God Teaches Doctrine
October 26th, 1975 @ 8:15 AM
GOD TEACHES DOCTRINE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-26-75 8:15 a.m.
On the radio we invite you to listen to the message of the pastor in the First Baptist Church in Dallas entitled God Teaches Doctrine. In our preaching through Isaiah, we are in chapter 28; and the text is verse 9 and verse 10:
Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.
When you study the scholarly interpretations of this text, for the most part it is an exposition that is somewhat different from what you might think. There are two ways of looking at the passage, and practically all of your great Hebrew scholars and commentators will take this first one. He turns from a prophecy of judgment addressed to the drunkards of Ephraim [Isaiah 28:1-8], and begins his prophecy to the priests and to the prophets false of Jerusalem. In the fourteenth verse he so addresses them: “Ye scornful men that rule this people in Jerusalem” [Isaiah 28:14]. And in the text, according to most of these Hebrew scholars, in the text the prophet is quoting the scornful response of the people to whom the Lord had sent him. In my words, taking the text, speaking in my words, these who ridiculed Isaiah and the message he brought said it like this—and this is the text in my words: “What do you think the prophet means when he addresses us as though we were just weaned from the breast? As though we were little, unintelligible children? For his message is trite and monotonous, and he repeats it and repeats it, and its repetitious, repetitive content is wearisome indeed. This line, and this line, and this line, and this moralistic preaching, and this moralistic precept, repeated, repeated, repeated, until we are weary of it. He says the same things over and over and over” [Isaiah 28:9-10]. Now that is the interpretation of the text as most of your Hebrew scholars will expound it.
Same kind of a thing as Paul will write of in the tenth chapter and the tenth verse of the second Corinthian letter. Paul there quotes what his critics say about him: they said, “His letters, they say,” so Paul is quoting them, “His letters are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” [2 Corinthians 10:10]. This is what the scorner’s say about Isaiah: his message is monotonous and wearisome and deals in trifles [Isaiah 28:9-10]. You have another instance of that in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, when the Athenian philosophers down in the agora listened to the apostle Paul. They called him a spermologos, a seed picker, a dealer in trifles, monotonous and wearisome [Acts 17:18]. Now that is what the scorners and the scoffers in the day of Isaiah said about him and his message [Isaiah 28:9-10].
Now the other interpretation of the passage is, here the prophet is describing the simplicity of his message; and in describing it he says, as he writes of it here, he says: “It is so plain, it is so simple, this message from God, that even a child that cannot read or write but just listens, even a child just weaned, just drawn from the breast, even that infant that cannot understand except by listening, even that infant can understand it, so plain is the message. Line upon line, precept upon precept, adding a little here, adding a little there, and adding a little yonder. So the message of God is delivered so anyone can understand it. It is plain, it is simple, it is repetitive. It is almost monotonous in its simplicity” [Isaiah 28:9-10].
Well, whichever way the interpretation follows, it is the same. Whether it is what the scoffers say about the prophet’s message [Acts 17:18], or whether it is the description of the message by the prophet himself; in any way, in any interpretation, in any approach, it is the same: the message of God is always plain and simple so that even a child can understand it [Isaiah 28:9-10].
Now he begins, “Whom shall he teach knowledge, deah, good knowledge?” [Isaiah 28:9]. Isaiah uses that word in the [eleventh] chapter of his prophecy: “For the earth shall be filled with the deah, the good knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” [Isaiah 11:9]. “Whom shall he teach good knowledge, and whom shall he make to understand doctrine?” shemuah [Isaiah 28:9], what God says, the tidings from the Lord, the message from the Lord. In the nineteenth verse it is translated “report” [Isaiah 28:19]. In Isaiah 53:1, shemuah is translated “report”: “Lord, to whom is Thy arm revealed? And who shall believe our report?”—what is heard, the message of God as it is delivered. What the prophet says is that they may reject his message, and they may refuse the word of the Lord, but it will not be because it is not understandable, not because it is not plain or clear, for the message from God is always simple; so much so that a little child can understand it [Isaiah 28:9].
