Take My Yoke Upon You and Learn of Me
March 11th, 1974
SCHOOL OF THE PROPHETS:
TAKE MY YOKE UPON YOU AND LEARN OF ME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I have three things to suggest that lie back of our purpose in gathering here this second week in March in what we call our School of the Prophets. Number one: we are coming together to sit at the feet of Jesus, to learn of Him, to enroll in His school. Possibly one of the sweetest invitations to be found in the Word of God is in Matthew 11:28-29:
Come unto Me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. Sit at My feet, and enroll in My school.
That is exactly what that old rabbinical saying means, Take My Yoke Upon You, And Learn Of Me: “Sit in My school, and learn at My feet.” And that is what we are going to do this week. We are going to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn of Him.
Second: we are going to learn together how to do the work of our Lord in building up the body of Christ, His church. The church will be the church triumphant in heaven someday, but it is now the church militant today. We are battling foes, and we are facing insuperable odds, and the battle lines are drawn here. And the war is going to be won or lost not in some school, and not in some cloistered monastery, or not in some retreat; but it is going to be won or lost at the frontier, at the battle line in the church where you minister.
It will be one or the other. We will lose it there or we will win it there. And our purpose is to learn how to confront the devil and all of his angels, the world and all of its materialism and secularism, the whole vast kingdom of darkness, to challenge it, to confront it, to face it, and in God’s name to defeat it right where you live and work and preach and minister.
Then, third: we’re going to look at the message, at the methods, and at the approaches that God has blessed here before our eyes. There are so many facets in our increasingly complex world. When I was a boy, I grew up in a little town of about three hundred people. We had a little white cracker box of a church house. And the methods that we used in that little church were absolutely and completely sufficient and adequate for that day in which I lived, and for that town in which I grew up.
For example, our Sunday school was very simple. We took the little auditorium and strung a curtain from one side to the other side this way, and then started on the other side to other side that way; and that made four rooms. And I was over here, stuck in one of them, and all the other Sunday school scholars, as they called them in that time, were put in the other three compartments made by that curtain drawn through the middle of the church house.
I had a very distinct advantage that these kids who come down here don’t have. Now we separate them in distinct groups and divisions, departments, all over this vast complex. But in that day, why, I sat in my class, and if I didn’t like what this one said, I tuned in on that one, and if I didn’t like that one, I tuned in on this one, didn’t like that and I tuned in on the other one.
Now that was our Sunday school, and that was all that we needed, we prospered with it. And in that day and time, all that we needed to do to get everybody present in the house of the Lord was just to announce a revival meeting. That was an event. That was an epoch and everybody came. There wasn’t anybody who didn’t come. At ten o’clock for the morning service, they closed down the town. They closed all of the stores, the banks and everything else, in order to give everybody opportunity to come to the revival meeting. Everybody went, even the town infidel. He lived right back of our house. You could hear him cuss all over creation as he beat his cow when he milked her every morning. He was there making fun of the preacher; sat there on the second row.
I used to watch him as a little boy and listen to his words of ridicule and sarcasm. But he came. Everybody came. That was all that was needed to carry on the work of God in that day when I was a boy and in that church in the little town in which I was fetched up. I surely would like to see a man confront the challenge of the teeming city in which I now live. And using the church that I now pastor, I’d like to see us confront the city today with the methods, and the approaches, and the announcements that we used back there when I was a boy.
You could announce a revival meeting today ten thousand times, and if you get a handful of people here it would be an amazing response. The people that are driving down that street there called Ervay, and this one called St. Paul, and that one called Ackard, and this one called Ross, are no more interested as such in what we’re doing here in this church than they are in sticking their heads in a sausage grinder. It’s a different day. It’s a different time. It’s a different hour. It’s a different era.
And if I cope and if I am in anywise measurable to the tremendous odds against which I fight today, I need all the help from heaven and all the help from men that I can command. It is hard today. It is difficult today, and if you have an easy time of it where you live, you’re one of those that God speaks of, who, being at ease in Zion, are about to slide into damnation and perdition. It’s a compliment to you that God makes it hard where you are. That shows that you’re fighting the devil, and He is interested in what you’re doing. So we’ve got that on our hands, and we need God’s help. We need God’s presence, and we need all that we can learn from one another.
Now I want to say a word about these country churches; been a long time since I was a pastor of a country church. I was pastor out there for ten years, and it was the best thing that God ever did for me. The ten years that I was pastor out in the country, most of those years, I mean country churches: no highways, no railroads, no stores, no anything, just out there, just me and God and a handful of people, that was all. Now I’m grateful to God for those days and years. But I have something to tell the country preacher today, and that’s this: they are as aware out there in the country of what’s going on as any city slicker you ever saw or looked upon. They have the radio. They have the television. They’ve got highways now. They have roads. They have automobiles, whether they have any gas to run them or not. They’ve got them out there somewhere, and they are aware.
