Personal Religion


Personal Religion

September 8th, 1974 @ 8:15 AM

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

James 1:27

9-8-74    8:15 a.m.


On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Personal Religion.  It is a subject sermon from James 1:27.  James is a realist; he is a pragmatic.  He is a pragmatist.  He is an experientialist.  He lives down with his people, not up in some ethereal height, but on this earth, and his letter is very practical.

Last time that the pastor brought the message, it was entitled Real Religion; down-to-earth religion, honest-to-goodness religion.  James 1:27, “Pure religion,” real religion, “undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction.”  And now the title of the sermon this morning, Personal Religion, “and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

“To keep oneself unspotted from the world,” Personal Religion: there is not anything esoteric, or metaphysical, or philosophical, or even theological in this definition.  It is practical; it is down-to-earth, real religion; and personal religion, “to keep oneself unspotted from the world” [James 1:27].  When he brings it down where we are, it is personal; it concerns one’s self.

We are to be separated from the world.  That is, an addition to Christ is a separation from the world.  An addition to us is a subtraction from them.  We are not in the world and at the same time in Christ.  That is worldliness; our hearts there; our hopes there; our lives there; our visions there.  Our investment is in God.  Our treasure is in heaven.  Our commitment is to godliness and Christ-likeness; to keep oneself unspotted from the world.  Now this is a subject sermon.  Using the text as a background, we are going to look at religion as it is incarnate in us, as we give it flesh and blood, as it walks and talks in our human lives.

First, we shall speak of personal religion in the church.  You find that in the way the pastor conducts his ministry.  Why doesn’t he mimeograph his sermon, and why doesn’t he mail it out to the people?  Because there is a side to the Christian message that must be personalized, incarnate.  It must have flesh, and blood, and voice, and presence.  It is personal, or it is nothing at all.

And the more impersonal religion becomes, the more ineffective it inevitably is.  Phillips Brooks, the incomparable pastor of the Trinity Church in Boston, in his lectures on preaching at Yale University, made the most famous definition of preaching that has ever been voiced.  Briefly summarized, it is this:  that preaching is truth expressed through human personality.

A mimeographed sermon is not preaching.  A mailed message is not preaching.  Preaching is a man who is living in the pulpit the vibrant truth that God has placed in his heart.  And the more the preacher pours himself into the message, the more dynamic and meaningful it becomes; personality in preaching, the personal in the pulpit.

I speak now of our personal relationships with God and one another in the church, ours; not just the preacher, but our personal relationship in the church.   All of us who are saved are temples of the Holy Spirit in our hearts [1 Corinthians 6:19].  And when we come to church, we bring the Holy Spirit with us.  And that is why sometimes the power of the Holy Spirit of God and the presence of Jesus in the congregation is almost overwhelming.  As all of us in convocation bring the Holy Spirit with us, the collocation, the summation of it, is overpowering.  And when we come, there ought always to be that awareness of one another and that attempt to bring to each other somewhat of the blessing and the presence of God.  That makes the service powerful, dynamic, significant, meaningful.

It was interesting to me, most interesting—I can’t say how much interesting—to talk to Tony Ruddle and to Martin Thorner.  Tony Ruddle, our British intern, as he returned to England, and Martin Thorner, our British intern who is come to us to spend the year—they are, as you know, and each one of those British interns comes to us from Spurgeon’s College.

I talked to the young men about how Spurgeon gave an invitation.  When Spurgeon closed his sermon, he always gave an appeal, always.  No matter what the subject or what the term, always at the end of the message, he gave an appeal for Christ, but he never extended an invitation.

One of the astonishing things in the life of the Baptist people in Great Britain was that when Dwight L. Moody came to the British Isles to conduct those marvelous crusades, Spurgeon loved him—moved by him, became a fast friend with him, and was greatly touched by Moody’s meetings.  But Moody gave an invitation.  Moody never preached without giving an opportunity for an open commitment and avowal of faith in the Lord.  Spurgeon never did.

So it was interesting to me to talk to those two young British interns how Spurgeon did.  Always his message was one of appeal.  Never ended it without an invitation to the Lord, but never gave anyone an opportunity to come down the aisle and openly to express his faith in Jesus.  So I asked the two British interns, how did Spurgeon do that?  How did he do it?  How was it that people were brought to Christ and in public confession gave themselves to Jesus when Spurgeon didn’t believe in a demonstration of it, in a coming down the aisle?

So the young men answered.  This is the way it was done in the great Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.  When Spurgeon preached, always he gave that invitation, and the way the people responded was this:  by the side of all of the people who visited there, there would be devout members of the church, everywhere, in the two great balconies that surrounded it and on the lower floor.   And when Spurgeon preached, the power of the convicting grace of God became very evident in those who were wooed to the Lord by the Holy Spirit.   Sometimes they would weep; sometimes they would fall on their knees, crying to God for mercy.  But it was evident to the sensitive members of the church that this one was under conviction, and this one was moved by the Spirit of God, all through the vast congregation.   And there [were] six thousand seats in the great Metropolitan Tabernacle in London when Spurgeon first built it.  And Spurgeon one time said, “There’s not a seat in this great tabernacle from which somebody has not stood up to accept Jesus as his Savior.”