Now we’re going to take this passage in the King James Version and follow it as it is translated here. “Whom shall he teach knowledge, and whom shall he make to understand doctrine?” that is, the message of the Lord [Isaiah 28:9]. What is doctrine? What is the message from the Lord?
First of all, what it is not: the message of God, the revelation of God, the doctrine of the Lord is not that petty, forensic trick whereby debating denominationalists beat one another over the head. I heard a story of a church that had just that first Sunday introduced their new pastor. So a deacon opened a crack in the door and looked at the congregation and made the observation: “Young man, I see some Methodists out there, so don’t say anything about the Methodists. I see some Presbyterians out there, so don’t say anything about the Presbyterians. I see some Episcopalians out there; don’t say anything about the Episcopalians.” He looked at all the group and he said, “But I don’t see a Jehovah’s Witness in the whole congregation. Beat the living daylights today out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Now most of the times we define the doctrine, the knowledge and the teaching of God, in forensic terms; actually, what is it? This is the doctrine, the teaching, this is it: it is the sum total of what is revealed about the truth and the reality of God [Acts 20:27].
The Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], closes like this: “And they were astonished at His didachē” [Matthew 7:28]. In the Book of Acts, the Sanhedrin accuses the apostles against their mandate, interdiction, of having filled Jerusalem “with your didachē” [Acts 5:28]. What is that? Well, let’s run it down in two languages. Let’s run it down in the Greek. Didaskō means “to teach.” Didaskalos is a teacher. And didachē is what is taught. Let’s run it down in Latin: docere, “to teach”; doctor, “teacher”; doctrina, “what is taught.” Doctrina, didachē, the teaching, the truth, the revelation, the message of God. Now, in every department of God’s Word and God’s world, there is the didachē, the doctrina, the truth, the revelation, the proposition. In every area of God’s world you will find those truths, those doctrines, those teachings. You’ll find it in music. You will find it in astronomy. You’ll find it in biology. You’ll find it in chemistry. But these doctrines, these teachings concern the works of God.
The doctrine of the Bible, the revelation in the Holy Scriptures concerns not the works of God, but God Himself. They reveal the Lord in all of His full-orbed beauty, and glory, and reality, and truth. When you study the doctrine, when you study the revelation, you study God Himself. This is God revealed to us. And when we know the doctrine, when we know the revelation, we come to know God Himself. Our Lord said that in His high priestly prayer in John 17:3, “This is life eternal, that we might know Thee the only true and living God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” The doctrine, the teaching, is the revelation of God Himself.
Again, the strength and the substance and the essence of the Christian faith is its doctrinal teaching, its sacred biblical revelation. And without that system, the whole course of the Christian faith becomes a sentimental, maudlin, puny, flexible, formless mass of moralistic clichés. A. H. Strong, who wrote the greatest book on systematic theology that has ever been published—and a great Baptist leader—Dr. Strong said, “Now a man does not need to wear his backbone in front of him; but he needs one and a straight one, or else he will become a flexible and humpbacked Christian.” There has to be some truth, some doctrinal teaching revelation from God, if there is to be strength and power in the Christian faith; otherwise it becomes a formless, maudlin mass.
There was a woman in our church who took her husband and joined a certain church here in the city of Dallas, to my great surprise. I ran into her one day, and this is what she said to me. She said, “Oh, you should know our church. What a wonderful church we have! You don’t have to believe anything to be a member of our church.” And I thought of that church she joined. She is eminently correct. It is an aggregate of people who don’t believe anything. And just what of the glory of God in the hearts of a congregation that believes nothing? For you see, the great ultimate decisive factor in life is the doctrine, the teaching, what is believed, what is revealed. This is not strange or new; all of life is like that. The great determining factor in human history, in human life, is this teaching, this idea, this faith, this commitment, what we’ve given our hearts to.