And they’re aware of us, and they know all about what’s going on. And the preacher who is out there in a rural church, and a pastor in a country church, and the pastor in a village church in a small county seat town, has just the same problems to face as the city preacher who’s down here under the shadow of these sixty-story buildings. We all need help, all of us. And we all have a hard job today. And we need encouragement, and we need God’s blessing.
So we’re going to talk about the preacher and his assignment in his sermons. And we’re going to talk about our financial work. If a thing is mundane and terrestrial, it has a financial problem. There’s no such thing as any organization in this world that does not have a financial problem, and that includes the United States of America. And America is going busted. It’s going bankrupt! It’s going slap dab over the abyss because the fiscal policies of the United States government are of all things reprehensible and inexcusable. Whenever anybody lives above their means, finally they’re going to have a reckoning day someday, and the United States government is going into it. And you know what that reckoning day is? It’s going to be tragic. Your money is going to buy less, and less, and less, and less, and inflation’s going to take it away, and away, and away, and away, until finally it’ll take a wheelbarrow full of money to buy a loaf of bread. Even a United States government cannot violate God’s economic laws and live.
Now that’s true of a church, and we’re going to talk about these things. We’ve got to solve the financial problems in our churches, and God has given us a way to do it. And we’re going to talk about our music program, going to talk about our education program. I have a very decided persuasion about the modern church, and it comes out of years of experience looking at this thing.
The church that lives—I don’t care where it is—the church that lives tomorrow, the church that even continues to exist is going to be the church that is able to build a community of Christian communion and fellowship around it. And if it’s not able to do it, it’s going to die. The world’s going to swallow us up. We’re going down the drain.
Could I give illustration of that? I was talking with a missionary in a Muslim land, in a Mohammedan country, and he said to me, “It is impossible for a man to be a lone Christian in this Muslim nation. He cannot exist. He cannot live.” In some instances they will kill him, outright slay him, murder him. He said to me, “There’s no such thing as a lone Christian being able to live in this Muslim land.” He said, “Our only hope of having a Christian witness in this Mohammedan country is to build a Christian community where Christians can be together, where Christian families can live, where the young people can find friends, and where fathers and mothers can find fellowship and encouragement with one another. And if we are unable to build that Christian community, we will have no success in this Islamic country.”
Now that, of course, is an extreme. In a Mohammedan land you have a whole nation full of Christ-rejecters, unbelievers, and violent opponents. It is not that violent in America, but it will increasingly be as difficult. If we are not able to get a community of our people together, where they encourage each other, where their young people and their children know each other, where the Christian boys and girls can date each other, fall in love with each other, build Christian homes—if we’re not able to build a Christian community in the church, you’re going to find the church swallowed up by the world, absolutely decimated by it!
They’ll pick them off one at a time. They’ll take this boy, they’ll take that girl, they’ll seize that family; they’ll plunge them into secularism and materialism and unbelief. If you don’t believe what’s going on, you ought to listen to what these kids are being taught in our schools, universities, colleges, high schools, junior highs, and even down there in those elementary grades. It is sometimes unbelievable what is being taught.
I have just come back from the Gulf Coast. I’ve been, of all things, preaching through the Lenten services of the Presbyterian Churches of Tacoma and Seattle, Washington. Now, brother, you should have been around. That was something! Well, anyway, while I was out there, I was in a company of intellectuals, and they were talking about the public school systems and what is being taught in the public school systems. And they gave an illustration, one that I’d already read but one that I was glad to hear them discuss first hand.
As you know, in California they were trying to present the other side of the evolutionary hypothesis; for in the public schools they teach evolution as a fact, not as a theory. So in California there was a movement before the legislature and the state board of education that in our public schools we present, as an alternative to evolution, the creationist point of view that God did it according to the Book of Genesis. And they said to me that when that was pursued and furthered—that there were seventeen Nobel Prize winners in science, chemistry, physics, electronics, what have you, who signed a petition deploring and deprecating the idea that there should even be presented to the child the possibility that God created the world, and that God created life, and that God created man.
That’s going on out there. That struggle is going on out there this very minute. It has become the assumed position of the entire academic world that there is no God that created anything, and there is no God that created man, and that there’s no God to whom man is responsible. For he is not, to them, a fallen creature; he is an animal who is progressing and evolving—and give us time, and we’ll all be angels, and some of us just archangels—and that sin is nothing but the drag of our vestal ancestry, and we’re all evolving up, and on and on. And you don’t need God, and you don’t need Christ, and you don’t need salvation, and you don’t need any cross, and you don’t need any atonement, and you don’t need any restoration, because you’re never lost in the first place.
