Foundation for the Faith
October 28th, 1973 @ 8:15 AM
THE FOUNDATION FOR THE FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 1:23-25
10-28-73 8:15 a.m.
Now I do not need to tell you before we begin that this is a kind of a sermon that I would rather preach than any that I could think of. It is on a text in the last three verses of the first chapter of 1 Peter. And the title of the message is The Foundation for the Faith. It is a message from this text on the Word of God, on the Bible. And we are delighted with all of you who have turned on the radio, sharing this service in the First Baptist Church, and the pastor as he preaches from 1 Peter 1:23-25:
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 forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
[1 Peter 1:23-25]
You will find in the passage my favorite Scripture in the Bible: Isaiah 40:8, "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of God shall stand forever." And that is the passage that he quotes here in the text [1 Peter 1:24].
It is an unusual thing, and you cannot help but feel the unusualness of it; the scriptural attitude toward itself, the scriptural witness to itself. Look at this, "Being born again. . .by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. . .And this is the word by which Bible the gospel is preached unto you" [1 Peter 1:23-25]. It is astonishing just to look at what the inspired apostle is saying. We are born again, actually regenerated, born again by the word of God. And this is the word in which by the gospel is delivered unto you. Well, you might think as you look at that, surely this is an isolated passage, that could not be reflective of the whole message of Christ, that I am born again by the word of God [1 Peter 1:23]. Then, when I look through the Scriptures, I find this is not unique, separate, unusual; this is but one of a whole list of Scriptures witnessing to the power of the message of God in His Word.
For example, if you turn to the book just before, the Book of James, the first chapter, verse 18: the pastor of the church at Jerusalem – James, the Lord’s brother – says, "Of His own will begat He us by the word" [James 1:18]; the same idea, being born again by the word of God [1 Peter 1:23]. And James will say, "Of His own will begat He us, born us, by the word of God." Now the apostle Paul will speak of the same thing. For example, in Ephesians 5:26 he will say, "We are cleansed, we are sanctified by the washing of the word." The word cleanses, it sanctifies, it washes. And as though one might think, "Well, how unusual," look at the word of the Lord, the blessed Jesus. In John 15:3 He will say, "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." It is absolutely astonishing, the scriptural witness to itself, "Born again. . .by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. . .And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" [1 Peter 1:23-25].
I think, of course this is just my interpretation, but I think that is the meaning of our Lord, when in the third chapter of John, He said to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God [John 3:5]. We are sanctified, we are cleansed with the washing of water by the word [Ephesians 5:26]. "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you" [John 15:3]. I think that is the meaning of our Lord when He said to the teacher of Israel, "Except a man be born of water and of Spirit" [John 3:5]; no man is ever saved apart from the word of God; being born again by the word of God. "This is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" [1 Peter 1:23-25].
Now, the sermon is a looking at that. You couldn’t help but look at it. First, all that we know of ultimate reality is revealed to us in the Word of God. And isn’t that a generalization, a blanket statement that you would think couldn’t possibly be true? But it is; and the message this morning is a defense of it and a presentation of it.
All that we know, all that we know, of ultimate reality is revealed in the Word of God. Number one: all that we know of a personal God is revealed in the Book; we know nothing beside. For example, I can stand under the starry firmament and look at the heavens forever, and with telescope and astronomical instruments, I can search the creation above me; but all that I could ever know is that whoever placed that star five trillion miles that way, and whoever placed this star a hundred billion light years that way must have been Somebody with infinite power, but I would never know His name or who He was. Or, take again, I can look at a sunset or a beautiful rainbow and I can say, "Whoever created this universe loved beautiful things." What good is a sunset? What good is a rainbow? Just what utilitarian purpose does it serve that the sky is blue, or that the ocean is green, or that the mountains are purple? I could just know that whoever did it loved things beautiful; but I would never know Him, I would never know His name. Or, I can look at the terrific power of a lightning bolt or a hurricane or a cyclone or the great moving tides of the sea, and I could say, "Whoever did this, made this, is One of infinite power"; but I would never know Him, I would never know His name.
