Is There Any Word from the Lord?
June 13th, 1978
IS THERE ANY WORD FROM THE LORD?
DR. W. A. Criswell
6-13-78 SBC PC
Dr. Smith, there is such an echo back here, I do not know what he said, but I pray it was nice and good; and I cannot see you, but I hope you are there, and God bless us in this final moment of this marvelous Pastors’ Conference. This is some town, the city of Atlanta. There is a big hotel here that looks like a silo. A little boy with his momma got in that glass elevator and went up and up and up and up; and the little boy looked at it in amazement. Finally the thing touched the lowing cloud; and he said, “Mommy, do you reckon God knows we are coming?” And we are here in a great city for a great cause; and I pray God will send us away with a new dedication to the marvelous ministry to which the Holy Spirit has called us.
I have a dear friend in London, a layman. He is a member of Parliament; his name is Sir Cyril Black. And some time ago he wrote a little parable and sent it to me:
In the country of Blackshire, in the center of England, there were two very similar small towns called Northchester and Southchester, in both of which there were two churches of different denominations and traditions, but which for many years had enjoyed a considerable degree of spiritual unity and had fruitfully cooperated in many useful joint enterprises. Now it so happened that the four ministers of these churches all retired at about the same time. They were all men who had proved themselves to be faithful pastors, preaching and teaching the Word of life, zealous in visitation, and loved by their church members, and respected in their communities. In spite of the indifference of the present age, they left behind strong and well-attended churches; and their retirement caused much sorrow. In due time, the vacancies were filled. In the case of Northchester, there arrived two young ministers: Reverend Smith and Reverend Jones, the product of liberal, forward-looking theological seminaries, who came resolved to give their churches a new look. To the two Southchester churches, however, came two men: Reverend Robinson and Reverend Brown, the product of orthodox, conservative theological colleges, where the professors were so behind the times that they still actually believed in the Bible.
In Northchester, things soon began to happen, and Smith and Jones figured in the headlines in the local press. Striking subjects for Sunday sermons began to appear on the church notice board, such as “God is Dead,” and “All Roads Lead to Heaven,” and “Modern Man Debunks the Miracles,” and “Salvation by Social Reform and Compassion, not Chastity.” Smith and Jones were often away from home during the week, and the local newspapers contained frequent pictures of them parading with banners outside South Africa House, and the American Embassy; lying in the road to prevent lorries making deliveries to factories suspected of exporting goods to countries whose regimes they violently disliked. And they were frequently active on college campuses, aiding the two well-known avante-garde revolutionary leaders Tarquin Albaugh and Tetro Hinds. All of this created great excitement in Northchester.
In Southchester, Robinson and Brown pursued a much more pedestrian course: they preached carefully prepared thoughtful sermons on such old fashioned themes as “God is Love,” and “The Way of Salvation,” and were so reactionary that they encouraged people to read their Bibles and to pray. On weekdays they visited the sick, made contact with new arrivals in the town, comforted the bereaved and the dying. None of these activities ever gained even a passing reference in the local newspapers. Strangely, however, the two churches at Northchester began to empty; while the two churches in Southchester began to fill. Both the church members and general public at Northchester were so hopelessly old fashioned that they were puzzled and disgusted with the progressive methods of Smith and Jones, and registered their disapproval by staying away. At Southchester, contrary to all predictions, church members and the public came to respect and love Robinson and Brown their pastors, and more and more turned to them for help in their problems in the perplexing modern world.
The upshot of all this was that the two Northchester churches grew so weak that it became impossible for them to carry on separately. Meetings were held for the purpose of meaningful, open-ended dialogue to see whether some ecumenical scheme for structural organic union could be arranged. Difficulties were encountered as it was found that there were serious doctrinal differences among the members of the two churches. It was at this point that the well-known ecumenical bishop, Dr. Tracy Spencer, was called in, and after prolonged discussion, the financial position of the churches became so acute that union on any terms was inescapable. At a subsequent press conference, the bishop announced that a brilliant new concept had emerged: “We have settled our doctrinal differences,” the bishop proudly announced, “by producing a church constitution whereby the minister and the members will be free to believe anything, or nothing. In this age of doubt it is clearly unreasonable that anybody should be required to believe anything in particular. This will set a pattern for the great world church,” he added.
