THE REWARD OF THE RIGHTEOUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-6-77 7:30 p.m.
It is a privilege for us to share this hour with you on the radio station that blankets this part of the American continent, KRLD, and the radio station of our Bible Institute, KCBI. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message, which is taken out of the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts. The text is Acts 10:35. And if you will, turn in your Bible to Acts chapter 10 and let us read out loud verses 30 through 35.
There are many, many of you who, listening on the radio, read it out loud with us where you are. That blesses our hearts to share the Word of God with you. So let’s read now, Acts chapter 10, beginning at verse 30 reading to verse 35. Now out loud together:
And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,
And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.
Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the seaside: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.
Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore we are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him.
And the text, "But in every nation, he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted before the Lord" [Acts 10:35]. The title of the sermon is, The Reward of Righteousness. Following the message this morning, there is no doubt but that a man cannot be saved by his good works. That is a message from the Lord, universal.
This man Cornelius is described as a devout man, one that feared God with all of his house, gave much alms to the people, prayed to God always [Acts 10:2]. But he was lost. As noble as he was compared to us who live in this human life, as noble and as fine as he was, he was not saved. The angel told him to send for Simon Peter who would come and tell him words whereby he and his house could be saved [Acts 10:5-6]. A fine, noble, upstanding man, a moral man, a man of great dignity and character, but he was lost!
Now, the whole Christian faith presupposes that we are lost in our sins – all mankind. As Titus 3 says, "Not by works of righteousness" are we saved, but by the grace of God [Titus 3:5]. As Ephesians writes, we are saved by grace, the free gift of the Lord – "and that not of ourselves"; not of works, lest any man should boast" [Ephesians 2:8-9]. It is a gift of God. We are saved in the mercy and the grace and atoning sacrifice of our Lord. We’re not saved in ourselves. We cannot save ourselves. We are saved in Christ. Our good works are like a bridge over a ditch. However long it is or however short it is, it never quite reaches to the other side. A man cannot be saved by being good, by attempting to do good works to buy himself, to earn himself, into heaven.
Now, there is a corollary following that. We are much impressed when men who are bad are wonderfully converted and are saved. All of us are most impressed. When a vile and a wicked man turns and becomes a Christian, we are greatly impressed. We are impressed by the conversion of that prodigal boy who, having lived in riotous, harlotry, drunkenness, came to himself and returned to his father and home. That’s a cause of rejoicing, and we feel it when we read the story [Luke 15:11-32]. All of us are marvelously impressed by the conversion of Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:1-18]. He who once destroyed the faith now preaches it [Galatians 1:23]. That is a tremendous turnaround, a great conversion, and we are impressed.
One of the things that we find in so many of our evangelists is that they were wicked men and found the Lord. One of them, in his drunkenness, when his little girl died, stole the shoes off of her little feet out of the casket and sold them that he might have money to buy liquor. And the conversion of that world-famous evangelist is an impressive thing. I listened to a convict, who had been sentenced to over six hundred years in the penitentiary, who had found the Lord, and to listen to that ex-convict was a marvel to hear.
The consequence of that is that we somehow have the impression, though we never state it, it is never verbalized, you don’t write it out – but somehow we fall into the half-conscious conviction that it must be great to sin and to fall into the depths of iniquity, and then to be lifted out of it and to be wonderfully saved. When we hear a marvelous evangelist who has had an experience like that, we say, "Isn’t that marvelous? A man who fell into such sin, and now look at him; preached the faith, and lifted him out of the miry clay." But there is another side to that. And this is the Lord’s truth side. No matter when or what, it is tragic for men to fall into sin that they might be marvelously saved. Could you imagine father and mother teaching their children to fall into the depths of iniquity that they might be lifted out of it into the light of the Christian faith? As Paul discusses it, "Shall we sin, that grace may abound? God forbid!" [Romans 6:1-2].