I can turn inward and look on the inside of myself. And I am morally sensitive, most so; I know right and wrong, and I am born that way – and there is no race, or tribe, or family, or people so low that they are not that way – it is a universal characteristic of Homo sapiens, the human race. I can look inward and say, "Whoever created us must be Somebody who is morally sensitive, He knows right and wrong." But I would never know His name, never. I could search my heart forever and never know God. How am I ever to find Him? It is only in a self disclosure of the Almighty that I could ever, ever, ever be introduced to Him. There is no other way in heaven above, in earth below, or in the netherworld; if He does not reveal Himself, disclose Himself, I could never, never find Him.
All right, second: we are talking about that ultimate reality is hidden from us except that it is revealed in the Word of God. All right, number two: I could never know Jesus except through the Word of God, never, never. You men who are historians, follow this, just look at this, just for a minute. Where would you know Jesus outside of the Word of God? All right, the answer is very simple and very plain: Tacitus and Suetonius, Roman historians, in explaining why it was that Nero persecuted the Christians, felt compelled to give an explanation of who the Christians were. So Tacitus and Suetonius take one sentence to explain that "the Christians" was a little sect who were followers of a man whom they called Christ, who was executed under the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. And that is the only reference in history about Jesus Christ, naught beside that one little sentence. There is a passage in Josephus, a paragraph, that most of the scholars will say is spurious. How would you know the Lord, how would you? You cannot, except through the revealed Word of God. You would never know Him.
I remember, after studying the Gospels under the great far-famed Greek scholar, Dr. A. T. Robertson, when we came to the end of the course, he took the Book and laid it down like that and said, "Young gentleman, you have just studied Jesus Christ Himself." Oh! I thought about that: studying the Gospels I have studied Jesus Christ Himself. You know, the more I thought about that and the more through the years I have considered that, the more I can see the depth of the meaning of that great Greek scholar and author and teacher. When I study the Scriptures, the Gospels, I am studying the Lord Himself. Whether it is the written Word, or whether it is the spoken word, or whether it is the incarnate Word, all are called the Word of God. They are identified: Christ and His Word. If I am to know Jesus, I have no other way but to see Him on these sacred pages.
Third: if I am to know the way to God, if I am to know salvation, I have no other recourse but to turn to the revealed plan of redemption in this sacred Book. Do you remember how John Bunyan begins Pilgrim’s Progress? It goes like this:
As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I came upon a certain place where was a den, and there I laid me down to sleep. And as I slept I dreamed a dream. And in that dream I saw a man with his back toward his own house. He was dressed in rags, and there was a great burden on his back. As I saw him standing, he was holding a book, reading it in his hand. And as he read, finally being able to contain no longer, he burst out in a great and lamentable cry, saying, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ And I saw that he looked this way, and that way, as though he would flee, but not knowing where to turn he stood still.
Then John Bunyan describes Evangelist, Evangelist:
I saw a man named Evangelist, who came up to the pilgrim and pointed toward the wicket-gate and Calvary beyond. And there he would find surcease from the burden of sin.
There is no other way that we could know God except in the Book; no way to know the Savior except in the Book; and no way to find that wicket-gate that leads to glory except in the Book.
Fourth: the only way we could ever know God’s will for our lives is in the Book. You know, there is a remarkable thing – and, oh! I could kneel down here before God and thank the Lord for what I see happening among our people – if I were egotistical enough I could say I believe it is the fruit of twenty-nine years of preaching from this blessed Bible, but whatever, the working of the Holy Spirit, what I see among our people is a remarkable willingness, yieldedness, surrenderedness to studying and to obeying the will of God. What does God say? What does the Lord speak? What is His announced and revealed will for me?
