Everywhere Preaching the Word
July 31st, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
EVERYWHERE PREACHING THE WORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-31-77 10:50 a.m.
May God bless to all of our hearts the message the pastor delivers entitled Everywhere Preaching the Word. The last Sunday that I was here—two Sundays beyond—I closed with the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts. And in our preaching through this marvelous accounting and recounting of the expansion of the Christian faith over the civilized world, we begin now with verse 1 of chapter 8 [Acts 8:1]. The seventh chapter closed with the martyrdom of Stephen: God’s first Christian martyr. And the chapter closed, “He kneeled down, and cried, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” [Acts 7:60].
What a beautiful and precious way that the New Testament, the Christian faith, looks upon the death of the saints. Having said this, he fell asleep in the Lord, just finding peace and ultimate rest in Him. At the end of the service at 8:15 this morning, one of the children of Dick Berry came to me and said, “Did you know Mark Richards had just died? He was a friend of mine in school. I have known him since we were teenagers.”
I said, “I cannot believe that.”
“Yes,” the grandson said, “pastor, he was just seated in his chair and went away to be with the Lord.”
The New Testament calls that, we fall asleep in Jesus. That is where our word “cemetery” comes from. The Greek of that word is koimēterion, and it is the word for “sleeping place.” And when you take it into English—spell it out from Greek into English, it comes out in our language, “cemetery, sleeping place.” It is a Christian word, and it is a place where the Christians lay their beloved dead.
One of our members came to me two weeks ago and said, “My husband is to be cremated. He does not belong to our church, and he’s not a Christian. And the family is asking that he be cremated. What do you think about cremation?” I replied, “It is, of course, immaterial. God can put together the atoms and the molecules of our physical frame, however it is that we turn back into the dust and ashes out of which we were made, but,” I said, “cremation is a heathen practice. It would be impossible for the Christian to think in terms of burning the body.” That’s because the Christian faith arose out of the resurrection of Jesus our Lord [Matthew 28:1-6]. They carefully and lovingly laid the body of our Lord away [Matthew 27:57-61], and to have burned it, to the Christian is unthinkable.
So, the catacombs in Rome, when the Christian died—the Romans burned the body, like the Japanese. They burned the body—but the Christians in Rome, refusing to burn the body, laid their beloved dead away. And that’s where the catacombs came from. The catacombs were not hiding places for the Christians. They were hewn out underneath the city, those miles and miles of caverns, in order to bury, to lay away their beloved dead. They are asleep in the Lord, the body, until the day when the Lord comes and the dead are raised, spoken back to life, called into the glorious presence of our Savior with a new and a resurrected and a glorified body [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. So the New Testament refers to our death as falling asleep: “and he fell asleep” [Acts 7:60].
Now, begin at the first verse of 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.
And 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 everywhere preaching the word.
There are two things in that passage that I pray we have time for, to present to our hearts this morning hour. First, will you notice in my text: “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” [Acts 8:4]. That is, the whole Christian community were witnesses. They all were preachers. They all were ministers. They all were missionaries. They all were testifying to the grace of God in Christ Jesus. “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.”
There was a young fellow, talking to another young fellow, trying to get him to be a witness for Christ. And the other one, the one to whom appeal was being made, belonged to a church that you would call Hardshell. They were non-missionary, non-soulwinning. And the young fellow, in making appeal to him that he ought to be a soulwinner—he ought to testify to the grace of God—in making that appeal to him, his friend used this passage of Acts 8:4: “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.” “All of us ministers of Christ, witnesses to the Lord—and you ought to be.” And the young fellow who belonged to that non-missionary, non-progressive, non-soul-winning Hardshell church said, “Nay, but that refers to the apostles. The commission was given to the apostles. They were to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. That applies to the apostles. The commission was given to them, and they faithfully carried it out in their lifetime, in their generation. That passage refers to the apostles.” And then the young fellow said, “Would you read the first verse?”
So he read the first verse, “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” [Acts 8:1], except the apostles. Now we haven’t time to expatiate on that, but I think, in passing, the Aramaic-speaking, the Palestinian Jews, were not bothered. It was these Hellenists that were persecuted. It was these foreign-born, Greek-speaking Jews that were harried out of the land, one of which was Stephen, whom they bitterly and outrageously stoned to death [Acts 7:59-60].
