Everywhere Preaching the Word
July 31st, 1977 @ 8:15 AM
EVERYWHERE PREACHING THE WORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-31-77 8:15 a.m.
And could I add a personal word of welcome to the great number of visitors who are worshiping with us this sacred hour, and also, to tell those who share this service on radio, the radio of the city of Dallas and the beautiful stereo radio station of KCBI, how glad we are that you are listening to us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Everywhere Preaching the Word.
In our preaching through the Book of Acts, the last time I stood in this pulpit three weeks ago, I concluded with the seventh chapter, which is a moving description of the martyrdom of Stephen, God’s first Christian martyr [Acts 7:54-60]. Now we begin today at chapter 8:
And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.
First, we, looking at this text, are reminded of a tremendously spiritually important and significant truth, namely, that the whole community of Christians is to be witnesses for the Lord. They all are to be preachers, they all are to be missionaries, all are to be soulwinners, the whole Christian community. “They that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” [Acts 8:4]; do you suppose that they who were scattered abroad were just preachers? Just apostles? “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” Who are these “they who were scattered abroad, all of them, preaching the word”?
There was a young fellow who was talking to a fellow Christian, trying to persuade him that he ought to be a witness for Christ, that he ought to be a soulwinner, that he ought to testify to the grace of the blessed Jesus. And to confirm his appeal he read this passage, “All them that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word,” all of them [Acts 8:4]. And the young fellow to whom he was making appeal replied, “But that does not apply to me. That applies to the preachers. That text applies to the apostles; it was to them that the Lord gave the commission. They were to go everywhere preaching the word, and they fulfilled that Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20]. ‘They that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word,’ that applies to the apostles.”
Then the young fellow said, “Would you mind reading the first verse?” So he read the first verse:
At that time there was a great persecution against the church at Jerusalem;
and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
What happened there—and I don’t want to take time to enter into its delineation—what happened there was the persecution was against the Hellenists, these Greek-speaking Jews, these foreign-born Jews of which Stephen was a pristine and beautiful and magnificent example. But those Aramaic-speaking Jews were unmolested; it was these Hellenists, these men who had a conception of the Christian faith that brought a new turn in the gospel of Christ, and it was against them that this tremendous persecution raged. And these Hellenists went everywhere preaching the gospel, testifying to the loving grace of Jesus our Lord [Acts 8:1, 4].
Now isn’t that a message for us today? That all of us are to be preachers, all of us are to be witnesses, all of us are to be soulwinners. Did you realize that that was the way the Christian church and faith was propagated in the first centuries? There has never been an era in the Christian faith, in its history, where it was so powerful, so regnant, so dynamic, as it was in the first three centuries. And the faith was propagated by all of the people who believed in the Lord.
For example: Lydia of Thyatira was a drummer; she sold piece goods. When it says in the Bible she was a seller of purple, that is she sold cloth—and Thyatira was world famous in its dyes, one of which was purple—but the phrase “she was a seller of purple” [Acts 16:14], referred to the fact that she was a seller of piece goods. She went from town to town and from house to house, selling piece goods, selling cloth.
When I was a little boy, I used to see drummers who would come to our home and sell piece goods to my mother, who could sew beautifully. That’s Lydia; wherever she went, there was she a witness to the goodness of God and the grace of the Lord in Christ Jesus. Especially was that true with the soldiers, such as Cornelius [Acts 10], the centurion of the Italian band in Caesarea, the capital of the Roman province of Judea. Wherever the soldiers went, there did they testify to the loving grace of Jesus Christ. There was no such thing in those first three Christian centuries—the time of the greatest power of the witnessing church and community—there was no such thing as that paid preachers, and paid missionaries, propagated the faith of the Lord. They all were witnesses, “They that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” [Acts 8:4].
A man said to a stranger, “What do you do? What is your business? What is your job?” And he replied, “I am an attorney at law to pay expenses; but my business and my job is serving Jesus.” That’s it. Paid preachers, paid clergymen, always have a tendency to be at ease in Zion. Hiding behind their velvet robes, and staying inside their beautiful sanctuaries, surrounded by their stained-glass windows; all paid preachers, all hired clerks, clergy, have a tendency, all of them, to be at ease in Zion.
One of the astonishing things that I looked upon when I was a young man: the pastor of our church—the First Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas—an illustrious and distinguished man, resigned that affluent pulpit and accepted a position in the North. And in explaining to the people the inexplicable to us; why he did that, he answered in part, with this: he said, “A survey has been made of this denomination in the North. And a part of that survey reads like this: 7,000 churches with 7,000 pastors preaching 526,000 sermons last year, and not one convert, and not one baptism.” Can you conceive of that? It made a terrific impression upon me as a young man: 7,000 churches in the North, 7,000 pastors and preachers, delivering 526,000 sermons and not one convert, not one baptism. Behind their velvet robes, inside their beautiful sanctuaries, looking out upon their stained-glass windows, and the world dying without God: I must remember that myself.
