it? No! Our men and the leadership of our congregation lift up their faces to God in infinite confidence. The Lord has shown us what to do, and as the church we are busy doing it, and the victory lies in His wonderful and precious hands. That’s the church seeking to do what God says in the Book.
Do you remember that Internal Revenue Service man who stood up to give a testimony and described the great change and turn that came into his life? Do you remember that? It came like this, he said: going through the returns, there was a man, filling out his income tax, who had an income of less than $5,000 a year. Yet he put down there a contribution to his church of $684.
So the Internal [Revenue] Service man decided to call on him. So he went to the man’s house and knocked at the door of the humble cottage. And there came a working man, a day laborer, to the door, and the Internal Revenue Service man said, “I am from the income tax service, and I’ve come to talk to you about your return.” Well, he said, he expected the man to squirm and tremble. He didn’t at all. Bold-faced, he looked at the man, the stranger, and said, “You’re so welcome; come in.”
So the man sat down in the workingman’s house and said, “On this return, you say you make less than $5,000 a year, and yet you put down here a contribution of $684 to your church.” Well, the Internal Service man said, “I supposed that he would say, ‘Oh, well, I may have made a mistake.’” He said, “That’s what most of them say to me; not that young man. Not that boy, no, sir. That working man looked at me and said, ‘Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir, that is a tithe and a small offering that I give to my Lord.’”
Well, the Internal Revenue man said, “Now, you say you give tithe and then an offering to the church?”
“Well, do you have a receipt for that?” Well, the service man said, “I thought he would squirm for sure when I asked for that.”
But the young man looked at me boldly, and he said, “Well, yes, yes, I have the church receipts. I keep them here in the drawer where I keep the church envelopes.” And he went to the drawer and got them and laid them before the Internal Revenue Service man.
Well, the man said, “You’re on the up and up. But this is my job, and I beg your pardon for bothering you.”
So they went to the door, and as they came to the door, the working man said to the Internal Revenue Service man—he said, “Sir, I would love to invite you to our church. We would love to have you visit us.”
And the Internal Revenue Service man said, “Oh, thank you, no. I belong to a church myself.”
And the working man said, “Excuse me, but somehow that possibility had not occurred to me.”
And the Internal Revenue man said, “As I drove away, the last sentence of that working man stayed in my mind.”
“Excuse me, sir, but somehow the possibility of that had not occurred to me.” What did he mean? And he said, “I never understood it until the following Sunday morning when the collection plate passed before me and I dropped in my usual quarter.”
I can just see that man. He works with his hands, he’s a day laborer and he makes less than $5,000 a year, but he dedicates to God a tenth and adds a love offering beside. I have no idea who he is, but in that man’s life there is strength, and he’ll do good. God will bless him and prosper him; he may own the company someday that he works for. For the man has been taught of the Lord, and he has read from the Book of God the Lord’s will for his life. And any man who does God’s will is a man of strength, and of character, and of blessing.
I haste, for our time is spent. All that we know of God is revealed in the Book; all that we know of Jesus is revealed in the Book; all that we know of salvation—how to be saved, how to go to heaven when we die—is revealed in the Book. All we know of God’s will for our lives is revealed in the Book.
Last: all we know of the future is written in the Book. We know nothing beside and nothing else. What of the ‘morrow? What of the grave? What of a life to come? Tell me, do you know? I go to the philosopher and I ask him, “What of the tomorrow? What of the future? What of the grave and the life beyond? Tell me!”
The three greatest philosophers who ever lived were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. There have never lived a succession of three men of that stature. The hero of Plato was Socrates, and Plato in his essays writes about Socrates, and “This is the highest intellectual achievement of the human mind.”
They ask Socrates, “Socrates, what of death? I’m afraid to die. What of death?” And Socrates replies, “Noblemen, noble Greek philosophers,” Socrates replies, as Plato writes it, Socrates says, “That is to act as though you knew, to be afraid. We do not know, so don’t be afraid as though you did know.” And that is the ultimate? Agnoeō, in Socrates’ words: “I don’t know!” And we cannot know.