All of us, not just the apostles—all of us are to be witnesses to the grace of God in Christ Jesus [1 Peter 3:15]. Don’t ever persuade yourself that we will win the world to Christ by paid preachers and paid missionaries. It never was so. It isn’t now. It never will be so. The most dynamic and powerful period in the story of the Christian church is encompassed in the first three Christian centuries. That little band, facing a world of idolatry and heathenism, won the entire civilized Greco-Roman Empire to the Christian faith [Acts 1:14-15]. How did they do that? They did it because all of the community of Christians were preachers, and ministers, and missionaries, and witnesses. All of them were, such as Lydia of Thyatira [Acts 16:14-15, 40]. She is in Philippi, across the Hellespont. Thyatira is in the middle of Asia Minor, the capital of the Pergamian kingdom, and she’s in Philippi. She is described as a seller of purple [Acts 16:14]. She was a drummer. In Thyatira, they used beautiful dyes to make piece goods. I remember, when I was a small boy, there used to come drummers to our house. And they’d lay out their goods before my mother, who would buy those piece goods. She was a beautiful and gifted seamstress, and she made beautiful dresses out of that clothing, out of that goods that she bought from the drummer. Lydia was like that. She was a seller of beautiful goods; beautiful silks and satins and piece goods. And wherever she went in her journey, she was a missionary, a witness to the grace of God, to the blessed Jesus.
Especially, in those first centuries, was that true of the soldiers. They did far more than any one group to spread the knowledge of Christ and the Christian faith, such as Cornelius, who was a centurion of the Italian band located in Caesarea, the capital of the Roman province of Judea [Acts 10:1]. Those soldiers, wherever they were, scattered the gospel message of Christ. They all were witnesses, and that is God’s purpose in us. It isn’t just the paid preacher or the paid missionary, but all of us are to be soulwinners and witnesses to the Lord Jesus [Matthew 28:19-20].
There was a man who was asked, “What do you do for a living? What is your job?” And he replied, “I am an attorney-at-law to pay expenses, but my business is, and my job is, witnessing to and serving the Lord Jesus.” That is the purpose of God in all of our lives in the entire Christian community. There is something about a paid minister, a paid preacher, the paid clergy, that has the tendency to clothe itself in velvet and in purple, and to live inside beautiful sanctuaries and behind stained-glass windows, and let the world die outside of the four walls of their beautiful church.
I remember, as a young man, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Amarillo, a gifted and marvelous minister of the Word of God, resigning that affluent pulpit and going north, accepting an assignment in the north. And, when he was asked the reason why he resigned his pulpit and accepted that responsibility in the north, he gave an illustration that burned itself in my soul. A survey had been made in the northern part of the United States. And the official report was this. There are seven thousand churches with seven thousand pastors, who last year that he was speaking of—last year preached 526,000 sermons without a single convert and without a single baptism!
Can you imagine? Could you conceive of a harsher indictment against the clergy than that; seven thousand preachers, pastoring seven thousand churches, delivering 526,000 sermons and not a convert, not one—not a baptismal candidate, not one. I remember his describing a church; a multimillion-dollar plant, a large staff, and one of the most famous preachers in America, and the year before, they had two for baptism. It is unthinkable, but that is your paid clergy! With increasing tendency, they are at ease in Zion. They love the plushness of a pulpit and of a church, and all of the accouterments—aesthetic, sensitive, and then let the world die without God and without hope.
Don’t ever persuade yourself that we’re going to win this world to Jesus by paid preachers and by paid missionaries. It never has been, it isn’t now, it never will be. According to the Word of God all of us are to be missionaries. We’re to be preachers. We’re to be ministers. We are to be witnesses to the truth of God in Christ Jesus. “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” [Acts 8:4].
Now my second great avowal, spiritual truth, taken out of the passage: there is always a blessing. There is a purpose of God in all suffering and tragedy. What is the tragedy here? Plainly, and as I began, the sadness and the sorrow that accompanied the stoning of this godly deacon, Stephen, verse 2 says, “And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him” [Acts 8:2]. That layman Stephen must have been a tremendous man of God; not an apostle, not a preacher, he’s a deacon [Acts 6:2-6], but, he spoke with such unction and such power that they were not able to withstand the wisdom by which he testified [Acts 6:10].
He was speaking in the synagogue of the Cilicians [Acts 6:9]. And Saul was from the capital city, Tarsus of Cilicia [Acts 22:3]. And that’s what burned the young man. He’s a theologue, He’s a student in the school of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3], but under the power and unction of this man, Stephen, he withered like burning grass [Acts 6:10]. And when this man, godly and able, this layman—when he was stoned to death, in the fury of their rage, Saul was consenting unto his death [Acts 8:1]. These fellow Christians made great lamentation over him as they buried him in the heart of the earth [Acts 8:2]. Sorrow and tragedy; you see it again in the third 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]: tragedy!
You think that’s a long time ago? Two-thirds of the population of the world today is just like that. There are scores—and we do not know how many—Baptist pastors and preachers who are rotting in dungeons today behind iron and bamboo curtains, suffering tragedy. “And as for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women and committing them to prison” [Acts 8:3]. I have had them describe to me that knock at the door. Two o’clock in the morning, three o’clock in the morning, a dreaded thing. That was this church here; haling men and women, committing them to prison [Acts 8:3].
