Hope in Despair
August 29th, 1976 @ 10:50 AM
HOPE IN DESPAIR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-29-76 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you who are sharing this service on radio and on television. You are listening to a message by the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. It is entitled Hope in a Despairing World. As a background, not in anywise as a passage to expound, I read from the Revelation the message of our Lord to the martyr church of Smyrna, the only church of the seven for which He has no condemnation. Beginning at verse 8 of Revelation 2 [Revelation 2:8]:
And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the First and the Last, which was dead, and is alive;
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty—
actually you are rich—
and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan.
Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: but be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the
churches . . .
It has been my thought that at the conclusion of long journeys around this earth, that I would speak of some of the impressions that have been made upon my soul. Last year, you remember, we went around the world, last month with our Chapel Choir to England and to Continental Europe. And day before yesterday, I returned from a journey to Australia, and because of the vast difference to the bottom side of that continent, to Melbourne, to the islands of the South Pacific, to Fiji and to Tahiti. And the message concerns some of the impressions that have been made upon me as I look at this world. They are by no means unique on my part, because with television, and radio, and magazine, and newspaper, you are as aware of them as I am, but just to summarize them as I see it in my own eyes.
First: my deep impression that communism is spreading with increasing ferocity and oppressiveness over this whole world. Little by little, these enemies of God are breaking off chunks and pieces from the free world. It will be a South Vietnam, and the next day a Laos, a next day a Cambodia; then the following day, a Mozambique, and a day later, an Angola. In every hemisphere on every continent, communism mercilessly and ruthlessly is pressing its inroads into modern civilization.
One of the men in our General Council of the Baptist World Alliance said to me last week, “Communism is the greatest curse the civilized world has ever known.” And in my opinion, it is the most merciless and implacable foe that Christianity has ever faced. Its oppressiveness is felt. In our General Council of the Baptist World Alliance are representatives from countries behind the iron curtain; there are none from China, but there are from Russia, from Czechoslovakia, from Yugoslavia, from Poland, from Hungary. The word “communism” is never used in the General Council. Those men are there, and when they go back, they are drilled and grilled concerning every word that is spoken and every attitude that is portrayed. I listened to one of the men as he was speaking of Thailand and of the guerrillas around the border of Thailand who are pressed into that country by Hanoi, going through Laos and Cambodia. But the word “communist” was never used; the word was “insurgent”; for the oppression that lies upon those people in these communist nations, for us, is indescribable.
One of the women from Hungary who was attending a meeting of the Alliance in Zurich, Switzerland, was told as she left the nation, “You may go, but if you attend the meeting, we are not responsible for what will happen to your family back home.” She went to Zurich and stayed in her room the entire time, never attending a single meeting. One of the men said, “I believe I would rather go to prison than to endure the three days of intensive interrogation when I return.” Those people who name the name of Christ in those communist lands do so against insuperable odds. It is my hope that Sidka, who is pastor of the church in Moscow, with two or three of his fellow preachers from Russia will be here in this pulpit next November. I would like for you to see and to hear these men for yourself. The free world is somewhat insensitive and then in some places most sensitive to the encroachment of the spread of communism. Walking down the street of Sidney, Australia, I saw a large placard. I read it: “Cambodia dies in silence.” I went closer and then read the whole poster. It read: “While we sit still” then the great caption, “Cambodia dies in silence.” Then continued: “And the communists slaughter their enemies.” And below, on the bottom was a large picture. It was a man with his hands tied behind his back, on his knees, and above him, a communist soldier with both hands raising high a bloody sword, ready to strike. And before our very eyes, these nations, one by one, are coming under the bloody aegis and the sharp sword of communist oppression. It is not a waning movement; it is a waxing movement, and it has in it untold terrors for the Christian world.
Another impression that I have of our world is that it is one in which terrorism and atrocity and violence is increasingly accepted as a way of life. It touches all of us, this new day of violence and the possibility of terror. There is no place in the world where you can get on an airplane without first either being electronically or personally searched. It is true out here at Love Field; it is true at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. It is a reflection of the terror under which the entire world lives. Just two or three days ago, there were brought back to America the bodies of our American soldiers who were hacked to pieces with axes by the North Koreans in the neutral zone that separates South and North. Last year in the great city of Seoul, you could not but be conscious of the fact that just three miles away is that DMZ. And I can easily imagine the hero worship that has come to those brutal, merciless, ruthless murderers from North Korea for taking axes to hack our American soldiers to pieces. This is a way of modern life.
It was an interesting experience that I had, going around Tahiti; I mean, literally going around. Tahiti is a little island, it is eighty miles around. And in a little minibus I was seated by the driver, and the other passengers behind. And we went all the way around the island. I just wanted to see it. Being up there seated by the driver, I began talking to him. The Tahitians are a fine-looking people. They are large. They are very bronze and black-headed. This Tahitian, I would say, was at least six feet four inches tall, very firmly and muscularly built, and very knowledgeable. So as we made the tour around the island, I asked him, “What are all of those blue and white flags, house after house after house?”