Then we look at the blessing of persecution, the purpose of tragedy. Is this sad? Is this tragic? This terrible raging hatred against these Hellenists, these Greek speaking Jews. This is the tragedy: verse 2, “Devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him” [Acts 8:2]. To them it was an unspeakable sadness and tragedy, the martyrdom of Stephen. Stephen was a layman, he was a deacon. But they could not withstand the power, the heavenly unction by which he testified to the blessed Jesus. So they silenced his voice. They could not answer him. Saul of Cilicia—in the Cilician synagogue, in which Stephen was speaking—Saul couldn’t answer him. So they silenced him with stones, they stoned him to death [Acts 7:59-60]. “And devout men picked up his body, and buried him, with great lamentation” [Acts 8:2], indescribable sorrow.
And as though that were not enough, look at the next verse, “And as for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women, committed them to prison” [Acts 8:3]. That is not strange, or unique, or peculiar; that’s been the story of the Christian faith ever since. And that is the story of the Christian faith in two-thirds of the population of the world today. We have Baptist preachers by uncounted numbers who are rotting in prisons and in dungeons this present moment. “And as for Saul, he made havoc of the church . . . haling men and women committing them to prison” [Acts 8:3].
Then in verse 1, the tragedy, “At that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem” [Acts 8:1]. There is no tragedy, there is no sorrow, there is no sadness, there is no sickness, there are no heartaches and heartbreaks, there are no tears, there are no disappointments but have in them God’s meaning and God’s purpose. Any time sorrow or sadness comes into your life God is saying something to you. It has meaning, profound meaning. Anything good and happy that comes into your life, we bless the name of God for it, as Deacon Robertson did down here. We thank God for the blessings of the day, and we praise the Lord for them, and our enrichment of life; all the gifts that sustain us. But when sadness comes, and sickness comes, and sorrow comes, and tragedy comes, and tears come, that is God speaking to us. There is always purpose in the disappointments, and frustrations, and sadnesses of life—always. God is saying something. What is God saying? There is purpose in tragedy, in sorrow, in sadness.
Here in my text it is very apparent: that church in Jerusalem, flourishing in Jerusalem, oh! The blessings of God upon that church are just indescribable as you read it here in the Bible. I just can’t imagine, I can’t enter into such a congregation as that; growing from a hundred twenty [Acts 1:15] to at least fifty thousand—at least fifty thousand! And the signs, and the wonders, and the miracles, and the apostles there to witness to the wonderful grace of the Lord Jesus; oh! It was like heaven. Then the heavy hand of persecution fell upon it; havoc, imprisonment [Acts 8:1, 3], and they were scattered abroad [Acts 8:4]. Purpose? Is God allowing this for a reason? Oh! That’s the whole aftermath of the story.
The next verse and I begin there tonight with Philip, “And Philip, one of the deacons [Acts 6:5], Philip went down to Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” [Acts 8:5]. And then he is over there in Gaza, and he is preaching to the treasurer of Ethiopia [Acts 8:26-39]—the beginning of the Coptic Church—then in the next chapter is the marvelous conversion of Saul [Acts 9:1-18], raising havoc in the church [Acts 8:3, 9:1-2]. Then follows in the eleventh chapter the scattering of these Hellenists, who finally came down to Antioch; and they were called Christians first in Antioch because of the tremendous influence and power they brought for God into that heathen Greek city [Acts 11:19-26]. Then in the thirteenth chapter there is the first marvelous far-flung missionary program under Paul and Barnabas [Acts 13:2-3]; Saul of Tarsus and [Barnabas] “the son of consolation” [Acts 4:36]. All arising out of this persecution against the church at Jerusalem, “They that were scattered abroad went every where, preaching the word” [Acts 8:4].
There is always purpose in our sorrows, and tragedies, and sadnesses, and heartaches, and disappointments, and tears; God working some wondrous thing in our lives. Look, I stood one time in Calcutta, India—in the William Carey Memorial Baptist Church—I stood reading a beautiful dedication in white marble, just above and beyond the baptistery in that Baptist church. It was incised, deeply carved into that white marble, “In gratitude to God for the baptism,” at such and such date “of Adoniram Judson, Anne Hasseltine Judson, his wife; and Luther Rice, a bachelor,” bachelor all of his life; all three of them were baptized in that baptistery. They had been sent out, the first missionaries from America, by a Congregational board. But reading the Greek New Testament in the long journey from America to India, when they landed on the soil of India they said, “We are Baptists!” And they were baptized in that baptistery; that cut them off of course from any missionary support. So Luther Rice came back to the little warring, struggling, debating Fifth-Sunday meetings of these separated Baptist churches on the eastern seaboard, and going up and down organized them into the first convention of churches—into the first association of churches—organized the first mission board; founded the first college in Washington D.C., Columbia Baptist College, and cemented and put together those Baptist churches as a great world- wide witnessing communion.