What is this tragedy? Look at it. And at a time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were scattered abroad [Acts 8:1]. There is purpose and reason for God in all sorrow and in all suffering. There is a reason in God for every tear that is shed, every heartache that is felt, and every sorrow that overwhelms your life. There is no sickness, and no disappointment, and no frustration, and no despair, and no sadness in your life that does not have a purpose in it from the hand of God. In all sorrow and in all sadness, God is speaking to you.
Our happinesses; we praise God for it. Our joys; we thank the Lord for it. Our blessings and riches that sustain our lives; we praise His name for it. But it is in sadness, and sickness, and sorrow, and tragedy that God speaks to us. We need to listen to His voice. There is no tear that falls but the reason for it lies in some purpose of God for you.
So we see it here manifestly as the purpose of God unfolds in the Book of Acts. This church at Jerusalem, ah, it must have been like heaven, sweet as glory itself. They numbered already more than fifty thousand. They had the apostles to minister to them. Just think of listening to Simon Peter preach in power of the Holy Spirit [Acts 2:14-40]. Just imagine talking to John, the sainted apostle who leaned on the breast of the Lord at the Lord’s Table, at the Last Supper [John 13:23-25, 21:20]. Just imagine looking at those apostles and listening to them, and then, amazed at the wonders they did—even the shadow of Simon Peter, falling upon the sick, would heal them; raise them up [Acts 5:15]. Imagine a church like that. It was just glorious. It was just like heaven. It was just as though the Lord had poured out upon them the greatest blessings that even God could bestow. But the Lord sent trouble, and the Lord sent tragedy, and the Lord sent martyrdom and death, and the Lord sent persecution and havoc, and the church was scattered abroad [Acts 8:1]. There is a purpose in it.
In the next verse—and I begin there tonight, preaching tonight about another deacon called Philip [Acts 6:2-6]—Philip the soulwinner, Philip the evangelist. Philip, in that scattering of that first church; Philip went down to Samaria and preached Christ unto them [Acts 8:5], and then down to Gaza and preached Jesus to that Ethiopian eunuch, the treasurer of the nation of Ethiopia [Acts 8:26-39]; the beginning of the Coptic Church.
Then in the next chapter is the conversion of Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:1-18], who could not forget how Stephen died, and how he prayed and how he fell asleep in Jesus [Acts 7:59-60]. And then turn to the next chapters, and there is the story of these Hellenists, as they scatter over the Roman Empire and finally to Antioch, preaching the gospel [Acts 11:20]. And they are called Christians first in Antioch because of the tremendous effect they had upon that heathen Greek city [Acts 11:26].
Then, in the next chapter, the thirteenth chapter, there is the beginning of the worldwide missionary movement under Paul, Saul and Barnabas [Acts 13:1-3], the son of consolation [Acts 4:36], all of it arising out of the tragedy of the martyrdom of Stephen [Acts 7:59-60], and the havoc and persecution that scattered that church in Jerusalem [Acts 8:1-4]. Always, always in sorrow and in tears, in sickness, in death, in suffering, in agony, always God has a purpose, and God is saying something to you. God speaks in tears, and in sorrow, and in heartache. That is true through all of the centuries since this day of the Book of Acts, and it is true today.
It is like this. I stood one time before the baptistery of the William Carey Memorial Baptist Church in Calcutta, India. And on the other side of the baptistery, above and facing me, was a large, white marble plaque. And incised in the beautiful white marble tablet was the announcement that this is the place where Adoniram Judson and Anne Hasseltine Judson and Luther Rice were baptized into the Baptist faith and into the Baptist communion.
They had been sent out by the Congregational Board of Missions as missionaries; Judson and his wife. Luther Rice was a bachelor and was such all of his life. But as they studied the Greek New Testament—like that Book Dr. Patterson has in his hand—as they studied the Greek New Testament in the long journey from Boston Harbor to Calcutta, India; when they stepped off the boat, they said, “We are Baptists.” And they were baptized there in that church, in that baptistery. That cut them off from missionary support. The Baptist churches in America were a little warring, feuding, biting, debating groups, scattered up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
So it was agreed that Adoniram Judson and his wife should stay in India, finally in Burma, and Luther Rice would come back to America with the story that God had given us, who were in the Baptist communion and faith, missionaries. And he organized the first association of churches; the convention; the triennial convention. And he organized the first missionary support. And he pulled those churches together in a great worldwide commitment.
Well, as I stood there thinking through all of these great commitments into which God led our Baptist people and our Baptist churches; all of it beginning there, I also went back in memory to that man, Adoniram Judson. His father was pastor of the Congregational Church in Malden, Massachusetts. And they had sent their eldest son, Adoniram, to Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. Now we know it as Brown University, our oldest Baptist University. After his college, he came home, and he announced to his father and his mother, “I am an infidel. I don’t believe in God, and I certainly don’t believe in Christ, and less do I believe in the church. And I have come home to announce to you that I renounce the faith. I am an infidel!”
