The Face of the World
August 3rd, 1975 @ 10:50 AM
THE FACE OF THE WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-3-75 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you on radio and on television to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Face Of The World. I have a precedent in what I do this morning in the fourteenth chapter of Acts and the twenty-seventh verse. From Paul’s missionary first journey, returning to an Antiochian church who sent him out, the Word says: “And when they were 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” [Acts 14:27]. This is a title that gives me opportunity to observe what I think is a true picture of our modern world; the Face of the World. What would you think it to be like and how would you describe it? Is it scared? Is it scarred? Some would way it is pimply and pockmarked. It is hurt, it is hungry. It is filled with fear and foreboding. It has in it hope and revival; the face of the world.
This is the third time that I have been around the world. And to my great surprise, so much of it is cold and frozen. I had a professor in a university, in a church where I pastored, who argued with me that the world was flat. That was a strange thing coming from an intellectual and a professor, but apparently he believed it, so I said to him, “How could it be flat when I have flown around it?”
He said, “You have just flown around on a flat surface. You have not flown over it. Nor has anybody else.” The professor is now in a happy hunting ground for academicians to teach, but I wish he were so that I could tell him at long last, I have flown over it—over the Arctic, over the Pole, over the great barren waste and ice lands of the northern part of the world. It was indeed a thrilling and new experience to me flying from Hong Kong over the great Arctic Circle to Paris, France. As you look at the world below you in northern Alaska and finally the territories of northern Canada, vegetation and life gradually fade away, and the tundra is barren and waste. Then, coming to the Arctic Ocean, the water; then little round blobs of brilliantly reflected light, little floating ice; then more of it; and finally, great vast fields of ice—ice floes. Some of them it seemed to be miles in diameter—the whole earth floating in broken ice, then finally, the unbroken ice of the Arctic Ocean itself—from horizon to horizon, one great solid ocean of ice. And over Greenland—first time I ever saw that vast island. Whoever the missionary was who wrote the missionary hymn: “From Greenland’s icy mountains to India’s coral strand”; I wonder if he had ever been in Greenland? He described it exactly. The great island is one solid series of choppy mountains, covered in ice and snow and, to my amazement, great rivers—vast rivers. This is July—all of it frozen fast. I wonder how those rivers run and how the waters ever gather together.
I am amazed at how close to England the ice fields are. They are just right there, just up north. England is in the same parallel with northern Canada, yet England and the Scandinavian countries and northern Europe all are so salubrious in climes and so beautiful and emerald in color. How is that? It is because of something God did. Gathering His warm waters in the equatorial South Atlantic and in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, the Lord has created a great river called the Gulf Stream—fifty miles wide and one mile deep—as separate in the North Atlantic as though it had banks of soil and ground. And that great, mighty river of warmth laves the shores of the British Isles and all of northern Europe and makes it habitable and fruitful; a miracle of God.
One of the strangest things is, up there at the north, the sun just goes around and around. It never sets in the summertime; just around and around. I had been in Fairbanks, Alaska on a preaching mission and saw the sun just dip below the horizon, stay light day and night just like this. But I never had seen the sun just go around like that—stay up there in the sky, never set. And that is the way it is in the summertime around the North Pole—the sun just rolling around, rolling around. As I looked at it here and then finally around, I thought of that popular song. Do you remember it?
Down here we sweat and toil
And agonize and pray
And work our lives away
But that lazy old sun
Ain’t got nothing to do
But to roll around heaven all day.
[from “That Lucky Old Sun,” Haven Gillespie and Beasley Smith]
Oh, my! The face of the world; it is a face of fear, of foreboding, and of dread.
