Personal Religion


Personal Religion

September 8th, 1974 @ 10:50 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    10:50 a.m.


We welcome you who are worshiping with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas, on radio and on television.  The pastor is preaching, as you know, in the Book of James.  He was the pastor of the church in Jerusalem; his letter therefore is not metaphysical, or philosophical, or theological, or speculative.  His letter is very pragmatic, experiential, down-to-earth.  Our text is James 1:27.  Sunday before last, the pastor preached on that text and took the first part of it, entitled Real Religion.

Honest-to-goodness religion, down-to-earth religion, pure religion, real religion, undefiled before God and the Father is this, “To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction” [James 1:27].  And now the second part of it entitled Personal Religion, “And to keep oneself,” here in the King James Version, himself, “And to keep himself,” to keep oneself, “unspotted from the world” [James 1:27].

Personal Religion: it concerns a man in himself.  And in this text here, his reference; an addition to us ought to be a subtraction from them.  When a man is in Christ, he is not in the world.  Others in the world have their hearts there, their investments there.  They have their hopes there, and when the world passes away, every dream and every vision collapses.  But when a man is in Christ, his hope is in Christ, his prayers, and his visions, and his dreams, and his life, and his treasure is in Christ.  He lives and abides forever; personal religion.

Now I’m taking the text as just a subject, not an exposition, as a background for what I would like to say about us in ourselves before God; religion that is personalized, incarnate; religion that takes the form of flesh and blood; personal religion [James 1:27].   First, to speak of it in the church; personal religion in the church; religion incarnate in the church; religion with flesh and blood and life and breath, being, existence, throbbing, living in the church.

And in the church, first, the pastor; why doesn’t the pastor mimeograph his sermon and mail it out to the people?  Because there is a concomitant, a corollary, an attendant, an addendum in the personal presence of the pastor that cannot find any other substitute.  There is nothing that will take the place of a man’s word, heart to heart, eye to eye, soul to soul, when you look at him and hear his voice.

Philips Brooks, in his Yale lectures on preaching, gave the most famous definition of preaching that has ever been said by a man.  And briefly, to sum it up, Philips Brooks said this:  “that preaching is truth, incarnate, expressed through a man’s personality.   Take the man away and you could write it in a book and mail it, mimeograph it and send it out.  But it is the personal presence of the pastor, looking at him, listening to his voice, watching him that relives, and reincarnates, and enlivens, and quickens the truth itself.  The truth becomes embodied in him, and he lives it out in the pulpit.”

I speak of personal religion, down-to-earth religion, alive, living, throbbing religion, in the pew, in the people who come.  The Scriptures say that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 6:19-20].  So when we come to church we bring the Holy Spirit of God with us.  And when we’re here together in convocation, all of us bringing with us, in us, the presence and Spirit of God, we have a great moving in the congregation [1 Corinthians 6:19].

And there’s no other thing in the earth that can be substituted for, or to be found in the place of the convocation, the gathering of God’s people in the name of the Lord.  And for us to be here, personally identified, sensitive to these who are around us, makes the worship of God alive, possible, living, quickening.

I was very, very interested about a week or two ago, talking to our two British interns.  Tony Ruddle was going back to the British Isles, and Martin Thorner was just arriving.  And having the two young men from Spurgeon’s College in London here, I asked them something about Spurgeon, the incomparable preacher of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

Spurgeon did not give an invitation when he finished preaching.  All of his sermons concluded with an exaltation of Christ and an appeal for men to give their hearts to Jesus.  But he never gave opportunity for the people to come forward who expressed their faith in the Lord.

When Moody went to the British Isles and conducted those great crusades in the last century, Spurgeon loved him, liked him, admired him.  They became close and fast friends.  And it was a surprise to the Christian world because when Dwight L. Moody preached, not only did he make an appeal for Christ, but he gave an invitation and asked them to come forward and accept the Lord publicly and openly.  But Spurgeon didn’t do that.

So I asked the two young interns, “How is it that Spurgeon, making an appeal for Christ, followed it through in encouraging the people to give their lives openly to the Lord, to be baptized, and to be numbered with the disciples of Jesus?”  And the two young men said it was like this.  Spurgeon preached, yes, the evangelistic message of Christ, and he closed every sermon with an appeal for the Lord.  But the way that they brought the individual listener to Jesus was like this.  He said all through the congregation and everywhere through the great congregation—and when Spurgeon built his first Metropolitan Tabernacle, the church had six thousand seats in it—when Spurgeon got through delivering his message and making his appeal for the Lord, all through that vast audience there were the members of the church, who were sensitive to every visitor there.  And when Spurgeon preached his message, the convicting power of the Spirit of God moved upon the people.  And this man would be weeping, and this one would be kneeling, and this one would be asking God’s mercy, and this one was plainly under conviction.  And when the sermon was done, the people of the congregation talked to those upon whom the Spirit of conviction had fallen, and they explained to them and personally won them to Jesus.  And then they brought the newfound Christian, the newborn one in Christ, to the pastor.  And then the pastor brought them before the deacons, and then in a church conference they were accepted into the fellowship of the church.