What happened was, the people, sensitive to those who were moved by the Spirit and convicted by the Spirit—then the people of the congregation talked to them.  And they led them to a confession of faith and brought them to the pastor.  And after Spurgeon had talked to them personally, they were brought to the deacons.  And after the deacons talked to them personally, at a Wednesday night service, they were accepted into the fellowship of the church.

That was an overwhelming revelation to me.  And I thought about us.  I just wonder, if Spurgeon could rise from the dead and preach to our people; I wonder if he would find in our members that personal sensitivity to how others were receiving the message, and how they were under the conviction of God, and how our people spoke to them, led them into the full commitment to Christ, and then brought them to the pastor, and brought them to the deacons, and brought them to the business conference of the church where they were accepted into membership.

That personal side to religion, even in the services of the church, that leads me to make an observation: an impersonal church, a cold, indifferent congregation is a monstrous anomaly in the kingdom of Christ.  To come to church with personal indifference and personal insensitivity is a monstrous thing in the sight of God.  Our service is to be filled up with kindness, and care, and friendliness, and open-heartedness, and sensitivity.  The message is to have flesh and blood in us.

I think that explains the incarnation of Christ; that we might know God, that He might be spoken to as a man.  That we might understand Him and He really understand us:

For we have a High Priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities,

for He was tried in all points like as we are.

Wherefore come boldly to the throne of grace

that ye might find help in time of need

[Hebrews 4:15-16]

He knows us.  He understands us, and He was a man to whom we can speak as brother to brother; personal religion in the church.

I speak now of personal religion in the house and in the home.  As you know, about two weeks ago I was in Louisville, Kentucky, in our seminary there, attending the executive committee of our Baptist World Alliance.  And my assignment on that committee is what they call the Committee on World Reconciliation; it is a committee on evangelism.

The group was very small there.  We met in the music building of the seminary, and in the little room where we were convening, there was a grand piano.  The two Russian members of the committee are a woman named Valentine Ryndina and a man.  He is the choir leader of the Baptist church in Moscow and a marvelous musician; we asked him to sing and to play for us, and he did.  And then, of course, he brought his report from Russia; an interesting thing to listen to that man as he spoke of the Baptist work in Russia, translated by Ryndina.  So, being a small committee—oh, say eight of us there—why, I talked to him.  I have been, as you know, in Russia, attending the services there, preaching in the churches there in Leningrad, in Moscow, in Odessa, in Kharkov, in Kiev.  So I asked him about something in the church and in the witness of Christ through our Baptist people in Russia.  You don’t have a Sunday school; it’s proscribed by law.  They have no literature; it is not allowed.  You can’t even get a Bible; it has to be smuggled in.  And they’re under great oppression; always the agencies of atheism are against them.  Yet, last year, in the church in Moscow, they baptized one hundred and twenty-eight adults, eighty percent of them, he said, former atheists.

So I said to him, “How is it that you do the work of propagation?  You’re not allowed to speak outside of the church house.  You’re not allowed to have a revival meeting.  How is it that you do the work of the church?  For you do it successfully in Russia.”

You can attend the churches in Europe; they’re empty.  In the churches in England, they’re empty.  But attend the churches in Russia, and they are jammed to capacity.  Six services every Lord’s Day and the people jammed in the aisles and looking through the doors and the windows.  The most moving experience you could ever have in a church is if you ever visit the churches in Russia.  “How do you do it?”

And this is the simple reply.  What I found there and then, what I was talking to him about, just to be sure I was correct in my appraisal: they do it through meetings in the home.  As Ckatchenko, that Russian song leader—choir leader in Moscow, said to me, “You invite two to your house; five will come.  You invite ten, twenty will come.  And they’ll stay all night long, listening to the Word of God, praying and reading the Bible.  We do it in the home.  We do it in the house.”

And you know, as I began thinking about that, for three hundred years in the first Christian centuries, there were no church houses.  How did they do their work?  This is the way they did it: in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul will write, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus…And likewise greet the church that is in their house” [Romans 16:3, 5].  In the sixteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, “The churches of Asia salute you.  Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house” [1 Corinthians 16:19].  I turn again to Colossians 4, and in verse 15, “Salute the churches which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his home.”

And I turn to the little epistle of Paul to Philemon, who lives in Colosse:

Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow laborer, And to our beloved Apphia

—apparently his wife—

and to Archippus our fellow soldier

—apparently his son—

and to the church in thy house.

[Philemon 1-2]

Personal religion: “and to the church in thy house,” the assembly of the children of God, and the disciples of Christ, and the people of the Lord in the homes of the people.

So I am taking this opportunity and this God-given opening ministry to announce a new program in our church.  I want our people to gather together in homes, your home, and I want to come and conduct a service in your house.  I want to do it.