As a result of the union at Northchester, one church building was sold to pay the debts. Smith received a redundancy payment, trained and became a psychiatrist; while Jones became minister of the united church. Some of the residue of the church members, puzzled and distressed, left the church. Some of them joined the local gospel hall where a humble minister faithfully administered the Word, while most begrudgingly others gave up the church all together. These proceedings were widely hailed in most of the religious and secular press as an astounding example of ecumenical enterprise.
Meanwhile, in Southchester, congregations continued to grow, baptisms and additions to the churches were frequent, and soon the church buildings had to be enlarged. Missionary giving increased every year. But nothing about what was happening at Southchester ever received any publicity; it was not considered newsworthy. Why, why follow the pattern of ecclesiastical death exemplified by the churches of Northchester? Why turn aside from the preaching of the gospel, from soulwinning and evangelism, from mission outreach and world conversion, from the rebirth of the human heart and the recreation of the human soul, to the empty palaver of sterile ecumenical liberalism and political juggling? Why, we cannot but be moved by the lamentable cry of the weeping prophet Jeremiah,
Pass over the isles of the sea, consider if there be such a thing, for My people have changed their Glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, and be horribly afraid, saith the Lord; for My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me the foundation of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
Why, in a thousand tongues and in a thousand languages, the whole world cries, “Why?” By the blood of the cross and the wounds of Jesus, why? In Hebrew, lama, “Why?” In Greek, hina ti, “Why?” In Latin, cur, “Why?” In France, pourquoi, “Why?” In German, warum, “Why?” In Spanish, ¿por qué? “Why?”
A Methodist layman, writing in one of their magazines, said this, and I quote from him verbatim, quote:
It seems that in recent years our younger preachers began to get less emotional and more intellectual. Their sermons were less like a sermon and more like a lecture. The “you must be born again” kind of religion disappeared. We quit singing, “There is wonder working power in the blood,” and started singing some new songs with a different kind of message. We became interested in something that people called “the social gospel.” The layman listened, yawned, then started playing golf on Sunday morning. Today, Methodist laymen want to recapture some of that “you must be born again” religion. They want to be stirred and moved. They want a religion that is strong medicine. They want a faith that is filled with spirit and with fire.
Some many years ago, my wife and I were attending the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle in London, England, built by the immortal Charles Haddon Spurgeon. We sat down in a little tiny company in that bombed-out building and right back of us were two old men. One was an old, old, old man, and one was an ancient man. And the old man said to the ancient man, he said, “Did you ever hear Spurgeon preach?” And the ancient man said, “Huh? What did you say?” And the old man said, “I said, ‘Did you ever hear Spurgeon preach?’” And the ancient man said, “Oh yes, many times. He was my pastor.” And the old man said, “How was it? How did he preach?” And the ancient man said, “Huh? What did you say?” And the old man said, “I said, ‘How did Spurgeon preach? How was it?’” And the ancient man returned his reply and said, “Well, it’s kind of hard for me to say.” He said, “I don’t like to criticize these modern preachers, and I don’t like to criticize my pastor. But it seems to me,” he said, “that my pastor, and these modern preachers, sort of talk, they sort of lecture. But,” he said, “man, when Spurgeon stood up to preach, there was fire in it!”