So our message tonight in the text of Acts 10:35, "In every nation, in every people, the man, the woman that fears God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted unto Him, before Him, with Him, in Him." There is a reward in righteousness, no matter who, whether pagan or Gentile or Jew; there is a nobility in righteousness that is ever true and acceptable unto God. The marvelous revelation that we have of this man Cornelius is of a tremendously fine man, a good man, a devout man, a God-fearing man, a charitable man, and a man of prayerful intercession [Acts 10:1-2]. And the Book says that he was accepted before God. The Lord heard him pray [Acts 10:4].
That’s the beatenest thing I ever heard of in my life: "God does not hear sinners pray" [Isaiah 59:1-2]. This is a lost man. This is a lost man. And he prays, and God hears his prayers. God says so. We come into the strangest twisted Christian ideas in the Christian faith that you could ever think for in your life, and that’s one of them. God listened to this man though he was lost. God listened to him as he prayed, and his prayers came up [Acts 10:2, 4]. He prayed down an angel from heaven [Acts 10:3]. Always, there is wonderful reward and recompense in righteousness, wherever it is found in the earth.
Well, let’s look at some of these men that God seemed to favor – good men. Abraham was one. So fine a friend that the Lord said, "Shall I do something and not tell Abraham about it?" [Genesis 18:17]. Joseph; there is no hint of any error in the life of Joseph. He lived a beautiful, an exemplary life. Samuel; all of the years of Samuel he was a noble and a fine man – acceptable unto God.
I can well understand when the Lord looked upon that rich young ruler, kneeling there at His feet, and said to him, "You know the commandments. Keep the commandments and you will be saved." And the young fellow said, "All of these have I observed from my youth up" [Mark 10:17-20]. And the Lord, looking upon him, beholding him, loved him, that fine, moral, upstanding young man [Mark 10:21]. Jesus loved him, and you couldn’t have helped but loved him, too.
Timothy. Timothy was a splendid young fellow. The Bible says that from the days of his childhood, he had known the Holy Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:15] and was taught in the way of the Lord. His mother Eunice, and his grandmother Lois [2 Timothy 1:5], did not teach that boy to be vile and sinful and then out of a life of depravity and iniquity, to be saved. It was the strength of the lad that he grow up from childhood knowing the blessed Jesus.
It is a strength in a man’s life, no matter who he is, whether he is a pagan, a Jew or a Gentile, that he be righteous and upright and that the children be strong and stalwart in goodness. And that same thing holds for a nation. What is my text? "In every nation these people who fear God, and worketh righteousness, are acceptable unto Him" [Acts 10:35]. God looks upon them in acceptance as they are righteous in their lives. Now, that means that when a nation or when a people turn away from righteousness, they fall into tragic judgment, awesome judgment. Israel did that. Jeremiah laments when the people are carried captive into Babylon, Jeremiah laments saying, "The crown has fallen from our head: woe unto us, that we have sinned!" [Lamentations 5:16]. Wherever there is righteousness, the Lord looks upon it with acceptance. And wherever there is iniquity, it brings with it a judgment from Almighty God. And that is true in America. We are living in a day of the awesome judgment of God upon our people.
Friday morning, being in Columbus, Ohio, preaching through our State Baptist Convention in Ohio, on Friday morning, I went out of the motel where they had assigned me a room, and I walked down the streets to a drugstore. I wanted to buy a morning newspaper. The big morning newspaper in Columbus, Ohio, is called the The Citizen’s Journal. So I bought a copy of The Citizen’s Journal. And being there at a newsstand, I saw the current issue of Time magazine. The current issue of Time magazine has a Homo sapiens sitting by an ape. The only thing is, this ape has sort of human characteristics. And it is this man’s conception of our primordial ancestors.
So the article purports to present to us how we did fall out of the trees and how the primate called apes and simians, monkeys, how they became not only our great, great, great grandparents, but our parents as we now see them today. So this article has a very long and elaborative thesis. And the article says – as it goes into all this so-called scientific study, pseudoscientific study – the article says that this is where we came from, and this explains humanity in this earth.
There are great plates, great continental masses. And that subcontinental mass we know as India was pushed up under Africa and Asia, and it lifted up the great Himalayan range. And what had been all of that vast forest that covers the earth, when the continents were lifted up over this molten core in the earth, why, the weather changed and the great forest died, and grasslands appeared. So those forest dwelling apes had to come out of the trees into the grasslands. And so, having once come out of the forest, they had to stand up in an erect position to enable them to see over the tall grass. And that’s where our evolutionary parents came to walk upright and we became men, just like that. Now, you look at that. So on the front of Time magazine there is that picture of that ape who came out of the trees, and because he had to look over the tall grass, he began to walk uprightly and became what we are today.
