The Face of the World
August 3rd, 1975 @ 8:15 AM
THE FACE OF THE WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Act 14: 27
8-03-75 8:15 a.m.
On the radio we welcome you as you share with us the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Face of the World. In the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, and the twenty-seventh verse, I have a precedent for what I do this morning. On the first missionary journey, when Paul returned, and his companions, the text reads:
And when they had come, and had gathered the church
together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them,
and how He had opened the door of faith unto the nations.
And that is what we shall do today. The face of the world: just exactly what would you think of as you looked upon it? It is scarred; it is scared; some might say “pimpled and pockmarked.” It is hurt. It is hungry. It is full of fear and foreboding. It is troubled. It is every descriptive epithet that you could apply. This is the third time that I have been around the world, but this one was somewhat different. So much of this world, beyond what I thought for, is cold and frozen all the time. This is the first time I have gone over the top of the world, over the poles, over the Arctic Circle and the Arctic Sea.
I had a dear friend in a church one time who was the dean of the university, and he argued with me that the world was flat. I thought that was the strangest intellectual approach to typography and geography that I ever heard. So I said to him, “But, sir, I have flown around the world; it is not flat.” He said, “Nay. All you have done is to fly around on a flat surface. You have not gone over the Pole, nor has anyone else,” not at that time.
So this journey I went over the Pole. It was a new experience to me, from Hong Kong to Paris, France. The tundra of the North, as you come to the Arctic edge of Alaska and the territories of Canada, are very flat and barren. Then you come to the ocean, and as you continue northward, upward, here and there begin to appear little floes of ice, then bigger floes, and finally, some of them, it seemed to me, were miles and miles across; great, tremendous, expanding ice floes. Then finally you come to the solid, frozen wastes of the Arctic Ocean.
I was amazed at how close to England are these ice floes. Why is not England as barren and frozen as the great wastes of the northland of Canada? They are on the same parallel. The reason is something God has done on the face of the earth. In the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean, and the warm, equatorial South Atlantic, a great stream flows northward, called the Gulf Stream. It is a river about fifty miles wide and one mile deep, as separate in the ocean as though it had banks. It is nearest to our continent at Miami Beach in Florida. And that warm Gulf Stream, turning northward and eastward, flows around the British Isles and the North Sea and the Scandinavian countries and makes them salubrious and warm, a miracle of God; yet, right up there are those gigantic ice fields, floating on the bosom of the deep.
I was surprised at Greenland. There is a great missionary hymn entitled, “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains to India’s Coral Strand.” I just wonder if the author of that missionary hymn had ever seen that gigantic island of Greenland. The whole, vast reach of it that I could see is made up of choppy mountains; not a level plain in it—vast, vast outreaches of choppy mountains. And in it, to my surprise, are great rivers, tremendous rivers; all of it covered with snow, and all of it frozen. This is in July. How do those rivers form, and how do they flow when it is frozen, even in July?
And the astonishing thing to me, I had been in Fairbanks, Alaska, on a mission tour, and had seen the sun dip just a little beyond the horizon; but light, just like this, all night long. But this is the first time I ever saw the sun just go around in a circle above the earth, just go around, just go around, never go below the surface, never go below the horizon, just stay above, all day long, no night, no shadow, no twilight, just the sun up there in the sky, going around, and around. Flying up there, looking at that sun, always up, in the day and the night, always there, I thought of that popular song that they used to sing:
Down here we struggle and sweat,
We agonize and pray, we work our lives away,
But that lazy old sun ain’t got nothin’ to do
But roll around heaven all day.
[from “That Lucky Old Sun,” Haven Gillespie, Beasley Smith]
I thought of that, the sun, always there, just going around and around, rolling around heaven all day.
The face of the world, it is a face filled with dread, and fear, and foreboding. As you youngsters know, landing on the airfield in Seoul, Korea, it was my first experience as the plane went down the runway; here, and there, every few yards we were running under the eyesight, and gun sight, and the eyes of men who were manning machine guns and anti-aircraft missiles; the whole place ringed around with those protective and awesome weapons. After all, by jet, they are not thirty seconds away from the DMZ and the whole communist world of North Korea and China.
Much of this world lives in that dread and anxiety. One of the most knowledgeable men I ever talked to said to me in the Orient, “It may be pleasing to America, détente with China and with Russia, but America does not realize the tragedy it brings to Malaysia, to Indonesia, to the Philippines, to South Korea, to Japan, to the islands of the Pacific, to Australia, to the nations of Eastern Europe, to Portugal, to the nations of Africa.”