When the plane landed in the great airport of Seoul, Korea, I had another new experience. Here, and a few yards there, and beyond from one side to the other side, the plane landed under the gun sites of anti-aircraft and machine guns. For you see, just maybe thirty seconds away by jet plane is the DMZ [Demilitarized Zone] that marks off the free world from the communist world of North Korea and China, and so much of this world lives under the gun sites of those who are either protecting or preparing for invasion in the name of the communist revolution. One of the most knowledgeable of men in the Orient said to me, “Detente may be pleasing to America, but it is a tragedy what it means to Malaysia, and to Indonesia, and to the Philippines, and to Japan, and to the countries of Eastern Europe; to Portugal, to the countries of Africa.” Next Sunday morning, I am going to do something I rarely ever do. I am going to deliver a political address in this pulpit. It will be entitled Death in Detente or Courting the Cancer and Curse of Communism. What is happening to our world in communist conquests and triumph is unbelievable. And it happens before our very eyes and under the surveillance of the governments of the free world. And the repercussion is found in the fear that grips the hearts of men expressed on its face.
Speaking to a third generation Baptist couple in Hong Kong in a beautiful shop—they have another shop in Guam and when they are asked why, they reply, “When,” not if, but “When the communists take Hong Kong, we will have a way and a place of escape.” Speaking to a rich merchantman in Paris, France, just across the street from the Louvre, in a beautiful shop—I suppose there is no item in it under ten thousand dollars, the kind of a merchant who would sell a painting for a million or two million dollars, many of them auctioned in Sotheby’s of London or Parke-Bernet in New York City—talking to him, I learned that he has a condominium in Florida. I said: “So you go there for your vacation?”
“No, I have never been there.”
“What? You own a condominium in Florida and not even seen it or been there? Why?” And his answer? “Not if, but when the communists seize France, I shall have a way and a place of escape.” There is a fatalism that has gripped the world of the inevitable triumph and conquest of communism that is unbelievable under God.
The face of the world; it is a face of vast indescribable spiritual indifference. I have been through Russia. I have walked through the streets of Leningrad, of Moscow, of Kharkov, of Kiev, of Odessa, the capital of the Ukraine. As I walk, I see a beautiful church. It is a railroad station. It is a warehouse. It is a museum. It is fallen into ruins. It is locked. And I think this is the curse of the Kremlin. But what is the difference if you walk the streets of the great cities of free Europe and the churches are locked, or fallen into ruins, or turn into museums?
My impression of the free world is not anybody goes to church. I am told that two percent do, but my impression is nobody does. In Copenhagen, one of the beautiful cities of the world, in the heart of it is a great mall, thronged with people, jammed with people. At the head of it is a beautiful cathedral, a magnificent pile, a great towering church with a spire that points to heaven. I made my way for certain to visit it, walked in, the great nave and the apse, the chancel and the aisle on either side. Walking in, expecting to see manifest the love of a great people for Almighty God—instead: this side, the aisle next to the nave on this side, a cheap, cheap display of modern art. Walking to the chancel where the great altar ought to be: boarded over with clapboard and plywood. The aisle on this side, next to the great towering nave: another display, cheap, cheap of modern art. And then just beyond, where the prayer chapel—one time, so many women bowed down in intercession and in prayer—a sorry hamburger joint; a restaurant. When I walked out of the great structure, I had an oppressiveness that weighed upon my heart in exactly the same way that I felt when I saw some of the great churches of Russia: granaries and warehouses.
In Delft, a beautiful city in Holland, facing the square, the great marketplace, the heart of the city is another glorious cathedral. I love to go in them, seeing the evidences of a devote and devout people. I was accosted at the door: “You must pay.”
I said, “What? You charge to enter the house of God?”
“No, no,” he said, “this is a museum. William of Orange is buried here. Artifacts—things of historical interest are presented here; it is a museum.” I said, “No, it is a church!”
“No,” he said: “it is a museum and you pay to enter in!”
It is hard to realize what has happened to the face of the world that one time glowed with the presence of the blessedness of God. The face of the world; it is also a face that portrays a light of hope and revival.