Now that is the great basic assumption back of the whole modern academic world. Now you raise your children in that, and you get your future families based on that, and you’re going to have the most irrelevant institution you ever looked at in your life; namely, the church! The world will look upon it with disdain and supercilious scorn.
Well, we think God is with us. We think we have a great mission and a great message. But if we’re going to live under God, we’re going to have to build a Christian community, and that’s why a whole lot of things are going on around this church: buying millions of dollars, not hundreds of thousands, buying millions of dollars of property around here for the future. For the church that lives has to be a church that has a tremendous ministry.
Now I mean the one out in the country as well as the one here. We’ve got us a school going over here now. Baptist people for the generations past have opposed a church school. The executive secretary of this state came over to see me some time ago and said, “I’d hate to see a pastor and a preacher like you who’s gifted in the pulpit and able to preach, I’d hate to see you turn into a school principal and a school superintendent. I’d hate to see you waste your life and time on these kids, trying to run a school down here in the church.” Now, that has been the attitude of the whole Southern Baptist community of people, and I want you to know I think it is one of the most mistaken concepts and persuasions that I know of! One of the finest things you could ever have in this earth is a Christian school and a Christian everything else that you can put your arms around. If you can get your people to follow you, the more Christian things you can get in that church and get going, the better it’ll be, pulling your people to Christ, gathering together out of the world, and getting them together in the Lord. Well, we’re going to look at some of those ways by which we seek to do it.
Now I want to say one other brief word about the School of the Prophets. From the days of Samuel we hear of schools of the prophets, or “sons of the prophets” [1 Samuel 10:5, 10, 19:20]. Probably originated like this: there was a prophet, and he had around him young men whom he was teaching the Word of God and the way of the Lord. And that, in my mind and in my humble persuasion, is the finest way in the world to train a pastor.
Let me tell you something that I stumbled into. I spent several weeks in Russia. And while I was meandering over there in Russia, and meandering around in Leningrad, in Moscow, in Odessa, the capital of the Ukraine, in Kharkov and in Kiev, while I was meandering around over there, I learned a whole lot about the country and about its religion. You can’t have a Sunday school, you can’t have literature, you can’t print a Bible, you can’t have a school, and you can’t have a seminary, and you can’t teach, and you can’t propagate, and outside of that church door, you can’t invite anybody to Jesus.
Well, how in the earth are then you going to have a ministry? How are you going to train up young preachers? When that generation dies, why doesn’t the ministry die? A little simple thing: every one of those churches has around the pastor a coterie, a little school of the prophets. The First Church in Moscow, when I was there, had about forty young men attached to the preacher, and those forty young men were learning the Bible. They were preaching the Word of God. They were ministering to the sick and the aged and the dying and the young, and, insofar as they had opportunity without breaking the law and being haled off into prison, they were gathering friends together in homes, there meeting, praying, singing, reading God’s Book, learning the Scriptures, testifying to the grace of the blessed Lord Jesus.
All of those courses, all of those courses that have to do with philosophical and metaphysical questions are never broached, as those young ministers there in those churches, down where the people live, minister to the needs of the souls of the congregation. And as I looked at it, I thought, “That’s the best way in God’s world to train the preacher.” Put him out there where the people can see him, and where he has an opportunity to meet them, and to see them, and to sense their needs, and to feel the pulse beat of their daily lives. And put him by a preacher who’s up there preaching the Bible and the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. Oh, I was impressed by the Baptist churches in Russia!
And one of the funniest, strangest comparisons you ever saw in your life is this: you go to England and there’s not a handful of people in the church, not two percent of them attend. You go to continental Europe and there is not a handful of them in the church. When I was in the First Baptist Church at Helsinki, the capital city of Finland, they had one baptism the year before. When I attended the church of the president of the Baptist World Alliance, he had a congregation of eighteen, eighteen! The churches in Europe are empty, and they are dead, and they are ineffective! But the churches in Moscow are jammed, and they have six and seven and eight and nine services every Sunday. And every service lasts an hour or two hours, and they have them going all day and all night, and all the days of the week, and the people are there praying and weeping before the Lord and preaching the gospel. It’s one of the most heartening things I ever looked upon in my life, the Baptist churches in Russia! Wonder what’s the difference? Wonder what’s the difference? Well, one of the differences is that young preacher who knows no other thing than to be close to the heart and the life of the pastor of that church, and they minister the Word of God.
You don’t find the preacher in Russia standing up stammering around whether this is the Word of God or not, and stammering around about all of the other things that I listen to, and hesitate before, and question, and debate, and wonder at. You don’t find any of that. Man, they’re down there where it’s life and death! And those that choose life have the Spirit of God in them, and you feel it and see it in those churches.