He said, “That is our Tahitian flag and we are waving it in defiance.”
Well, I said, “What are you defying?”
He says, “We are defying the French.” Tahiti, the islands of that part of the Pacific all are a part of the French empire.
Well, I said, “Why are you defying the French?”
Well, he said, “We want to be our own. We want to negotiate our own destiny among the nations of the world.” He said, “These French levy an import duty of 75 percent of everything that comes from France, 83 percent on everything that comes from Australia and 110 percent on everything that comes from the United States of America.” He said, “I have no shoes. I cannot buy them.” He says, “Shoes cost more than sixty dollars a pair.” Then, having come to the home of Marlon Brando, he says, “That is where Marlon Brando lives with his Tahitian wife, and he owns a little island beyond on which is a hotel. And he’s making a lot of money on the hotel.” Then he continued, “But we’re going to throw them out.”
Well, I said, “How many French are there in Tahiti?”
He said, “Out of a population of about 90,000, 15 percent are French.”
Well, I said to him, “Without guns and without ammunition, how are you going to throw them out?”
He said, “We don’t need guns. We don’t need ammunition.” He said, “We have knives and we have axes and we will slay and slaughter and slash and cut.” And that man turned into somebody else. I looked at him in amazement! This Tahitian, driving that bus as a tourist guide—so gracious, so formal, so courteous, so ready to answer—as he began speaking about the knives and the axes, and the slaughter, and the slashing, he looked like a wild man. And he said, “We shall take them, one family at a time, until they all are slain or gone.”
That is not unusual in this modern world. Just as I was leaving, there came these headlines of the capture of an Air France plane from Tel Aviv that had landed in Athens, flown under duress to Libya and then down to Entebbe, the airport for Kampala, the capital of Uganda. I had been all through Uganda with Jim Hooten, our missionary. And under Idi Amin, a literal butcher, these helpless captives lay down like sheep before the slaughter.
Where does that come from? From two places: one, Russia—the bloody hand of Russia, and in that part of the world, the financing of Gaddafi the iron dictator of Libya, who disposes the vast billions of the oil riches under the sands of Libya for the purpose of bloody murder and atrocity all over the Middle East and Africa, with no conscience and no condemnation of the impossible terror that is brought to innocent people who have done him nor us any wrong; yet thrusting the whole world into a living terror. It is a modern way of life. You would have no trouble in Rhodesia, you would have no trouble in South Africa, were it not for these bloodthirsty outsiders who seek to devastate and to capture the land for themselves. Don’t ever persuade yourself that it is because of great inward love for the oppressed minorities that they do these things. They do them for themselves. And the oppression that they bring to a land is a thousand times more harsh and more cruel than the so-called deliverance of the oppressed that they say they have come to free.
One of the most pathetic papers I ever heard was read to our General Alliance by the representative from South Africa. He also, I hope, will come here and stand in this pulpit and speak to you for himself. Some of our finest families in the church are from South Africa. I said, “You would be among friends and you would be most welcome.” It is that kind of a world in which we live.
This is not from a religious magazine. Closing paragraph—you’d think so. I picked up a magazine in Australia. And I am going to read some of the paragraphs from it:
Every year, several more countries are seized and taken over as a bridge head for the coming world war. And the whole world stands and does nothing. Even the oceans are being taken over and need one tell you British what that means and what the seas will be used for? In Russia alone, as the great statistician Professor Kurganov has shown, one hundred ten million lives have been heartlessly sacrificed between 1917 and 1959 to communist ideology and to the brutal and blood-stained bureaucratic despotism by which it has been enforced on a helpless people.
The more vocal part of the younger generation, both in Europe and in America has been and is being taught to denigrate and revile the virtues—truthfulness, honesty, courage, tolerance, industry, which have built the house in which civilized man lives and has his being. Above all, they are being taught, often in the name of high-sounding abstractions like pacifism, equality and anti-racism, to hate, and the inevitable fruit of hatred, to destroy. What is the consequence? Sometimes a single concrete example is more telling than a wealth of abstract generalization. Recently, a gang of terrorists, armed with Russian automatic weapons and bent on carrying murder into Rhodesia, in the name of that theoretic “racial equality” which socialists all the world over proclaim as the supreme political goal of all mankind, and the justification for every act of cruelty or destruction which can be thought to further it, burst in on a native Rhodesian village. In an attempt to inflict terror on its inhabitants, they seized a native Christian. When he refused to aid them, he was beaten and had his ears, lips, and nose cut off. Then they forced his wife with a gun at her head to roast them at a open fire and eat them. His mother was flung to the ground, her thighs forced open and a burning log thrust between them. This is what can happen to human beings, and what human beings are capable of doing, when Christ’s creed of mercy…
This is not a religious magazine, it is a daily, it is a Sunday supplement in a daily newspaper:
This is what can happen to human beings, and what human beings are capable of doing, when Christ’s creed of mercy and love is discarded and the devil’s hideous dogma and ideology of hatred, envy, and destruction are enthroned in its place.