What had happened was in the college there was a brilliant infidel by the name of [Jacob Eames]. And this brilliant young fellow, [Jacob Eames], had persuaded Adoniram to give up the faith, and to renounce the Lord, and to be an infidel. It was a shocking announcement to his father, the pastor of the church there, and broke the heart of his mother. The father pled with him and the mother cried, but he announced to them as an infidel, “I’m leaving home; I’m going to see the world”—quoting him exactly, “I’m going to see the world.”
Isn’t that a strange thing, as though to see the world you have to be prodigal, and vile, and evil, and live in a sewer and in a gutter? As though light, and angels, and glory, and righteousness, these things are not “seeing the world.” Seeing the world is to be debauched, and prodigal, and live in the gutter, and in the sewer, and in the cesspool of life. That’s the world. Me, I am going to see the world.
So he left, feeling in his heart, “I can answer every argument of my father. I’m an infidel.” Then when he had to admit that “the tears of my mother and father”—and he braced himself: “What would my infidel friend in Providence College think of me, did he know of that sentimental weakness that my mother’s tears weigh heavy on my heart? No.” So he went out from his father’s house, and from the faith, and from the church, and from God, and lived a prodigal and debauched life, as he says, “seeing the world.”
As he journeyed on his way through the northern states, he came upon an evening to a country inn and asked the landlord if he might stay there and have a room for the night. And the landlord said, “Yes. I have a room, but next to it is a man who is dying. Would it bother you?”
“Ha! Bother me? I’m not afraid of death, and all it excites in me is just pity for the poor creature that’s dying. I’ll take the room.”
So, in the night and through the hours of the night, he listened to the agonies and the cries and the convulsions of that man in the next room. Try as hard as he could, he could not get out of his heart and out of his head that man. “Is he ready to die? Is he ready to meet God? Who is he? Is he a Christian?” Then, he’d say every time, “What would my infidel friend, [Jacob Eames]; what would he think about me if he knew I were thinking these words and these thoughts, ‘Is he ready to die?’”
The next morning when he dressed, first thing he did, he sought out the landlord and said, “The man in the next room to me, how is he?”
And the landlord replied, “Sir, he’s dead. He’s dead. He died in the night.”
“Did you know who he was?” asked Adoniram.
“Yes,” said the landlord, “He was a young fellow from Providence College.”
“Providence College? What was his name?”
And the landlord replied, “His name was [Jacob Eames].”
It took Adoniram Judson an hour just to think connectedly, to get his thoughts in order. So astonished and amazed—thunderstruck—he fell on his face. He asked God to forgive him. He went back to his mother and back to his father, and he made a confession of faith in the church. He was received into membership, entered Andover Theological Seminary, appointed that first missionary, and in Calcutta was baptized, our first missionary into the Baptist communion of the Baptist faith.
Out of sorrow and agony, tears and cries and death, God speaks to us. Always, always there is a message. And every funeral service that you attend, there is a message in every funeral procession going down the city street. There is a message in every illness you will ever endure. There is a message from God in every tear that falls from your eyes. God is speaking. There is purpose, and there is reason, and there is God’s hand in the tragedies that we see and sustain in our lives.
Blessed is that soul who, like Adoniram Judson, falls before Jesus: “Lord God, forgive me. I am not an infidel. I may have thought I was. It may have been suggested to me. I may have listened to arguments of infidelity, but I am no infidel. I believe in God, and I believe in Jesus Christ, who died for my soul [1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:3-4]. And I believe someday I’ll see His face [Revelation 22:3-4], praise God; that I may be washed and forgiven and ready when the time comes for my final coronation.” That’s what it is to be a Christian, and that’s what it is to accept the Lord as our Savior, just as they did in the record here in the Bible.
And that’s our appeal to your heart today. “Pastor, I’m no infidel. I believe in God, and this day I accept Christ as my Savior, and I am coming. I want to accept Him as my Savior, as the Book says, openly and publicly” [Romans 10:9]. Or “I want to be baptized as God has commanded us in the faith” [Matthew 28:19]. Or “I want to give my heart and home and life to the Lord Jesus.” Or “I want to dedicate my children to the Lord.” Or “I want to put my life in the fellowship of this dear church.” As God shall press the appeal to your heart, make that decision now, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand coming down that stairway, walking down this aisle: “Here I am, preacher. I am on the way.” God bless you. Angels attend you in the way as you come. Make the decision now in your heart, and when you stand up, stand up answering with your life. Do it now. Come now while we stand and while we sing.