So I looked at the newspaper. And this is what I read in the newspaper. There is a Dr. Medad Schiller who is the chief surgeon at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. And he avows that all great pediatric surgeons, pediatric surgeons have trained in Columbus. They must have there in Columbus the most famous Children’s Hospital, and they call it that: the most famous Children’s Hospital in the world. And he says that all great pediatric surgeons have trained in that hospital. So he has come back, having received his hospital training in Children’s Hospital in Columbus, he has come back. And in this interview, he is discussing the life of the Arab and the Jew over there in Palestine and the life that he is seeing now in America.
So he says, and I read from the newspaper article, "But over there where we are, we don’t have two problems that are big in the United States. We seldom see the battered child syndrome or the pelvic inflammatory diseases, venereal disease in young girls. Here you see abscessed ovaries and fallopian tubes and gonorrhea and syphilis that is resident to treatment in young girls because they start at six, seven, and eight years in prostitution, and especially among the blacks."
This is non-existent as a social medical problem in Israel because most Jewish and Arab girls will not have sex before marriage. Sex is not regarded as the peak of life. It doesn’t have to be done in the streets. There is a higher morality there. In fact, he says, it is unlawful to have sexual relations with a girl under sixteen, and that law is strictly enforced.
So I had the two in my hands. I read here that the pseudoscientists teaching our universities and schools in America that we are animals! That’s what I read in this magazine. And in this hand, I read from a great world-famous surgeon who has come back home and looked at America. And I read you see abscessed ovaries, gonorrhea, syphilis that we can’t treat because it occurs in girls six, seven, and eight years in early promiscuity. Why should we be amazed when we teach our children that they are animals, that they act like it; as promiscuous as an alley cat, as a dog? The two go together.
That’s why with all of the moral fiber of my being I would love to stand behind our illustrious superintendent of education in this queenly city of Dallas, who would just like, he would just like to present to our boys and girls that there also might be some other solution to the mystery of man than that he is an ape having lost his tail and come out of the forest; that God might have made him, that God might have created him. There is something that has happened to the soul of America. I hardly recognize our people and our nation.
In yesterday morning’s Dallas News there is an editorial entitled "The Attack on Anita Bryant." And the last paragraph of that editorial reads this, "Jane Fonda, who barely side-stepped the treason laws during the Vietnam War, was never treated like this." When Anita Bryant, because she stands up for what God says concerning homosexuality, is now apparently going to lose her job on television, dismissed by the orange growers in Florida. And she has become persona non grata in all of the entertainment areas of the world. She is picketed. She is hated. She is despised. She is castigated. There is hardly a cartoon, there is hardly an entertainer in Las Vegas or Los Angeles, but that loves to tear that sweet mother and wife down.
And at the same time, a traitor like Jane Fonda, while our American boys were dying by the thousands trying to stem the red tide in Southeast Asia, nobody seeks to destroy Jane Fonda; though to me she is one of the most despicable characters that was ever born a citizen of America. She is a traitor like Tokyo Rose, just as evil and just as bad and just as sorry. But she is not picketed, nor is her life threatened. But because Anita Bryant took opportunity to say, in behalf of my children and in behalf of my family and in behalf of a moral America, "I object to homosexuals being received in our schools as the teachers of our children." Something has happened to the soul of America.
What the Book says is, wherever in the world there is righteousness, God looks upon it in acceptance [Acts 10:35]. It commends the man and it commends the nation to the Judge of all the earth. I must sum up. I am saying that the Bible teaches that we can’t be saved by our own righteousness [Ephesians 2:8-9]. We have to be saved by the blood of Jesus [1 Peter 2:19]. But I am avowing to you according to the Word of God that there is a corollary that goes along with it: we don’t have to be vile and evil in order to experience the grace of God. But it is better that the child can be brought into the saving grace of Jesus having never known the darkness of sin. And that nation that walks in uprightness is looked upon with favor from the Judge, the Lord God in heaven. And wherever there is a people that is righteous, character upstanding, there will you find the Spirit of God working in grace, in goodness, in love, and in mercy [Acts 10:35]. And if we ever think that there is any virtue in being sinful in order that we might experience the grace of God, we have absolutely lost sight of the great purposes of God’s revelation in the Holy Word.
