Real Religion

Real Religion

August 25th, 1974 @ 10:50 AM

James 1:27

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

8-25-74    10:50 a.m.


We welcome you, hundreds of thousands of you who are sharing this service in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, throughout five states.  And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Real Religion.  It is a message on the last verse of the first chapter of the Book of James [James 1:27].

In these Sunday services, we are preaching through this epistle written by the pastor of the church in Jerusalem.  And this is the text, “Pure religion, real religion, and undefiled before God and the Father is this: To visit, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” [James 1:27]. Down to earth religion, real religion, pure religion: “To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” [James 1:27]; Real Religion.

This man is a pastor.  He is the great overshadowing personality in the first Christian century to whom Paul and Peter and John paid deep deference.  He is not a theologian.  He is not a metaphysician.  He is not a philosopher.  He is a pragmatist.  He is an experientialist.  He is a pastor, and he writes according to the needs of the people.  He has a shepherd’s heart, and he ministers to the people in Jerusalem, in the church.  And as such, he defines religion not in metaphysical or speculative terms, but he defines it as it is lived in our everyday life: real religion, identified with the people, pure religion.  “Real, honest-to-goodness, downright religion, before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” [James 1:27].

It is a remarkable thing, these great, vast, social movements that have revolutionized society and changed the face of the earth.  How they are identified with the people; you’ll see it in the sign and in the symbols of their moving.  In history there was a campaign made for the presidency of the United States which was successful.  And the sign and slogan of the party was, “A full dinner pail”—a workingman’s bucket, full of food, a full dinner pail.

In the days of the 20s and the 30s that ensued in the Second World War there was a movement called Fascists.  And the sign of it was a black shirt, a shirt.  And then there came a like movement, a totalitarian movement called the Nazi Party.  And its sign and symbol was a brown shirt, an ordinary workingman’s shirt.  There’s not a human being, I suppose, in the earth that is not familiar with the sign and the symbol of the Communist Party.  It is a hammer—an ordinary workingman’s hammer and an ordinary agriculturalist’s, agrarian, farmer, a sickle, a hammer and a sickle—identified with the people.

But the problem we face so many times in religion is that the people generally relegate it to some other irrelevant world.  They look upon it as something mysterious, something over and beyond us, unrelated, having nothing to do with our everyday life.  Or else, they define it in theological tomes and terms and dissertations; and as such, has nothing to do with our common life.  We inherited some of that from the medieval scholastics.  Some of their doctrinal discussions would concern how many angels could dance on the point of a needle.  And so in the world of theology, they look upon religion as something that is contained in a seminary, a subject for dissertation and discussion and is found in dry heavy tomes and vast libraries.

Not so!  Not so, says the pastor of the church in Jerusalem.  There is no doubt mystery in religion.  Wherever God is, He signs His name, Mystery.  The signature of the Almighty is mystery.  If it is the world that is created as in Dr. Eddleman’s prayer, it is mystery, inexplicable, unfathomable.  If it is the Word of God, it is supernatural.

There is no doubt but there is mystery in religion.  And there’s no doubt but that theology is the backbone and the strength of the religious faith.  Without it, it turns to jelly.  We would not scorn the theological definition.  But the pastor says by inspiration that the mystery is not all of it.  And the theological dissertation is not the sum of it.  But if you would know what real, downright, down-to-earth religion is, it’s this, says the pastor, “Real religion, pure religion before God and the Father is to visit the widow and the orphan in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” [James 1:27].

This is good for the pastor to remember.  And it is good for him as he leads the flock.  This is God’s definition.  It’s down here where the people are.

A certain pastor of great austerity

Climbed up in his high church steeple

To be nearer God that he might hand

God’s Word down to the people.

In his day, God said, “Come down and die.”

And he cried out from his steeple,

“Where art Thou, Lord?” and the Lord replied,

“I’m down here among My people.”

[ “The Preacher’s Mistake,” William Doane]

“Pure religion, real religion before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and the affliction, in their afflictIon, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” [James 1:27].  So first, real downright, down-to-earth, honest-to-goodness religion is one that loves people, “Pure religion before God and the Father to visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction” [James 1:27].  It loves people, the lost, the unsought, the discouraged, the despairing, the weeping, the poor, the rich.  It loves people—all of them.