Maybe for the first time in a long time, next Sunday morning at this hour, I am going to deliver a political address. It is entitled Death in Détente, or Courting the Curse and Cancer of Communism. America has set itself, as well as the other free nations of the world, in a course that finally will deliver this whole earth into the hands of the oppressors who rule in the Kremlin and in Peking. Little by little, piece by piece, they are taking over the entire globe.
And that feeling of despair, fatalistic, I find everywhere. A third generation Baptist couple in Hong Kong, owning a beautiful shop in the city, also owned one in Guam with the explanation that, not if the communists take Hong Kong, “When China communists take Hong Kong, we have a place to escape to in Guam.”
I was amazed talking to a rich merchantman in Paris. He has a place right across the street from the Louvre. He is the kind of a man that there is no item in the store under ten-thousand dollars. He sells paintings to America that will fetch, on an auction, five-hundred, a million, two million dollars; that kind of a man. Incidentally, as I visited with him, he said, “I own a beautiful condominium in Florida.”
“Oh!” I say, “You go there once in a while?”
“No,” he says, “I have never been there.”
“And you own a condominium in Florida?”
“Well,” I said, “Why? You use it not at all?”
He said, not if, but “When the communists take France, I will have a place to escape”; living in that kind of a world.
The face of the world, it is also one of vast and indescribable spiritual indifference. Many of these boys and girls, these young men and women who are in the Chapel Choir this morning, were with me in a baccalaureate service in Hong Kong. There were three Baptist schools who brought their graduating class to the early-morning service for their baccalaureate. I never had such trouble, such oppressive feeling of facing scoffing indifference, more than I felt in that church service—yawning, looking around, manifestly indifferent—and I did the best that I could, praying God to help me, but like speaking to stone images.
When the service was over, I went back to the study with the pastor, Daniel Chang, one of the finest ministers in the world. His layman has been elected president of the Baptist World Alliance. He could have been, but he asked them instead to elect his layman, a great, glorious, Christian man. He has been here in this pulpit.
I went back with him. He sat down, just like that, in the chair behind his desk and said, “We have failed. Our Baptist people have failed.” You see, the reason the student would go to a Baptist school is, they have their finest training in English there. For all the teachers teach in English, and in order to get a good job in Hong Kong, a British Crown colony, you do better if you know English; so, they attend the school to learn English. And Daniel Chang said to me, “We have no chaplain. We have no spiritual emphasis. We have no leadership to God, no pointing to Christ in the school.” “And,” he said, “you see the result of it here; there is no conviction. There is no repentance. There is no turning. There is no acceptance of Christ. We have failed.”
Ah! I thought about our school. Principal Mel, let us emphasize God; let us emphasize prayer; let us emphasize the Book. Then if you have a service in the school, let it be manifest that we have taught the youngsters the knowledge of Christ our Lord. Oh, that service! I am just not accustomed to it, such a service. Maybe that is the reason that it has so profoundly and adversely affected me.
The face of the world, so largely spiritually indifferent—walking through the streets of the cities of Moscow, and of Leningrad, and of Kiev, and of Kharkov, and of Odessa, the capital of the Ukraine, I looked at the churches, locked and barred. Some of them are railroad stations. Some of them are museums. Some of them are warehouses. Some of them are just falling into ruins. And I remembered what a man said to me, “The tragedy of the closing of the churches in Communist Russia is not that the Kremlin has closed them, but the tragedy is the people don’t care.” It is nothing to them at all. And whether the church is closed by order of the government or whether it is closed by the indifference of the people, the result is spiritually the same. And what you find in Europe is the closed, barred church.
My impression is no one goes to church, yet they say at least two percent in Europe attend. For example, Copenhagen is a beautiful city, and in the heart of the city is a mall, a long beautiful mall, thronged by people. At the head of the mall is a gigantic and impressive church. I made it a point to go in the church. Whatever else might be of interest, I wanted to see that great, towering cathedral at the head of the mall.
When I went in, to the right of me, on the aisle next to the nave, to the left of it, to the right of me, the aisle next to the great nave, was a display and a cheap one, of modern art. When I walked to the apse, the chancel, the end of the church, where the altar, the pulpit, should have been, it was blocked off with cheap plywood. And when I looked to my extreme right, there was—I called it a hamburger joint—some kind of a sorry restaurant. When I walked out of the church, I had an oppressive despair from which I could not raise my spirits, and I feel it to this present moment; a glorious cathedral, a marvelous tribute with a gigantic spire, pointing up to God—when you go inside, filled with cheap modern art and a sorry restaurant.
That is not unusual. In Delft, Holland, in the heart of the city facing the square, is a glorious cathedral. I thought, “I will walk in.” I love to see those marvelous churches. I was stopped at the door, for a price. I said, “What? You charge to go to church?”