The apostle Paul persecuted the church of God. But he said, "I am the least of the apostles. I am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God" [1 Corinthians 15:9]. It was a bitterness in his memory as long as he lived. B. H. Carroll, who was an infidel, in one of his sermons that I read, I copied this: "Oh, how many thousand times I myself have regretted that I ever distrusted God, that I ever was skeptical about revelation, that I ever did turn from the Bible! There never will come a time when it will be of advantage to me, when it will cease to be anything but a shame to me, that I did not come at first with a full heart, receive all of the truth of the Lord."
No man who ever sins can be proud of it. And no nation that ever falls into moral disintegration can lift up its head in pride. God said, "Sin is a reproach to any people" [Proverbs 14:34]. And to teach our children to walk uprightly and to know no other thing than to fear God all the days of their lives is a blessing from heaven. Sin hurts. Sin damns. Sin destroys, wherever in the world it lifts its ugly head. But holiness and righteousness and godliness commend themselves to the grace of the Lord [Acts 10:35].
How beautiful therefore to rear our children as I was reared, knowing no other faith in all of the days of my life but to love Jesus and to walk in the way of the Lord, to attend the services of Christ, to seek to obey the great commandments of God. And then, how easy it was when I was ten years old to be introduced to the love of the Savior that washes away all of our sins [Revelation 1:5]. But how difficult it is when one is brought up in iniquity and darkness ever to be led into the light. There are very few who are ever saved, very few who are ever won to Christ out of a world of iniquity and darkness. You see, God says goodness and righteousness open God’s heart toward us [Acts 10:35]. And He sends His angels to guide us into the way of true salvation, just as He did with this Roman soldier Cornelius [Acts 10:3-8].
I must stop. Our time is much spent. In this moment, I’ll be standing here by the side of our Lord’s Supper table. And to give your heart to Jesus, to place your life in the fellowship of this dear church, to walk with us in our pilgrimage to heaven, welcome. Do it now. In the throng in this balcony round, in the press of people on this lower floor, down this aisle, "Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God. I want to walk with you in the fear of the Lord, in the love and devotion of Christ Jesus. I want to look to Him in saving faith." "I want to be baptized." Or, "I want to join this church by statement. Don’t even know where my letter is." That’s a piece of paper; we are interested in you. "I want to come from another church and to bring my family with me here." As God shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now. And in a moment when we stand to sing, stand walking down that stairway, coming down this aisle, "Here I am, preacher. I am on the way." Do it now. I’ll be standing right there, ready to receive you and to rejoice with the angels in heaven when you come [Luke 15:10], while we stand and while we sing.
THE REWARD OF THE RIGHTEOUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The impossibility of good works to secure salvation
1. Cornelius was devout, feared God, noble, but lost(Acts 10:1-2, 11:14, 18)
2. Christianity presupposes all are lost in sin – we cannot save ourselves(Romans 4:4, Titus 3:5, Ephesians 2:8-9)
B. We are most impressed when bad men are wonderfully converted
1. Tragic for men to fall into sin that they might be marvelously saved (Romans 6:1)
II. The righteousness of Cornelius a memorial before God(Acts 10:35)
A. Righteousness always impresses God
1. Abraham(Genesis 18:17-18)
4. Rich young ruler(Mark 10:17-21)
B. Iniquity always a cause of regret
2. National – Israel (Lamentations 5:16)
a. Time magazine article explains origin of humanity
b. The Citizen’s Journal – early promiscuity
c. Anita Bryant
III. We don’t have to be vile and evil in order to experience the grace of God
A. Sin a reproach(1 Corinthians 15:9, Proverbs 14:34)
B. How beautiful to rear our children to walk in the way of the Lord