Our Lord was like that.  He loved the poor.  A man born blind, the Lord had compassion upon him.  “Jesus, moved with compassion” is His enduring name forever.  And He opened his eyes [John 9:1, 6-7].  A man thirty and eight years, bowed with an affliction at the pool of Bethesda, waiting for the moving of the water that he might be healed; the Lord healed him [John 5:2-9].  The widow of Nain, weeping over her only son, who had died [Luke 7:11-15]—the Lord stopped the funeral procession.  No man can die in the presence of the Lord.  Never did, never will.  The Lord stopped the funeral procession and raised up her only child and gave the boy back into her loving arms [Luke 7:14-15].  That’s Jesus.  And the rich: stopping at the foot of the tree and said to Zaccheus, the rich publican, “Come down Zaccheus; for today I must spend in your house” [Luke 19:1-5]; loving the rich.  Saying to the rich young ruler, “Jesus looking upon him loved him” [Mark 10:21], loved him, coveted him for the kingdom and said, “Your wealth separates between you and God.  We invite you, come, get rid of what separates you from God.  Come” [Mark 10:21].  Jesus said that loving him.

Real religion is that: loving people, all of them.  There are some things in this dear church for which I thank God and praise His name forever.  One of them is our sweet ministries to the poor of this city.  We have seven chapels in the earth, in this church, in this city.  And all seven of them are preaching the gospel this minute.  They have their pastors.  They have gathered their people together.  And they win them to Jesus, ministering to them: feed them, cloth them, bring them medicine, take them to the doctor, if they’re deaf to translate for them, to interpret for them.  It’s the sweetest ministry in the church.

I never was so moved in my life as I was at a Christmas dinner down here at the church for all of those missions.  I wept for more than two hours listening to that program.  What they did that year, they had men from all of those different chapels stand up and tell what God had done for them.  And the man would say, “I was in the gutter.  I was a drunkard.  I was a thief.  I stole from my employer.  I was a vile and wicked man.  I beat my children.  I beat my wife.  And while I was in the gutter, this kind pastor”—pointed out one of our mission pastors—“this kind pastor came and lifted me up and introduced me to the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  And now, I’m a new man.  I have a new life, a new heart, a new home, a new prayer, a new vision, a new tomorrow, a new day, a new everything.  I have found the Lord.”  Why, that lasted over two hours.

Loving people, loving the rich, loving the rich.  A wealthy man in this city, a dear darling wife and several children, money couldn’t save his wife.  She died.  And it was a catastrophe in that man’s life and in that man’s home.  And a friend won that man to Jesus in his black, dark despair and brought him to me.  And he said, “I want to be baptized.  I’ve found the Lord.  And my children, I want you to baptize all of my children.”  And I did.  That is the ministry of the church.  That is real religion.  It loves people.  It knocks at the door.  Real religion, pure religion before God and the Father is this, to visit [James 1:27].  It knocks at the door.

I spoke of the signs and symbols of these modern revolutionary movements.  Let me speak of the signs and symbols of the Christian faith.  The first, of course, is the cross.  “God forbid,” said Paul, “that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Galatians 6:14].  But it’s not alone.  Let me speak of others. 

When we built Embree Hall, I was given the money to buy six beautiful windows.  To have six beautiful stained-glass windows made.  So we searched the earth, and we invited the finest company that we could find to send their artists down here and to create those six beautiful windows.  The artist came and I worked with him.  And three of them he made on this side representing the Old Covenant and three of them on this side to represent the New.  And when he came to the third one on this side, I said to Mr. Jenkins, the artist—soon after that he was translated to heaven, but his work is seen over there, and I pray until Jesus comes it will be there.

I said, “The third window on the right, the one of the Christian faith, could I design it?”

He said, “I would love to see it.”

So I drew it out.  In the center I drew in the medallion a picture of a church with a spire pointing toward God.  I love to see a church with a great spire pointing toward heaven.  And on this side, I drew a pair of clasped hands and on this side a hand knocking against the door, and underneath the medallion of the clasped hands, prayer, and underneath the medallion of knocking at the door, visitation—with the thought and the persuasion that the church is built up by prayer, intercession, and by visitation, knocking at the door.

Pure religion; downright real religion before God and the Father is this: to visit, to knock at the door [James 1:27].  This was the ministry of our Lord who from village to village and city to city and house-to-house invited men and women to the faith [Luke 4:43].  And this is the great ministry of the apostles.  There never was a more dynamic overturning of pagan culture and secular life than Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.  All Asia turned to the Lord [Acts 19:10, 20].  The seven churches of Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22] were founded out of that ministry: the church at Colosse, the church at Hierapolis [Colossians 4:12-13], and of course, the tremendous witness in Ephesus [Acts 19].  How did Paul do that?

He describes it in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts; when he called for the Ephesian elders, he said, “Watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears [Acts 20:31], pleading from house to house repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:20-21].  Imagine that.  For three years, day and night with tears, pleading repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, from house to house [Acts 20:20-21].