“Well, pastor, there are thousands of our homes.  How could you do that?”  I have fellow ministers who can help me.  Dr. Draper can go to a home, your home.  And our other ministers can go to a home, your home, and hold a service for Jesus in your house.  Invite your friends.  Invite your neighbors.  And gathering in the house, we can have the members of our church who live close to you, and we’ll read the Bible and we’ll talk about Jesus, and we’ll sing us a song, and we’ll pray to our blessed Lord.  I’d love to come.

“But, pastor, you don’t realize how poor we are where I live.  And you don’t realize how humble is our house and how without ostentation is our home.”  Wonderful, wonderful; I grew up in a house like that, and I belong to a home like that.  I would love it.  So I’m asking our staff to work with you.  And all over this vast city and all through this great metroplex, I want us to set up these times when the pastor can come and hold a service in your home.  Get the children there, bring the baby there, get all the folks in that the house will hold.  Then you can do it any way that you please.  Nor will we have any rigid program.  There’ll be no set liturgy or order of service.  We’ll just meet in the name of the Lord, and we’ll do what the Spirit leads us to do.  We might talk to somebody who’s lost about Jesus, and he might be saved.

Personal religion; I hate professionalism in the name of God; I despise it.  I hate to look on myself as a professional preacher.  Sometimes I comfort my heart remembering that when I began, I refused to be paid for the sermon.  And I never thought in my wildest imagination of ever achieving any kind of a place such as God has given me in this church and in Dallas.

I did the work for the love of Jesus; I want to keep that, I don’t ever want to lose it.  I want to die like that.  At least it may be a happy self-deception, but I am not a “professional religionist.”  I’m a pastor because my heart is in it; I’m a preacher because I have something to say and I’m the friend and shepherd because I love the flock.  And I don’t know a better way to express it than that we gather in our homes for prayer, for the reading of the Book, for testimony, for the singing of a song.  So as you work with our staff, I pray that there’ll be a sweetness and a blessedness in it that will encourage us all in the faith and in the Lord.

I must close.  I’m taking too much time.  I wanted to speak of personal religion in the church and personal religion in the home where we live.  And then I wanted to speak of personal religion in the marketplace, out there, on the street, in the business house, in the school, wherever we are.

Paul was in Athens and he was talking about Jesus in the agora.  Have you ever been to Athens?  Right down there is the agora.  They’ve excavated it all and you can see it.   Right there, Paul was mingling with the people, talking about Jesus, and then right here is the Areopagus, Mars’ Hill [Acts 17:16-34].  And from the agora, where he was talking about Jesus, they brought him up to the Areopagus, the supreme court of the Athenians, there to hear about this new faith.  But it began in the agora.  It began in the marketplace.

God intended for us to expose the Lord Jesus; you don’t ever have to apologize for Him or defend Him.  There may be many things to be critical about in us, and in the church, and in the establishment, and in the organized faith, and in the denomination, and in everything that we do, but there’s nothing but good about Jesus.  “I find in Him,” said Pilate, “no fault at all” [John 18:38].

And to speak about Jesus, and to point men to Jesus, and to say something good about Jesus is always in order; always.  There’s no place where it is not in order to say a word of love and deference and appreciation about Jesus.  To expose Him; you can’t expose Him too much, not Jesus.  And to talk about Him in the marketplace is always in order.

I was in a drugstore last week, and while I was trying to find what I was looking for, searching those shelves, a man came up to me, a great, big fellow.  He said, “Aren’t you Dr. Criswell?”  I said, “Yes.”  He said, “I’ve been to the church once in a while, and I listen to you on television.”  He said to me, “I’m an alcoholic or what you’d say, a drunkard.  I’m a drunkard and I’m ruining my life.  And I just wanted to know if you could help me; I’m ruining my life, I need help.”

One: to admit that we’re lost and dying.  Two: to admit, I can’t help myself, I can’t save myself.  Three: I know Somebody who can save us and deliver us.  Four: having trusted Him, to associate with His people, to be strengthened in the assembly of the Lord.  We’re going to get that man.

One, “I’m a lost, dying sinner, ‘The wages of sin is death’ [Romans 6:23], and I know I’m a dying man, I’m a sinner man.”  Second, “I can’t save myself.  When the time of the hour of my death comes, I can’t help myself.  I can’t save myself.  Nor can I forgive myself, my sins.”  Three, “I can take myself to Jesus, ‘When I was without strength, Christ died for me’” [Romans 5:6].  And four, “I can associate in the assembly of God’s people, and they will encourage me—O God, what if they don’t encourage me?  I need encouragement.  I need strength.  I need help.  If I am to live the Christian life, I must be encouraged then.”

And it would be tragic beyond words if people came to the church, having trusted in Jesus and found here discouragement, were not comforted and strengthened.  You see, finally, it comes down to personal religion.  O God in heaven, make our church like that!  Loving one another, encouraging one another, praying for each other, together loving Jesus, just praising the Lord.

Our time is far spent.  To give your heart to the Savior, to come into the fellowship of God’s people, as the Holy Spirit shall open the door, come.  It is late.  On the first note of the first stanza, come.  There’ll be time and beyond to walk down the stair, to come here to the front, down this aisle, here to the pastor.  We’ll wait for you.  Just make the decision now and come, while we stand and while we sing.