Standing there in that sacred place, then my mind went back to another time in the life of Adoniram Judson. His father was the pastor and the minister of the Congregational Church in Walden, Massachusetts. And he had been sent away to college—Providence College, in Providence, Rhode Island; now we know it as Brown University; it is our oldest Baptist university in America—so the young fellow came back to the home of his father and his mother, and announced to his father and mother, “I hereby deny the faith. I don’t believe in God, and I certainly don’t believe in Christ.” His preacher-pastor father and his godly devout mother could not believe what they were hearing. And the young fellow explained, “I have a friend in the college named Albert Winthrop. He is an infidel, and I am persuaded that he is right and you are wrong; and I am an infidel.” The father tried to speak to the boy. The mother burst into tears. But the young fellow announced, as the days passed, “I am leaving. I am going to see the world; wide open door for me, now that I have given up the faith.” So he left home an infidel. He had to admit in his heart, “I believe I can answer all of the arguments of my father, but the tears of my mother bother me.” Then he would remind himself, what would his brilliant friend Albert Winthrop think about his sentimental weakness, that the tears of his mother should weigh upon his heart? So Adoniram left home an infidel, renouncing the faith and to see the world. And like that prodigal boy, he lived it up [Luke 15:11-13].
And going through the northland of America, he asked lodging one night in a country inn. And the landlord said, “I have one room, and you can have it. However, you need to know this: that there’s a man in the next room to you who is dying, and I pray he will not disturb your sleep.” Adoniram contemptuously replied, “Death has no fear for me except pity for the one who is suffering.” So he went to bed next to the room of the man who was dying. And all through the night he listened to the convulsions, and to the agonies, and to the cries of the man in the room next to him who was dying. And however he might try, he could not get that sounding judgmental word out of his mind. “Dying—is he lost? Is he saved? Is he ready to die? Is he ready to meet God?” Then he thought, “What would my brilliant young friend Albert Winthrop say about me if he knew that here I am wondering whether the man who is dying in the next room is ready to meet God? What would he think about me? He would be disappointed in me, and ashamed of me.”
The next morning, Judson arose and dressed, and immediately sought the landlord and said, “How is that man, that sick man in the room next to me? How is he?” And the landlord replied, “He is dead.” Judson replied, “Did you know him?”
“Oh, yes! He’s a young fellow from Providence College.”
“Providence College? What’s his name?”
And the landlord replied, “His name is Albert Winthrop.”
It was an hour before Adoniram Judson could reconnect his thoughts and his train of thinking; he was shocked! He was paralyzed; his brilliant infidel friend, Albert Winthrop, dying and dead in the room next to him, in agony and in crying. He fell on his face, “Dear Lord God, forgive me my infidelity! Forgive me my denial of the faith. Forgive me, Lord, the waywardness, and sin, and debauchery of my life.”
He went back home to his father and his mother. He confessed his faith before the church. He entered Andover Theological Seminary; he was appointed the first missionary from America, and in India was baptized into the Baptist communion.
God has a purpose in all of the sorrows and tragedies in your life, all of them. God is speaking, God is saying, God is talking to you. It is a wonderful thing, a wonderful thing, when like Adoniram Judson, we fall down before the Lord and say, “Lord, I see Your hand in it all. I recognize God’s voice as He speaks to me. And Master, from this day and henceforth, I propose in heart and life to be a humble follower, and disciple, and believer in the Lord Jesus, my God and my Savior” [Romans 10:9-13]. That’s glory. And it is the providences of life that lead us to that confession of faith in His dear and precious name.
And that’s our appeal to your heart today, “This day, this hour, I accept the Lord Jesus as my Savior [Ephesians 2:8]. I ask Him to forgive me my sins [1 John 1:9]. I ask Him to come into my heart. And I ask baptism at the hands of His church [Acts 8:36-38]
. I want to be numbered among the people of God. “
“Pastor, I have already done that, I have been saved, I have been baptized; pastor I am coming by letter,” or by statement, “to put my life with you in this wonderful church.” As the Spirit of God will press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Come now, on the first note of the first stanza; down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor, I’m on the way.” God bless you and angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
PREACHING THE WORD
I. The witnessing community of the church
A. All Christians are
to be ministers, soul-winners
1. Never win the
world with paid preachers, missionaries alone
2. Tendency of
the paid clergy to be at home in Zion
II. The blessing of tragedy
A. The tragedy
1. Death of
Stephen (Acts 8:2)
2. Havoc in the
church (Acts 8:3)
persecution (Acts 8:1)
B. The purposed
1. Here in Acts
a. Scattering of the
seed of the Word (Acts 8:4)
b. Philip to Samaria,
Gaza, Ethiopia (Acts 8:5, 26)
c. Conversion of Saul
d. Hellenists to Antioch
(Acts 11, 13)
2. Speaking to us today