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: To visit” [James 1:27], to knock at the door.  Not only is it to love people, not only is it to knock at the door, but it is a plea in the name of Christ, a presentation of our blessed Savior, “Testifying both to the Jew, and to the Greek, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 20:21]; coming, knocking, visiting, not about the weather, though the amenities of life are always in order for conversation, not about politics, though all of us are caught up in it.  And not about the football game and the baseball game, though so many are interested in it.  Not about these things.  These are casual.  They’re incidental.  They are peripheral.  

But the main deep, down real thing, “Do you know the Lord?  Are you saved?”  Because nobody can ever come to God unless he’s saved, and there is one Savior, that’s the Lord Jesus [Acts 4:12; Ephesians 4:5].  He said, “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.  I am the way, and the truth, and the life” [John 14:6].  The only way a man can ever be saved, can ever see God’s face and live is through Jesus Christ, our great Intercessor and Mediator, Jesus; Jesus [1 Timothy 2:3-5].

In the mornings I walk down Swiss Avenue where the parsonage is.  I walk down Swiss Avenue, walking about a mile or a mile and a half, walking down and coming back.  Down the street, way down the street, there’s a little black man.  He has one eye and a big, black patch where his other eye ought to be.  And he mows the lawn down there and he keeps the yard down there.  And when I pass by, he always calls me by name and speaks to me cheerily.  Does your heart good just to listen to that black man call your name and speak to you.

Well, yesterday morning, I walked down Swiss Avenue and turned around to come back.  And when I did, he got in step with me and walked back up the street by my side.  And he said, “Did you know, every Sunday morning I hear you preach?”

“Oh,” I said, “I didn’t know that.”

“Yes, yes.”  He said, “I belong to the Church of God over here, and I go to Sunday school, then I come home and listen to you preach.”

And he had some sweet things to say about me, that if the deacons realized them, they would do a lot better than they do by me.  Man, I wish I had him on the board!  So as he walked by my side, I said, “So you go to Sunday school and then you go home to hear me preach.  Are you married?”


“Do you have any children?”

“No,” he says, “Just my dog.”  And he turned around and said, “That’s my dog following us right now.  Just me and my dog, we live alone.”

Then as we walked along, he began to talk to me; walked by my side, clear up to the house.  And he talked like a poor man talks.  I kind of know how that is, being in my childhood brought up in a poor home.  Rich people seemed so big and so mighty and so affluent.  So he began to talk to me as a poor man talks.  And he said, he said, “You know, I go to the office of a chief of police and I sit out there and there is a receptionist in front of his office.  And that receptionist won’t let me in.  I just sit out there in the office.”

And he said, “Along will come a rich man, a rich man.  And he doesn’t sit out there in that office.  He just walks right on in and pays no attention to that receptionist.  And he walks into the office of the chief of police and he just sits down.  And the police not there, he just waits for him to come.”

And he said, “You know, when I go see the sheriff,” he said, “I sits out there in that office, and I just sits there and that receptionist won’t let me in.  But along comes a rich man, and he just walks by that receptionist into the sheriff’s office, and he just sits himself down.”

And he says, “You know, when I go see the mayor,” he said, “I sits out there in that office and that receptionist won’t let me in.  And I just sits there and I just sits there.”    

And he says, “Along comes a rich man, and he just walked right on in the mayor’s, and he sits himself down in the mayor’s office.”

Then he said, “You know, someday, someday, we all going to be up there before God.”  And he said to me, “You know, there ain’t going to be no poor, and there ain’t going to be no rich up there in heaven.”

And he said, “There ain’t nobody going by that receptionist, whether he’s rich or whether he’s poor, he ain’t going to get by that receptionist to God.”

And he said to me, “You know who that receptionist is?  That receptionist is the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“There ain’t nobody,” said that black man to me, “that’s going to see God unless first he goes with that receptionist.  That receptionist is going to have to take him in.  And that receptionist is going to have to introduce him.  And that receptionist is going to have to see him through.  Nobody gets to God who doesn’t go by, through, with that receptionist.”

Why, I never heard such a thing in my life!  And it has stayed in my heart ever since.  There’s no one of us good enough.  There’s no one of us rich enough.  We’ve got to see God in Jesus.  The receptionist must greet us and must commend us and must introduce us.  We need a Savior, and that Savior is Jesus [Matthew 1:21].  That is real religion, coming to the Lord, coming to Jesus, believing in the Lord, trusting in Jesus, and inviting you and us all to bow in His blessed presence, to ask His precious forgiveness, and for Him to introduce us to God and to see us through.

This is our appeal this morning, thus trusting Jesus, thus coming to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13].  Would you make the decision now and come and stand by me?  Or a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, putting your life with us in the circle of this glorious church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; as the Spirit will make the appeal to your heart, make the decision now.  And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up walking down that stairway or coming down that aisle.  Angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.