A stone and a mountain are real, but they are inanimate. They have no driving power in them. They are inert, they are dead. But an idea, a teaching, is alive and dynamic and many times explosive. All ideas and all teaching, all of it is like that. For example, the horrible Inquisition: how could such a thing ever have been in the pages of church history? It was because of the idea, the teaching that the protestors, those who did not agree, must be forced to agree or else be burned at the stake. It’s an idea, it’s a teaching. Take again the inhuman horrors of the Nazi Party in Germany. Where could such a thing have come from? It came from the teaching of Neitzche and Bismarck that the Teutonic super race was to be purged of all of its lower elements. So they burned people in incinerators by the millions and forced them to die in concentration camps. It’s an idea. The greatest confrontation in the world today is between the Christian faith and an idea and a teaching by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It is the teaching, it is the idea, it is the doctrine that there is no God, and there’s no right to private property, but everything must become the authoritarian possessions of the state, including a man’s mind, and his soul, and his life, and his property, and his home, and his children. It’s an idea, and a fierce one. For ideas, teachings, are explosive, they are dynamite. Not rocks, not mountains, not things inert and dead, but the teaching, the doctrine.
You can take any little boy, any little boy, any one of them, you can bring up the little lad and you can teach him to be a cannibal, eat human flesh. You can teach him to be a Nazi, a goose-stepping Nazi, a fascist. You can teach him to be a communist, or a Catholic, or a Baptist, or maybe a Republican or a Democrat. It’s the teaching that does it. For the teaching is explosive, it’s dynamic.
And this is the great assignment first of the church: we have a revelation from God, we have a truth revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and we have a mandate and an assignment from heaven. Listen to it. In Matthew, chapter 28, verse 19, the Lord says, “Go ye therefore, and matheteuō ” [Matthew 28:19]. Isn’t that an unusual thing? Why didn’t the Lord say, “euaggelizō, evangelize”? For we do have an assignment to evangelize the world; but He never said it. He said, “matheteuō.” Your word mathematics comes from it. Matheteuō, literally “make learners, make disciples, make students, make learners of the whole world.” Then He uses the word didaskō, “teach,” “teaching them, teaching them to observe all the things that I have commanded you. And if you will, I will be with you in power and grace and presence to the end of the world” [Matthew 28:19-20].
Our assignment, the assignment of the church, is not just to make converts, go out here and whoop it up in a great revival meeting—which is fine, there’s not anything wrong with going out and making converts, euaggelizō. But what God is delighted with in the church is that it makes disciples, that it makes learners, that we sit down at the feet of Jesus and not only accept Him as our Lord, but that we grow in His grace, and in His fullness, and in His glory. You and your heart, you and your home, you and your family, you’re a part of a great congregation that is learning the precepts, the teachings, the doctrines of the Lord. You see, Paul calls the church “the pillar and ground of the truth” [1 Timothy 3:15]. That is, as a dipper might hold and shape the water, so a true church holds and shapes the truth of Almighty God. And this we are to share continuously and continually. It is our part of a glorious assembly of saints who are growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. This is the assignment of the church.
This is also the assignment of the preacher. What is the great mandate from heaven for a true man of God in the pulpit? Listen to it, listen to it. Paul writes to his son in the ministry, Timothy, who is now pastor of the church at Ephesus, he writes to him, “Till I come, give attendance to reading,” that is, reading out loud the Word of the Lord, “till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation,” to pleading with men to come to Christ, “and to the didachē, to the doctrine, to the teaching of Christ” [1 Timothy 4:13]. Then skipping a verse, then he says, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine. . .wherein thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” [1 Timothy 4:16]. A man of God who is true to his call from heaven is a man who stands in the pulpit, and Sunday after Sunday and day after day teaches his people the great truths of the revelation of God, the great doctrines of the faith.