One of the strangest things in Christian history is this: that in hours of deepest darkness, and in eras of absolute despair and defeat, God visits His people with revival. It was so in the days of the judges. It was so in the days of the prophets. Out of a dry ground, without comeliness did our Lord appear. And it shall be so in the days of the great tribulation [Revelation 7:1-17]. The mightiest revival the world shall ever behold is in the seventh chapter of the Revelation—in the heart of the great tribulation. So it is in our world today. The face of the world that is so frightened, so scarred, in so many instances spiritually indifferent, is also a face that portrays a light of hope and resurrection.
In Hong Kong, in Hong Kong, a city of millions of people pressed together in poverty and need, in the church in which I preached, Daniel Chang, its pastor—a fellow member of the Executive Committee of the [Baptist] World Alliance—sat by my side in the committee meeting in Stockholm, turned to me and said, “From the crusade, I have one thousand four hundred thirty-five decision cards of those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior.” Day after day, night after night, to see people pour down the aisles of the church, looking in faith and hope to the blessed Jesus—in the one night at the stadium, the appeal God honored with a throng of hundreds, responding to the invitation of the Lord.
In South Korea, is happening now one of the great revivals of Christendom; we have two of our youngsters there as missionaries—Joe Gene Autry and his wife Kathleen. Oh, the work of God’s Spirit in that southern part of the Korean peninsula! We have in our churches something like forty thousand awaiting baptism. This Partnership Crusade of Dub Jackson has resulted in added thousands to the kingdom of the Lord. They invited me. “Stay,” they said, “and speak. We shall baptize at such and such hour, one thousand four hundred Korean soldiers.” I have never seen anything like that! Oh, I wish I could have stayed! “Speak” to them they said, “you would be an encouragement for them.” Think of one thousand four hundred soldiers being baptized at one time.
The largest Presbyterian church in the world is in Seoul, Korea. It is called the Young Nak Presbyterian Church, meaning “The Eternal Joy Presbyterian Church.” Some of the refugees from North Korea—and practically all of the Christians used to be in the north—some of the refugees came fleeing for their lives to the south, and a little handful of them built the church house. You know how big they built it? Seating two thousand five hundred people, a little handful of refugees! That great, vast church, they have five services every Sunday. Sunday morning, five services; and they jam it five times every Sunday morning. I picked up their bulletin for the Lord’s Day. They print their Sunday school attendance; adults present: seven thousand four hundred eleven, beside all of the rest that are present. Oh, what a marvelous thing! What a glorious thing! What God is doing; the brightness of the shining of His face in the earth [2 Corinthians 4:6].
And in England, you cannot know how much this meant to me personally; a sign of God’s blessing upon our intern program from Spurgeon’s College in London. In the service of one of the great Baptist churches in the world, a little handful of people there, the pastor prayed so earnestly for the Sunday school at 3:00 o’clock that afternoon, for the children. In it is built self-defeat: a child cannot come without an adult, and there is no program at the hour for the adult, and is built upon the assumption that the child needs to know the word of the Lord, but adults don’t need teaching. You find in the program a reason for the spiritual illiteracy of the whole nation. Give it time, at its present progress and there will not be a Baptist in the British Isles—not one. They are a dying family. So what it meant to me—visiting Hugh Bishop who was here one of our interns, pastor in London, he said to me, “Come January, this January, the first Sunday in January, and we shall have a Sunday school in the morning, with all of the ages: the adults, the youth, the children in January.”
We ate lunch with another one of our interns—Morris Markham, pastor in Coventry. And showing us his church and the provision for the educational facilities, he said to us, “In a few weeks our church will vote concerning having a Sunday school for all the people, gathering in the morning; on a Sunday morning. And we ate dinner with Lance Burkes, pastor of a Baptist church in Nuneaton—Nuneaton. And he said, “I cannot say we are doing it soon. I can say that we are having a Bible-centered preaching ministry which the church has never known; exalting the Word of God as you do in the pulpit of the First Church in Dallas. And he said, “Give us time, give us time and we shall gather our people also in a great Bible teaching program on a Sunday morning.” Oh, how encouraged I am! And Martin Forner: when he goes back and is pastor of a church with the other six that have already gone back, they shall rebuild that denomination in its visitation, in its Bible teaching, in its outreach, in its soulwinning. God is in it, and we have had a little part to bring it to pass: the face of the earth; a promise, hope, revival, resurrection, even in the dark and oppressive lands of atheistic communism.