“No, you don’t understand. This is a museum. It is where William of Orange is buried, and it is a museum, and you pay to enter the museum.”
I said, “The church, this glorious church, is a museum?”
“Yes, it is a museum, and you pay thus-and-so to enter the museum.”
I don’t see any difference, whether the church is a museum, or it is locked by the order of the Kremlin, or whether it is a museum and a cheap display of modern art by the free choice of the people. I don’t see any difference. There is a dearth of spiritual indifference that marks the face of the whole world.
In the Baptist World Alliance in Stockholm, in the sessions of the Executive Committee, I looked at the record of our Baptist people. There are nations, almost without number, in which there is not one Baptist church, and so far as the World Alliance knows, there is not one single Baptist, not one.
The face of the world, but it is also a face that has in it a light of hope and revival. It isn’t all dark, it isn’t all despair; it is also a face of the glory of God. Isn’t it a strange thing? It is in the darkest hour that revival always comes, real revival. For example, in the days of the great tribulation in the Revelation, in the heart of that dark and tragic era, is the greatest revival the church, the world shall ever know [Revelation 7:1-17]. So it is in the face of the world today. There are encouraging signs of great hope and the outpouring of the blessing of God.
For example, Daniel Chang is the vice-president of the Baptist World Alliance, and I sat with him in one of the executive sessions. He said to me, “Did you know, from our crusade in our church, I have over one thousand four hundred thirty-five cards of those who have made a decision for Christ?” Why, some of the most God-blessed services you could ever have shared were in the church when these young people sang the invitational hymn. It is wonderful how these youngsters just—you would think they were pros—singing the gospel as people came down the aisle to accept the Lord. And our stadium convocation on a Sunday night was blessed by hundreds and hundreds of people coming, a sign of the favor and blessing of God.
In South Korea today, there is happening one of the great revivals of all these Christian centuries. We have a couple there as missionaries from our church: Joe Gene Autry and his wife, Kathleen. They grew up here in our church. Some of those missionaries invited me—oh! how I wish I could have stayed to do it—invited me to speak to a thousand four-hundred Korean soldiers who were going to be baptized that week, at the same time; think of that, in one baptismal service, a thousand four-hundred Korean soldiers.
They have something like forty-thousand converts, awaiting baptism in our churches in South Korea right now. The largest Presbyterian Church in the world is in Seoul, Korea. A little handful of refugees from the north—and most of the Christians were in the north part of Korea—a little handful of refugees, fleeing south in Korea, a little handful of them, built a church house to seat two thousand five hundred people. Can you imagine that kind of a faith? It is the same kind of a thing as if our people were to build an auditorium to seat fifty thousand people, and believing that God would fill it.
Well, I picked up their Sunday bulletin. They have one, two, three, four, five services every Sunday morning, and they tell me all five of them are jammed. They start at 7:00 o’clock; that is the first one. I looked at their Sunday school attendance, which is printed here. They had, that Sunday, seven thousand four hundred eleven adults in Sunday school, the morning that I picked up their bulletin. Isn’t that a glorious thing? Ah! And all the rest are in comparison. It is just marvelous! You just feel in your soul, “Lord, You are not dead; and the Spirit has not withdrawn from the earth. There is revival! There is resurrection. There is triumph!”
I was so encouraged by our intern program, Martin Forner, ah! let me show you what I mean. I went on Sunday to one of the great Baptist churches of the world, and the pastor prayed so earnestly and fervently for the Sunday school at 3:00 o’clock that afternoon for the children. He put his heart into the prayer; “Lord, bless our Sunday school this afternoon at 3:00 o’clock, when our children come to be taught the Word of God.” A whole vast city of adults that are absolutely illiterate in the Lord, but praying for the Sunday school at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, for children.
There is no child that comes to Sunday school unless an adult brings them. And when there is no program for the adult, do you think the children are going to come in vast numbers? And do the adults not need teaching the Word of the Lord? Ah! The man is fervent. The man loves God. But a system like that accounts for the dying of our Baptist denomination in England. Unless there is a reversal in England, the day is coming when there will not be a Baptist that lives and walks in that beautiful isle of our forefathers.
Well, my encouragement: Hugh Bishop, one of our interns, is pastor in London, and he said to me, “January, first Sunday in January, we begin a Sunday school in the morning, with adults and with young people and with children and with everybody we can gather together to teach them the Word of the Lord; that starts in January.