Listen again to the apostle Paul as he writes in the second letter to Timothy, just before he died, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine” [2 Timothy 3:16] . . . Now, the next verse, “I charge thee therefore,” on the basis of the theopneusta, the God-breathed word, “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, [exhort] with all long-suffering and doctrine” [2 Timothy 4:1-2]. There is a revelation, a body of truth, that God has given to us from heaven. And our great assignment is to teach it, and to preach it, and to inculcate it, to emphasize it, to make an appeal on the basis of it.
All of you would know, as you read Christian history, there are martyrs by the uncounted thousands who have laid down their lives for the truths that you and I today take for granted. They died for them: they were drowned for them; they were burned at the stake for them; they rotted in dungeons for them—the great body of truth that we know as the Christian faith. Not only is this a mandate from God for the church, not only for the preacher, it is also for us individually who are redeemed by the blood of the Crucified One, who belong to the blessed Lord [1 Peter 1:18-19]. You see the Lord said in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, He said the good ground, the good ground is that one who receives the word of truth in his heart and bears fruit unto God, some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold [Matthew 13:8], according to the favor of the Lord upon us. You see, you can’t have the fruit without the tree. And when we cut down the tree, there’s no doctrinal truth in us. When you cut it down, the fruit vanishes, withers, erodes away. To have a great Christian character, you must have a fine doctrinal substance that sustains it. And to have a marvelous, a marvelous church of God, you must have a church committed to the truth of the Lord, teaching it, loving it, learning it, giving life to it, and a whole lifetime.
Now how do you do that? How do you learn the truth of God? How do you learn the doctrine, the teaching of the Lord? Just as Isaiah has written it: “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” [Isaiah 28:10]. Just as we learn anything else, so we learn the truth, the doctrine, the teaching of Almighty God. All of our learning is like that. Do you love music? Are you interested in music? How do you learn music? Line upon line, here a little, there a little, precept upon precept, precept upon precept, studying it, giving your life to it, and you learn and you learn and you learn. How do you learn chemistry? How do you learn astronomy? How do you learn physics or biology? Giving yourself to it, looking, learning, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little. That’s the way you learn to talk: you weren’t born talking, you would never talk had you not been taught. That’s the way even you learned to walk. Did you know had you not been taught to walk, you would ramble on all fours like an ape? We are taught these things; to talk, to walk, to play an instrument, to sing, the great abounding knowledge of the works of God into which we are beginning to enter through our scientific achievements, and the knowledge of God Himself. We learn it, and we learn it, and we learn it, and we continue to learn it; growing in the knowledge of the Lord. And it is a wonderful thing to see a church respond to the teachings of our Savior.
Did you know this last week I was speaking in the First Baptist Church in Amarillo? I was graduated from Amarillo High School, and I attended that church as a youth, was licensed and ordained there. It was a stewardship banquet, and they were seeking a goal, reaching toward a budget of $1,500,000. And after the address was over, the pastor said to me, he said, “Did you know that when Dr. J. Howard Williams came to be pastor of the First Baptist Church in Amarillo”—and Dr. Williams, remember, grew up in this church, and when he was executive secretary of our state, the convention of which meets this week at the convention center and here in our church, he belonged to us, he was a member of our congregation, and then went to be president of our Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, and died there as their gifted and illustrious president. Now you know of whom I’m speaking: Dr. J. Howard Williams, one of the finest denominational statesman who ever lived, a magnificent leader. The pastor said to me that when Dr. J. Howard Williams went to the First Baptist Church of Amarillo, the church was giving, all told, the whole sum in a year, they were giving $36,000; $36,000, the whole congregation in a whole year. And he said Dr. Williams began to teach them, and to teach them, and to teach them, and to teach them. He taught them stewardship. He taught them tithing. He taught them giving to the Lord. And the church began to grow, and to grow, and to flower, and to expand. And today that church gives more to the Cooperative program than any church in the world. That’s what God meant when He said, “Line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little” [Isaiah 28:10]. As we teach, and teach, and teach, and this one comes into the knowledge of the Lord, and this one is persuaded by faith to respond, and this one sees, and these give themselves to the work of Jesus, and soon you have a church of great understanding and commitment, and it’s a glory to behold to see people grow in the knowledge and grace of the Lord. That’s one glorious, incomparable reward of being pastor of a church for a long, long time: to see people grow, and grow, and grow, and grow. How do we teach God’s doctrine and God’s teaching, how? Here a little, there a little, precept upon precept, line upon line, Sunday after Sunday, day after day.