When I listened to the young men describe that to me, I just wondered, “If Spurgeon were to rise from the dead and stand here in this sacred place, and preach as he did there in London, and give an appeal for Christ and then depended upon our people to be sensitive to the visitor who was here and to the one who was under conviction, and to lead them to Jesus and thus bring them to the pastor, I wonder what Spurgeon would find in the quality of our sensitivity, in our personal relationship to the Lord and to these that sit by our sides in the congregation?”

I am afraid he would be disappointed in us.  For we hardly have that close, personal relationship in the church.  We sit as strangers almost, these on this side from those on that side, and those up there in the balcony from these who are seated here.  And yet, and yet, a cold impersonal church is a monstrous anomaly in the kingdom of Christ.  What it is to know God and to love God is to be sensitive to one another.  “He that would love God, let him love his brother” [1 John 3:11-14].

I just sometimes think, “O Lord, we are so impersonal in our faith, so impersonal in our religion.”  I heard Creasman, Herschel Creasman, our minister of education, say a week or two ago, that a survey had been made among members of the church, and the average church member does not know sixty who belong to the church.  Whether the church be little or big; whether they have sixty members, six hundred members, or six thousand members, they just don’t know each other.

That is why Jesus was incarnate.  God came down to live in human flesh that we might know Him.  What is God like?  He is like Jesus, for God came down and took upon Himself the form and fashion of a man [Philippians 2:7-8], that we might know what God is like.  And He is a High Priest, who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.  “Wherefore come boldly,” he says, “to the throne of grace . . . that we might find help in time of need” [Hebrews 4:15-16].

Jesus incarnate that we might know Him, and touch Him, and that He might know us.  And for us to be impersonal and removed in the church is a travesty in the name of our Lord; personal religion in the church.

I speak now of personal religion in the house and in the home.  A week ago, week before last, we were in Louisville, Kentucky, where I attended the Executive Committee meeting of the Baptist World Alliance.  The Executive Committee is divided up into smaller groups and I belong to a small committee, small in attendance there in Louisville, that has to do with world reconciliation—we would say “evangelism”—the evangelization of the world.  And in my committee were two members from Russia, the U.S.S.R.  One is a young woman named Valentine Ryndina, and the other is the minister of music.  He heads the choir of the Baptist church in Moscow.  His name is Leonid Ckatchenko.  It was a privilege to sit with them in that small little group of about six or eight of us.  And listening to him, and when he gave his report from Russia, because we were so small a group, I could talk to them.

And this is something that I observed when I was over there in Russia and talked to him about, in their ministry there in a world of official atheism and religious oppression, they cannot have revival meeting, they cannot have a Sunday school.  They cannot print literature, they cannot distribute tracts.  They cannot say anything in the way of a service or convocation outside of the church walls.  Well, how do they evangelize?  And the answer is: they do it in the home; they do it in the house.  Last year, in the church in Moscow, they baptized one hundred twenty-eight, eighty percent of them atheists.  And they do their work under awesome oppression.  They do it in the home.

He said, “If you invite two, there’ll be five that come.  If you invite ten, there’ll be twenty who will come.  And they’ll stay all night long, and they listen to the Word of God, and to the message of Christ, and to the teaching of the Bible. They’ll listen all night long.”  They do their work in the house, in the home.

And when I turn to the Word of God, I find that same programming.  For example, in the last chapter of the Book of Romans, the sixteenth chapter, 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].  Look again; he closes the First Corinthian letter, 1 Corinthians 16, with this word:  “The churches of Asia salute you.  Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, and the church that is in their house” [1 Corinthians 16:19].

I turn again to the fourth chapter, the last chapter of Colossians, and he writes there, “Salute the churches which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house” [Colossians 4:15].  And I turn again, to the beginning of Philemon, who lived in Colossae.  He starts off his sweet letter of love and appeal, “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon, our dearly beloved and fellow laborer.  Greetings to the beloved Apphia,” who apparently was his wife, “and to Archippus,” who apparently was their son, “our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house” [Philemon 1-2].

The greatest success, triumph, of the Christian faith, the greatest it has ever known was in the first three Christian centuries.  It literally subverted the civilized world.  It swung the Roman Empire on new hinges.  It created a new civilization.  There has never been anything like it in the history of mankind.

And they did it without a church house.  They didn’t build churches until about three hundred years after Christ.  You could ask these ancient, first century Christians the same question that I asked that choir leader from the church in Moscow, “Oppressed, how do you carry on your work?”  The man from Moscow says, “We do it in the home, from house to house.”  If you were to ask them, “How did you do it in the time of the greatest power of the Christian church?”  They would answer, “We did it in the home, in the house.  We gathered friends, and we gathered neighbors, and there did we teach the word of God, and we sang the songs of Zion, and we prayed together.”

I have a program to announce this morning for our church.  I want us to take that New Testament pattern.  And beginning now, I want us to prepare, through our staff, to have services in our homes, all through the great city of Dallas and throughout this vast metroplex.