Morris Markham, pastor in Coventry, Morris said to me, “Pastor, God is blessing us, and in a few weeks, we shall have a vote of the church about having a Sunday school in the morning on Sunday, and everyone invited to come. And in a few months, it will begin; our church will vote for it.”
And Lance Burkes, pastor in Nuneaton, with whom it was a joy to share breaking of bread; he said to me, “I cannot do it now, but we have brought our church into a Bible-preaching ministry. And give us a little time, and we will have all of our people together, teaching them the Word of the Lord.”
Isn’t that great, Martin? Isn’t that marvelous? Why, our program is paying off a thousandfold. We have six of those young pastors there, who have been here with us. God bless you, Martin, as you return to the field in England. Ah! I must hasten.
The face of the earth, and the light of God in it, even in the dark, dark, areas, dominated by atheistic Red Communism; I preached in Stockholm to the Philadelphia Holiness Church, the largest Free Church in Europe. There are so many things about that I would love to share with you, and maybe I can someday, sometime. At the morning hour, when I was done preaching, I had the people bow their heads, and I asked, “Anyone who would like for the visiting pastor to pray for you, would you raise your hand?”
In the audience were six Russian pastors. They were on their way to the Alliance. And when the people bowed their head—and through the interpreter I asked, “All of you that would like for the visiting preacher to name you before the throne of grace, to pray for you, would you raise your hand,” the six Russians who were there with an interpreter, the six Russians did not raise their hands. They stood up; all six of them stood up. “Pray for me, and pray for us.” I visited with them after the service, some of them from Siberia, some of them from provinces I had never heard of, some of them from Russia. They have been beat. They have been imprisoned.
As I read and listen to the story of the Christian faith in the communist world, it is exactly as I read the story of the Christian faith in the days of the Coliseum and the Roman Empire. This minute, this hour, the same kind, and the same type of persecution and oppression and godliness on the part of Christ’s people is in evidence in those communist’s lands. There was placed in my hand a little book that I read on the plane coming back. It was by a Soviet saint. He said, “I was imprisoned in a dungeon with about thirty other of my fellow Christians, and pushed into the prison dungeon was another. In the dim of the light we couldn’t make out his face, but when finally we saw him, to our amazement, we were looking upon the captain of the secret police who had arrested us, who had beat us and tortured us. He was a prisoner now with us.”
What happened was this: upon a day, a soldier came to the captain of the secret police saying, “There is a twelve-year-old boy who is asking to see you.” Intrigued by what a twelve-year-old boy would like to say, the captain replied to the soldier, “Let him come in,” and a shy little boy, twelve years of age, entered into the room with the captain with a bouquet of flowers in his hand.
He addressed the captain of the secret police, and said, “Comrade Captain, you are the one who arrested and took away my mother and my father. Today is my mother’s birthday. I have always on my mother’s birthday brought her a bouquet of flowers to make her happy, but now, because of you, I have no mother. My mother was a Christian who taught me that we ought to love our enemies [Matthew 5:44], and to do good to them who persecute us [Matthew 5:44]. So, Comrade Captain,” the lad said, “I have brought these flowers that you might give them to the mother of your children, and do so with my love and prayers.” Just exactly how would you explain a thing like that to the mother of his children, and to your children?
As the days passed, the captain found it increasingly difficult to arrest, much less to torture those innocent people, so he began to refuse to arrest them, and finally began to defend the Christian people, suffering so, and then embraced the faith that he once destroyed, and now a fellow prisoner with God’s people in the dungeon. This is the substance out of which God is making the kingdom of heaven. O Lord, to us may grace be given to follow in their train.
Our time is so far spent. In a moment when we stand to sing our appeal, a family you, wife, children, all of us, a couple, or just you, on the first note of the first stanza, come, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways, on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “Today, pastor, I make it now. Here I am.” Make the decision in your heart this moment, and when you stand up, stand up walking down that stairway, walking down this aisle, to us and to the Lord. Make it now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
OF THE WORLD
I. Cold and frozen
A. Over the top – Hong
Kong to Paris, France
1. Ice fields so
close to England – the Gulf Stream
2. The sun never
II. Fear, foreboding and dread
A. Triumph of communism
1. Landing plane
near the DMZ
B. Couple with shop in
Guam; merchantman with a condo in Florida
III. Illimitable spiritual indifference
A. Russia – churches in
ruins, or turned into museums
B. My impression of the
free world – nobody goes to church
IV. Hope and revival
hours of deepest darkness, eras of despair and defeat, God visits His people
with revival(Revelation 7)
Our meeting in Hong Kong – 1,435 decision cards
in South Korea
England – our intern program
Stockholm – praying for Russian pastors
captain of the secret police a fellow prisoner with Christians