In Stockholm, I preached at the Philadelphia Holiness Church, the largest Free Church in Europe. At the end of the morning service, I had the people bow their heads and through the interpreter asked, “Is there someone here who would like for the visiting pastor to pray for them? ‘Pray for me.’ Would you raise your hand?” All over the throng, hands were raised. In the service that morning were six Russian pastors. They sat over there together, the six of them listening through their interpreter, and when I said, “All of you who would like for the visiting minister to pray for you, hold up your hand,” people all through the throng held up their hands, but the Russians stood up. All six of them stood up! “Pray for me. Pray for me.” I visited with them after the service was over—from Siberia, from provinces I never heard of, the names I cannot pronounce, and from Russia. Men who know the hardship of torture and imprisonment, who paid for their faith with their very blood; as I listened, and as I read, the Christianity behind those dark, lowered curtains is like the Christianity that I read in the days of the Roman Coliseum and the Roman Empire; faithful unto death [Revelation 2:10].
In my hands, in a little book that I read returning to America: in Russia, there were something like thirty of the Christians huddled together in a foul and dark dungeon. Another prisoner was pushed in. In the semi-darkness of the cell, they could not see who he was, but in close scrutiny they were amazed to recognize the face of the captain of the secret police. This is the man who had arrested them and had tortured them, now, pushed into prison among them.
The story was this: as captain of the secret police, one of the soldiers came to him and said: “Sir, there is a twelve-year-old boy who wants to see you.” Intrigued by what a lad would like to say, he said to the soldier: “Bring him in.” So there stood before the captain of the secret police, a shy little twelve-year-old boy with a bouquet in his hands. He mustered up enough courage to say, “Comrade Captain, you are the one who arrested and took away my mother and my father. Today is my mother’s birthday, and I have always given my mother, on her birthday, a bouquet of flowers to make her happy. I have now no mother because of you. My mother was a Christian,” the little lad said, “and she taught us to love our enemies [Matthew 5:44], and to pray and to do good to those who persecute you [Matthew 5:44]. So I am bringing the bouquet of flowers for you, that you might give them to the mother of your children. And do so, Comrade Captain, with my love and my prayers.”
How do you explain that to your wife and to your children? As the days passed, the captain of the secret police found it increasingly impossible to arrest innocent men and women who loved Jesus, much less to torture them. He finally refused to do it. He finally defended them in their love for God and began to champion the faith that he once destroyed. And that is why he is a fellow prisoner in a dungeon with thirty other Christians.
This moment, this day, we read again the same stories and the same triumph of the Christian faith that we read in the days when the Christians were fed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum.
The face of the world; dark, foreboding, fearful, indifferent, but in it a promise, a light, a glory, a revival, a resurrection; and when Jesus comes again, He will find a band awaiting His return—even in China, even in Russia, even in Eastern Europe and in the nations of the world. They will be standing to receive Him in glory, and in honor, and in love when He comes again [Revelation 7:9-10; Philippians 2:9-11]. Oh, bless His name! How thankful I am to be enrolled among those who look in faith to our blessed Jesus [Ephesians 2:8-9].
Our time is far spent. In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and thus to stand by the side of God’s people, would you come too? In the balcony round there is a stairway on either side, at the front and the back, in the press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front: “Here I am, pastor, and here I come. I am bringing my wife and my family. We are all coming today.” Or just a couple you, or just you, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand walking down that stairway or walking down this aisle. Make it now, do it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.