I asked the scientist—this is the man who, with his instruments, studies, and he writes his observation in volumes of books, libraries; voluminous, fifty million pages of scientific discovery are published every year—I asked the scientist, “Sir, what of the life to come? What of the ‘morrow? What of the future? What of the grave? “
He writes and says, “It is beyond the purview of scientific discussion. I do not know.” Paschal, the great French scientist, said, “The silence of the universe terrifies me! The stars don’t talk, the oceans don’t speak; the universe has no answer! The silence of the universe terrifies me.”
“But, scientist, what of the morrow?”
“I do not know. It is beyond observable phenomenon.”
In our day, we live in a day of the occult—it is sweeping America like a storm—so I go to the occult, I go to the witchcraft, I go to the necromancer and I ask the magician, “What of the morrow? What of the grave? What of the future life?”
Houdini was the greatest magician that America ever knew, and he was followed by one almost as great, Blackstone. And when Houdini died, the covenant was made that they would take his ashes and scatter them from a bridge in Chicago, and that once a year, Blackstone, with Houdini’s widow, would stand there on that bridge and hold an object in his hand, and Houdini was to knock it off. And year after year after year, after Houdini’s death and after his ashes were scattered over the waters below that bridge, Blackstone stood there with an object in his hand, crying, “Houdini, where are you? Houdini, come and knock this object off of my hand. Let us know that you are, that you live, that you see, that you know, Houdini!” And as the years passed they finally quit. “I don’t know!”
I take my question to the secularist, to the man of the world. These are the people who run our navies, and build our armies, and our great merchandising establishments, and our political life, and our national future. I ask them, “What of the future? What of the grave and what of the life to come?”
I remember a conversation between a young sailor and his commanding officer on one of the great battleships of the United States Navy as they were steaming into combat, and the young fellow was afraid. And filled with trepidation and trembling, he went to the officer and said, “Sir, I am afraid. I am afraid. Do you have a word for me about death and about the world to come?”
And the commanding officer replied to the sailor and said, “Sir, sir, I have always felt that there was nothing but here and now. So I try to get the most pleasure out of life that I can. I know nothing of the life beyond the grave.”
This is the word of the whole world: the philosopher, the scientist, the witchcraft necromancer, the magician, the man of the secular world. “I do not know, I do not know. It is not observable, I have no answer.”
Does God have an answer? Does God speak to us? Does He? Does the Lord say words to us about the grave, and about death, and about the life that is to come? Does He? Ah, page after page after page: ”Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God”—we do—”believe in Me also”—O blessed Jesus, we shall—”In My Father’s house are many mansions … I go to prepare a place for you and if I go, I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” [John 14:1-3].
Where is heaven? Where He is. Where do our loved ones go? Where He is. He brought life and immortality to light [2 Timothy 1:9-10]. Not forever will sin, and darkness, and disease, and disaster, and violence, and death rule in this world. There is coming a time when God shall intervene in human history. There will be a new heaven and a new earth [Revelation 21:1], and we shall have a new body and a new fellowship and a new city. “There will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying: for these things are all passed away, and, under God, all things shall be made new” [Revelation 21:2-5].
How do you know these things? They are revealed to us in the sacred Book, and we can know them in no other way. “And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” [1 Peter 1:25]. O blessed hope, precious Savior, glorious Lord!
In a moment we stand to sing our appeal, and while we sing it, in this balcony round, you, on this lower floor you, a family, a couple, or just you, while we sing this song and make the appeal, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles: “Here I come, pastor. I’ve made the decision in my heart, and I’m coming now.” On the first note of the first stanza, into that aisle, or down one of those steps, and may angels attend you in the way while you come: “Here I am. I give you my hand; I’ve given my heart to the Lord.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your soul, decide now, answer now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.
FOUNDATION OF THE FAITH
1:23-25, Isaiah 40:8
again dia, by the means of, the Word of God (1
throughout Scripture(James 1:18, Ephesians 5:26,
John 3:5, 15:3)
II. All we know of ultimate reality is
revealed in the Book
that we know about a personal God
All that we know of Jesus
All we know about how to be saved is in this Book
John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress
we know of God’s will for our lives
Our stewardship appeal
Testimony of IRS man
we know of the future, the world beyond death
Philosophers don’t know
Scientists don’t know
Necromancers, occultists, magicians don’t know
and hedonists don’t know