[cited in Illustrated London News; Vol. 264, Issue 2, 1976]
And that’s what is happening in the whole world. Turning aside from the virtues and blessings of the gospel of the Son of God, in the name of high-flown ideological generalizations, peace, pacifism, anti-racism, equality, in those generalizations, they are thrusting upon this world horror, and terror, and cruelty, and violence beyond what the world has ever known.
All of it would be so full of sadness and despair were it not for the Christian faith that was born in blood and fire and persecution. Looking at it humanly, it might be that we would be drowned in the floodtide of blood and war. Not so. We were born, the faith came into being in persecution, born in the fagot, and the stake, and the fire, and the dungeon, and the prison; born under the merciless hammering of atheism and godlessness, paganism, heathenism. Over and above and beyond all of the terror of these new revolutionaries stands the glorious Son of God, ruler of heaven, and some day, King over the earth [Revelation 11:15].
I felt that most poignantly, deeply, movingly, when our Chapel Choir sang last month in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. The fact that they were there was an astonishment to me. But the place where they sang was an even more amazing reality. Notre Dame, at one time, had an altar high in the same location as you will see it in St. Peter’s in Rome—in the center of the great nave and transept on either side—the chancel beyond, the nave here and the transept on either side. And our Chapel Choir, with their instruments and minister of music, was seated, situated in the very heart and center of the cathedral where the great altar once stood. I sat there with the throng, listening to those young people sing the praises of God, and I thought of the days of the years that had passed.
That day, I had walked around in the Place de Concorde where the first guillotine was placed. And in those years, beginning in 1790, of the French Revolution and the terror it brought with it; so many of the noblest flowers of France, including her King Louis the XVI and Marie Antoinette, his wife, all beheaded by the guillotine. So many were slain that the great square was soggy with human blood. And they had to take the guillotine and place it in this part of the city and that part and in that part. They were days and they were years of unmitigated, unrelieved terror. And those revolutionaries seized the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and they dedicated it to the goddess of atheism and promiscuity. There at the high altar, they raised high and sat on it a Parisian street prostitute, and they drank to her, and saluted her, and praised the goddess of atheism and promiscuity. And as you know, in a Catholic church people will build chapels to the saints around; and in the chapels around, they made brothels. They destroyed the great rose window on the left side. In every way that a revolutionary could do it, did they desecrate that beautiful house of the Lord. In that exact place, where the high altar once stood, in the exact place where the revolutionaries had lifted high that prostitute and drank and sang to the goddess of atheism—in that exact place, I sat in Notre Dame Cathedral and listened to our choir sing the praises of Jesus. And as you’ve heard them, when they came to the glorious and final number:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah! His truth is marching on.
[“Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory,” Julia Ward Howe]
The great throng stood up and applauded, as they sang that marvelous hymn. Some of the people came to me after it was over and said, “Did you stand up and lead that applause? You did that.” I said, “No, I did not do it.” I said, “These people in front of me, foreigners to me, they were from all over everywhere, they stood up and began to applaud. And I stood up and applauded with them.” His truth is marching on. As the Scriptures say, “He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till He hath set justice and judgment in the earth” [Isaiah 42:4]. Our world will not be conquered by atheism and communism. This world belongs to God; He made it [Genesis 1:1-31]. This world belongs to Christ; He redeemed it [1 Peter 1:18-19]. And some glorious day mine eyes shall see the coming of the glory of the Lord [Revelation 1:7].
Lord God, in the book You have written in heaven, write my name among those who believe and trust in Jesus [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]. And our Lord, when the great demarcation is made, let me stand on the side of those who love our Lord, who believe in the virtues of the Christian faith. And count me among those; blessed God, who are seeking to mediate to an oppressed world the hope that we have in Christ Jesus. And as we pray for our brethren so oppressed, who live in areas that for us are indescribable—while we pray for them, Lord, help us here in this place where we stand to be counted for God, to stand tall, and straight, and strong, and sun-crowned for Him. And please God, keeping our nation Christian, the doors of our churches open, the mouths of our preachers free to proclaim the glorious gospel of the Son of God, let it begin here with us in this sacred place and in this dear church.
We are going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And in the balcony round, and in the throng on this lower floor, down a stairway, down an aisle, “Here I come, pastor, and here I am. Enroll me with the people of the Lord. I will pilgrimage with you to the glory that is yet to come. I am taking the Lord as my Savior” [Romans 10:8-13], or “I am putting my life in the circle of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25]. My whole family is coming, pastor, my wife and my children.” Or just you, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now. And in this moment when we stand to sing, stand walking down that stairway, coming down that aisle, “I am on the way, pastor, here I am.” May God’s angel attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.