Gather friends, gather neighbors, especially those who live around you who belong to our church, gather them together, and let’s sing a song.  Let’s pray a prayer.  Let’s read a holy passage in the Bible, and let’s talk about the Lord.  Maybe somebody lost will be saved.  Maybe somebody discouraged will find encouragement.  Maybe somebody who doesn’t know the way will find it in our personal invitation.

Invite me to come, I’d love to come.  And if I cannot come because of the great number of the homes, Dr. Draper can come.  And if he and I could not come, our other ministers can come.  And we can hold services in the house, and invite those who would attend.  And if they don’t attend, we’ll just have a sweet blessed service in the home where you live.

“But, pastor, you don’t understand.  I live in a very poor home, and our house is so menially appointed, we’re poor people.”  I know all about that; I grew up in a house like that.  I grew up in a home like that.

Did you know, did you know, when my mother took me from the farm and took me to the little town so I could go to school because I had failed in the class in the year before, I had failed in the grade because living away, did you know, my mother took me and rented a little place, a little place, a poor place, that I could go to school?  And I so well remember.

I was so small, I hardly knew what it meant—but I remember the pastor of the church coming to see us.  And I sat down, just a little, little boy, by the side of my mother, and he read a passage out of God’s Book and kneeled down there by our sides and prayed.  There are ten thousand things I have forgotten about in childhood, but I remember that godly man coming to that poor little place and kneeling down by our sides and praying for us; personal religion.

I’d love to come.  I think God would love to come.  I think Jesus would delight Himself to be there.  And I think we could find help and encouragement for the way.  It would deepen our spiritual lives; it would sanctify and hallow our homes.

I speak now of personal religion in the marketplace, out there where we work, where we live, where we walk.  There’s one thing about Jesus, and it never, never varies.  You can expose Him, and expose Him, and expose Him, but you cannot ever overexpose the Lord Jesus.  You can talk about Him and talk about Him.  You cannot talk about Him too much.  You can say dear and endearing things about Him; they are never too precious.

People can find fault with us.  They can criticize the church and the establishment; say all kinds of things about religion.  But it is hard to say things harsh about Jesus.  Pilate said, “I find in Him no fault at all” [John 18:38].  Expose the Lord; say a good word about the Lord.

One of the men came to me after the 8:15 service this morning, one of the businessmen, and said, “How is it that you can be the boss of the men and yet have that personal relationship with them?  For we are taught that if we’re to be boss of the men, we must be impersonal with them and don’t get down there where they are.  We must keep ourselves separate.”

I said, “That’s the world and very typical of the world.  Let me crack the whip.  Let me crack the whip!  Let me be brutal.  Let me be harsh.  Let me be the boss!  You are under my feet, dirt.  You’re over here, slave.  That’s the world.  That’s the world.”  I can tell you this, both from my reading and from my experience; a man will work ten thousand times for you better if he loves you, a thousand times better work he’ll do if he loves you.  Now a man doesn’t have to change his place from being a boss to get men to love him and to work for him.

All the men who work know that we’re in an organized society.  The bank has to have a president.  The corporation has to have a chairman.  The fellow on the road doing the job has to have a foreman.  All of us realize that.  But if the president is a fine man, and the corporate chairman is a godly man, and the boss is a Christian man, you can get the man to work for you magnificently, and be good to him and kind to him and gracious to him; saying a good word for Jesus, just reflecting the Lord—personal religion.

I was in a drugstore last week.  And while I was looking around trying to find what I was searching for in all those counters, a great big fellow came up to me, and he said, “Aren’t you Dr. Criswell?”

I said, “Yes.”

Well, he says, “I’ve been to the church once in a while,” and he says, “I listen to you every Sunday on television.”  He said, “I’m a drunkard, I’m an alcoholic.”  And he said, “It’s ruining my life, and I wondered if you could help me.  Could you help me?”  There are thousands of people who need help.  “Could you help me?”

You see, first we must admit we are dying sinners [Romans 3:23].  “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23].  “I admit I’m a dying sinner.”  Second, I must admit I can’t help myself, “When the hour of my death comes, how am I to help myself?  And how can I forgive my own sins?  I must find help outside myself” [Romans 5:6,  6:23; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5].  Third, I can find it in Jesus.  I can find it in the Lord.  “When I was without strength, in due time, Christ died for me” [Romans 5:6].  And fourth, I can associate myself with the people of God [Hebrews 10:25].  I can find strength in their presence.

And when I think of that, O Lord, I think, what if a man came down here to the church to find strength and encouragement, and we treated him as a stranger and as an danger?  And the spirit of the church was full of divisiveness and quarrelsomeness, and he came to find strength and help and encouragement, O Lord?”  That is why the pastor writes of personal religion.  It’s something that ought to live in me.  It’s a way I ought to be.  And it’s something when the people are in our presence they ought to feel and be constrained to love our blessed Lord.

This is our appeal this morning, with the invitation here to follow it.  Thus, to open your heart to Christ, would you come?  Thus, to put your life with us in the fellowship and circumference of this dear church, would you come?  As the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, would you come?  Would you make it now?  On the first note of that first stanza, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor, I’m making it now,” while we stand and while we sing.