Could I illustrate that? What happened a moment ago: here stands a deacon and one of our Sunday school teachers, and he introduces his sweet family, his wife and his two little children. And he stands up here and he makes a speech, and he says, "God is in this universe and He made it meticulously, in every minutiae, it fits. And God has thus spoken to us, and in the church He has a way and a will for us." Do you see what has happened to that man? He is not out here seeking the great norm of his life by sociology, or psychology, or habit, or mores, or custom. What he stood up here and says is that God is in this place, and God has revealed to us His marvelous will. And it is a blessing and a delight to know the Lord and His word for us, and to do it. Why you could shout all over God’s heaven for that.
Do you remember the testimony of that Internal Revenue Service man who found a turn in his life? Do you remember that testimony? He said that as he went through the returns, here was a man who made less than $5,000 a year; and yet he wrote down there that he had contributions to his church of $684, yet he had made less than $5,000 a year. So the Internal Revenue Service man said, "I just thought I’d better look into that, and so I went out to the man’s house. In a little humble cottage, knocked at the door, and a working man, a manual laborer came to the door. I said to him, ‘I am from the Internal Revenue Service, and I’ve come to talk to you about your income tax return.’"
The man said, "I thought he would squirm when I told him that. He didn’t at all.
He just looked me straight in the face and said, ‘You are so welcome, come in.’ And I went in to the humble home."
The Internal Revenue Service man said, "I’ve come to talk to you about this return. You have down here $5,000, less than that, that you made, and yet you put down here $684 that you’ve given." The Internal Revenue Service man said, "You know what I thought he’d say? ‘Well, you know, I might have made a mistake;’ that is what all the rest of them say.
Not that fellow; that working man looked me straight in the face, and he said, ‘Yes, sir. Yes, sir. That’s what I gave to my church. For you see, that’s a tithe. That’s a tithe as the Lord has asked of me, and then a little offering beside.’"
Well, the Internal Revenue Service man said, "Well, do you have receipts for that?" "I thought that’d sure get him," the man said.
Why, the working man said, "Yes, sir. I keep them here in the drawer where I keep my church envelopes." And he went to the drawer and there took out the receipts from the church, and showed them to the Internal Revenue Service man.
The service man looked at them and said, "Well, all right, all right." They stood up, and they went to the door. And he said, "I’m sorry I bothered you, but that is my task and assignment."
And as they came to the door, the working man said to the Internal Service Revenue man, he said to him, "Sir, I’d like to invite you to our church. We would love to have you visit us, come."
And the Internal Service Revenue man said, "No, sir. Thank you. No, sir. I belong to a church myself."
And the working man said, "Oh! Excuse me, sir. But that possibility had not occurred to me."
And the insurance man, and the service man went away. And as he drove away he said all that day and the rest of that week, what that working man had said to him stayed in his mind and he could not understand it. "Excuse me, sir. But that possibility had not occurred to me." And he said, "It was only at the next Sunday morning service when the plate passed by and I dropped in my usual quarter that it came to me what that working man meant." There is a will of God for our lives. There is a way of blessing that the Lord has chosen for us. Where do I find it? In that blessed Book.
Now I repeat, there has been no thing I have seen among our people that has blessed my soul as I see the increasing tendency, and propensity, and affinity of our people to look at, to learn, and to follow the word of God. "And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" [1 Peter 1:25].
I have a last one, a fifth one: we are speaking of, that ultimate reality is only known in the revealed Word of God. What we know of the future we can only learn from this blessed Book. Isn’t that an amazing thing? What is tomorrow, and what does it hold for us? And what is its meaning? If I hear beyond this life, who has an answer? If I look beyond the grave, who can speak? What is there beyond? What of the future? I can take my question to the philosopher, and he says, "I don’t know." There never has been a series of philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Socrates did not write anything, everything we know is written by Plato to whom Socrates was a hero. And as he describes Socrates, in all of those beautiful Greek essays, Socrates is asked, "What of death, and what of the grave?" And the man asking, the Greek asking, says, "I’m afraid to die, and I’m afraid of the grave." Socrates says, "Do you know what is beyond the grave?"