I’m not nearly done, but I’m going to conclude, have to. I want to tell you something that I heard when I was in Baylor. I took a course in trigonometry. I didn’t need anything in trigonometry, being a minister it was not a required course. But I took the course in trigonometry because of Professor Harrell. I just wanted to sit there and listen to that man teach. He was a born philosopher. And one day in his class, he began talking about how we learn, how we learn, how we learn. And he was speaking, though not in this exact text, he was speaking about, “Here a little, there a little, yonder a little,” and as the text would say, “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” [Isaiah 28:10]. And he spoke about a great building that he had seen. And he said, “Above the big entrance into that downtown mercantile building, there was a vast stone above the door.” And he said, “Underneath that stone, thousands and thousands of people walked every day.” Now he said, “The stone had to be cut just so, it had to be split just so. So,” he said, “I thought that when they split that stone,” and he looked at it, the thing was built in his day, the building was, he said, “You know what I would have done had I the assignment of splitting that great stone that was to go above the doorway into that big building and into that big store?” He said, “I would have taken me some kind of a chisel or some kind of a piece of steel, and I’d have dug me a little hole, and I’d have put that thing down in there, and I’d have taken a forty-pound sledge hammer, and I’d have split that stone just wide open.” And he said, “That’s the way I would have done it.”
But he said, “You know how that stone was split?” He said, the stonemason took a little steel pin, and he put one of them there, and he took another one and put it there, and another one there, and another one there, and another one there, and another one there, and another one there, and another one there, until he had a whole row of little steel pins. Then he took a little hammer, and he tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, and went back and forth tapping those little steel pins. And he said after a while, after a while the great stone split wide open, beautifully and in strength, according to the grain of the stone. And he said, “There it is, and thousands of people walk through it into the big store every day. Now,” he said, “that’s the way we learn.” We don’t learn just explosively; and just overnight, “I’m a great theologian,” or overnight, “I understand the Bible,” or overnight, “I know the whole revelation of God.” It isn’t that way; it’s precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little, growing in grace, growing in the knowledge of the Lord [Isaiah 28:10], and we finally flower unto God and bring fruit, some a hundredfold, some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold [Matthew 13:8]. That’s the way we learn.
My invitation, the sweetest, dearest invitation in the Bible is the concluding word in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Matthew: “Come unto Me, all ye that 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 unto your souls [Matthew 11:28-29]. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me,” that is an old Talmudic rabbinic saying; “Take my yoke upon you, enroll in my school, and learn of me, sit at my feet.” And that’s God’s invitation to us: Enroll in the school of Jesus. “Take My yoke upon you, enroll in My school, and learn of Me, sit at My feet, and you will find rest for your soul and eternal life in the world that is to come, and blessings incomparable in this present world” [Matthew 11:28-29].
Would you do it? Would you? “Today, put my name among those who look to Jesus, who sit at His feet, who learn about Him.” “I want to be a member of His church, and here I come.” “I want to be among those redeemed in heaven who have known the Lord in His saving grace and in His gracious goodness” [Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Peter 1:18-19]. Make the decision now in your heart, and when we sing our invitation hymn, on the first note of the first stanza, come, come [Romans 10:9-13]. In the balcony, down a stairway, “Here I am.” In this press of people on the lower floor, in an aisle and down to the front, “I make it today, I’m coming now,” do it, while we stand and while we sing.