I would to God our churches were like that. We’re not preaching economics. We’re not preaching metaphysics. We’re not preaching philosophy. We’re not preaching ethics. We’re not preaching current events. We’re not preaching religious fads. We’re not preaching a thousand other things that you can hear every day of your life discussed on television or radio or read it in the editorials of the newspaper, but we’re preaching the Word of God! Does God say anything? If He does, what does God say? Tell me, does the Lord say anything? If He does, what does He say? What does He say? Ah, when people come to the house of the Lord and they listen to a man who tells them what God says, mmm! They’ll be back. They come back again.
You know what the fellow does when he goes to go to church, and there’s a preacher up there, and he’s discussing all of these things that the man’s been listening to on television, and on radio, and reading in the editorials of the newspapers and discussed in the magazines? You know what he does when he goes to church and hears that same stuff rehashed? You know what he does? He sits back there and he yawns and goes out and plays golf. That’s exactly what he does. And he’s not coming back. There’s hardly a minister in the land, there’s hardly a minister in the land that can get up and discuss current events and current topics and national questions with anything like the astuteness and the acumen of any member of the state department in Washington D.C., because he doesn’t know as much about it as that fellow does who is on the inside.
Why in the world, then, does a minister want to stand up in the pulpit and discuss current events and all of the things that pertain to what’s going on in the national scene, when a man in the state department in Washington could do it ten times as well with far greater understanding with what’s going on? Why go to church and listen to that? But there’s not a man in the state department who’s in the ambassadorial, political world of statecraft, and ambassadorship, and all foreign relations, there’s not a one of them that knows as much about God and the Word of God as you do, if you are a man of God with an open Book in your hand and have given yourself to the study of this precious revelation.
Man, we’re authorities in our field. I’m no authority on the problems of the state and of the national government. I’m no authority on the problems of capital and labor. I’m not authority in a thousand areas of national, and economic, and political, and cultural, and social life. But I don’t make any bones, nor am I at all timid in announcing to the world that I am an authority on the Word of God. And if you want to know what God says, and if you want to know what God’s will is for us, you come to the First Baptist Church in Dallas and listen to the pastor, and he’ll have a message for you right out of God’s Book what God says!
Man, we stand on an immovable rock when we stand on the immutable Word of God [Colossians 1:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:15]. And that’s you. That’s you. We’re authorities here. We speak with conviction and unction. We are men under authority. God is with us. He has called us. His soul, and Spirit, and life, and Word, and quickening power are in our hearts and in our lives! God is with us, and that’s our ministry and our message.
And that’s what the school of the prophets was. They gathered around an old prophet, and they listened and were taught the Word of the Lord. I have down here:
- in [1 Samuel 10:5].
- [1 Samuel 19:20].
- [1 Kings 20:35].
- [2 Kings 2:3, 5].
- [2 Kings 4:1, 38].
- [2 Kings 6:1].
I have all of these stories listed here about the schools of the prophets in the Old Testament under Samuel, under Elijah, under Elisha. I haven’t time even to mention it.
They sang, they played with the psaltery and the pipe and the harp, and they delivered God’s message, and they were taught the great, glorious truths of the revelation of God as it is written down in these holy pages. That was the school of the prophets of the old day and the Old Testament.
And that’s something what this pastor has had in his mind in calling together men of like heart and of like spirit. I’d like to know how to build the church. I’d like to know the methods to reach people. Not philosophical, metaphysical, ephemeral, but right where it’s done. I’d like to see it. That’s why we’re here.
A man out there in Washington introduced me. He thought this was the height of egotism, and he said, “I want to know if you said that.” I said, “Yes, sir, I said it.” So when he introduced me he said, “He himself confesses that he said it.” All right, this was it. He said, “I have heard it said that you said that you don’t know lots of things, but one thing you do know: you know how to build a church! Did you say that?” I said, “I certainly did. I certainly did.” So he introduced me like that. He says, “He doesn’t know a lot of things about a whole lot of things, but he knows one thing: he knows how to build a church.”
And that’s why I say this invitation. We have done it. We are doing it. Against insuperable odds we are doing it, and we’re not done. We haven’t even begun to quit. We are still reaching more people. We’re still baptizing more candidates. We are still winning souls. We’re still growing. Every area of the church is still growing. After thirty years it’s still growing. I see no sign of a diminution in it. God helps us, and it’s not done by quackery, and it is not done by trickery; it is done by good, basic, solid loving Jesus and working for the Lord in ways that God can bless, and we want you to share with us in these things by which God has so wonderfully worked with us. And then when you go back to the church that you pastor and the church to which you belong—little church, doesn’t make any difference; middle sized church, doesn’t make any difference; village church, doesn’t make any difference—the things that God blesses here He will bless there. I’ve been all the way through, and we’ll have a great time together.