"No." Well, then he says, "Why do you fear it? If you fear it, it would be because you know something; but you don’t know anything."
"Then you are not to be afraid." So Socrates used the word agnoeō, "I don’t know. I don’t know." And that is the ultimate of all human philosophy: "I don’t know. I cannot know."
I take my question to the scientists. These are men who study phenomena. They make observations, they write them down in books and they teach them in our universities. I go to the scientist, and I say, "What is beyond the grave? What is the future?" And the scientist replies, "I do not know. It is not observable phenomenon. I do not know, I cannot know." Paschal the great French scientist said, "The silence of the universe terrifies me. The stars don’t have a voice, and the oceans don’t speak, and materiality doesn’t answer. The silence of the universe terrifies me. I don’t know," he says.
I go to the world of witchcraft and necromancy and magic and I say to them, "What is beyond the grave? What is the future?" And the occult is the most popular thing in America today. Take your question to them, and ask an answer of them, "What of the future? What of the grave? What of the life beyond?"
"Well, I do not know." Houdini was the greatest magician the world had ever seen and he was followed by one almost equally gifted, Blackstone. And when Houdini died, they were to take his ashes on a bridge across a little place, a little water in Chicago and scatter them. And it was agreed that on the anniversary of the death of Houdini that Blackstone would stand on that place on that little bridge where the ashes were scattered over the water, and he would hold an object in his hand and Houdini was to come and knock it out of his hand. Year after year after year after year, Blackstone stood there with the widow of Houdini, holding that object in his hand. "Houdini, come and knock it out of my hand. Let us know that you’re somewhere, that you exist, that you are." And after years and years and years of doing that, they finally quit, saying, "There is no answer." The world of witchcraft, of magic, of necromancy has no ultimate word, "I do not know. I don’t know."
We can turn to the secularist, the man of the world, and ask him. He is the man out here who is in business; he is the man out here who is building governments, or directing the whole flow of civilization, or generally conducting the maneuvers of an army. This man of the world – a successful man, the famous man – ask him, "What of the life to come? What of the grave? What is beyond?" I remember a conversation between two men in a ship, in an American battleship, that was getting ready for a conflict, combat, confrontation on the ocean. And on the ship was a young sailor. And as the time drew near for the battle, he was filled with trembling and trepidation. And he went to an officer and confided to him, saying, "Sir, I am afraid, I am afraid. And I don’t want to be afraid, but I am afraid. Tell me, what is it if we’re killed? What is it beyond?" The officer says to the young man, "Sir, I don’t know, for I have always in my life tried just to get the most pleasure out of it here and now, not knowing anything of the future."
My brothers and sisters, there is no exception to that, whether it is the philosopher, whether it is the scientist, whether it is the magician, whether it is the secularist, there is no answer but, "I do not know. It is a darkness, it is an abysmal, impenetrable midnight, the grave and what is beyond."
I pick up that blessed Book and, oh! How much I read. How much I read; page after page after page after page, where life and immortality came to us through Jesus Christ [2 Timothy 1:10]. "Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions . . . and I am there preparing for the day of your translation" [John 14:1-3].
In the sermon I have prepared, what God had said hundreds and thousands of years about the future, all of which has come to pass, that we might have assurance that what God says beyond our day will also come to pass. There shall come a time when sin, and wrong, and war, and violence, and suffering, and hurt, and heartache, and tears should be no more. There will be no more sorrow, no more death, no more crying; for these things all are passed away [Revelation 21:4]. And in their stead there is coming a time, God says it, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and a new city, and a new body, and a new fellowship [Revelation 21:1-5]. "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain" [Philippians 1:21]. Oh, how blessedly precious the infinitely sweet and dear promises of God in Christ Jesus! "And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" [1 Peter 1:25].
Our time is spent. We stand to sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, in the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; down one of these stairways, into the aisle, "Here I come, here I am, I have made the decision for God and I am coming now." On the first note of that first stanza, do it. Answer God’s call with your life, "Here I am, and here I come," while we stand and while we sing.