There came to the city of Dallas one of the darlings of the neo-orthodox world, one of the great, world famous neo-orthodox theologians and preachers. He spoke there for a week, and I, talking to a Presbyterian layman in the church in which he was making his addresses, he said to me, “I sat there and listened to him for a week, and to this minute I can’t tell you a thing that he said, nor does anybody else know what he was talking about.” What a difference from our Lord, of whom the Scriptures say, “The common people heard Him gladly” [Mark 12:37]. Why? Why embrace a theology that has already emptied all of the churches of Europe and has ruined the evangelistic witness of our Lord in New England, throughout the great arc of the North, and is threatening to destroy our institutions and our churches in the Southern Baptist Zion? A survey was made in New England, and I read the results. The survey is that if you were to take three-fourths of all of the pews out of the churches of New England, they would never be missed. And that’s the kind of a gospel toward which we are increasingly turning! And as it destroyed the churches of Europe, as it destroyed the churches of New England, as it destroyed the churches of the North and the West, it will destroy us! God help us!
In Acts 10:33, we have a magnificent definitive presentation of the holy purpose that lies back of our preaching and worship. The Roman centurion avows to Simon Peter, listen: “Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of the Lord” [Acts 10:33]; whereupon Peter began to preach to the Gentiles the Lord Jesus, saying, “To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” [Acts 10:43]. Starting with all of the prophets, he was preaching Jesus and the remission of sins.
Somebody said to Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Mr. Spurgeon, all of your sermons sound alike.” He said, “That’s right. Wherever I take my text I make a beeline to the cross!” That’s the way for us to preach. What was central there in the Word of God, and in the New Testament, and in the preaching of Simon Peter, must always be central; namely, the preaching of the Word of the Lord [2 Timothy :16-4:2], the atonement of Christ [Romans 5:11], and the remission of sins [Matthew 26:28; Acts 10:43; Hebrews 9:22]. This is worship at its highest, all of the faculties of the mind, and emotion, and heart, and soul, and will, raised to their highest uses. Somebody will say, and they often say, “You Baptists don’t worship.” Sir, that is the incomparable way to worship our Lord God; “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of God [Romans 10:17]…It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe [1 Corinthians 1:21]…I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom, Preach the word!” [2 Timothy 4:1-2]
What does God say? If God says anything—Jeremiah 37:17: “Then Zedekiah sent and asked Jeremiah, Is there any word from the Lord?” Does God have any thing to say to us? Never mind book reviews, and lectures on social amelioration, and discussions on capital and labor, and HEW, and CIO—and the AF of L and CIO, and the CIA; we can buy a magazine for thirty-five cents, read all about it on the sofa after dinner, if we don’t fall asleep. We know what the politicians say, we know what the courts say, we know what the economist says, we know what the social worker says, we know what the editorial writers say, we know what the TV commentators and the radio commentators [say], but does God say anything? What can save our souls from hell? What can deliver our people from damnation? Who can purify our hearts and who can give us hope and redeem our nation? Who can?
Last Thursday there appeared before the graduating class of the University of Harvard, Harvard College, there appeared Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and in our daily paper in Dallas, the headline: “Solzhenitsyn Calls for Spiritual Upsurge.” He said that our spiritual life has been lost, and he called for a spiritual upsurge. His speech could have been entitled, the paper says, “The Decline of the West.” He spoke of the spiritual exhaustion of the West. He said that what we need, in ending his address, is a renewed sense of obligation to God and to society, and no one on earth has any other way left but the God-way of upward. Man, there never was a time when the world needed you, the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God, as the world needs you now! And while the world is falling into hell, the drivel that some men preach…I went to hear a fellow preach, and he was preaching on Shakespeare. After it was over I went up to him and I said, “What is this, you’re preaching on Shakespeare? I thought you were supposed to preach the Bible.” He said, “Well, I finished the Bible last year, and now I’m preaching Shakespeare.” I think of Henry Thoreau who went out to Walden Pond, and he said, “I had rather sit on a pumpkin listening to the chickadee-dees than to sit on a cushion in Boston listening to those dry DD’s.” A man, a layman in our pulpit said, “I had rather listen to a man who says ‘I seen’, if he has seen something, than to listen to a man who says ‘I have seen’ if he ain’t seen anything.”
Why, why go to church to listen to a half-taught, untutored, jack-legged preacher rehash what we have read and heard and seen all week long in every newspaper, in every magazine, on every radio and every TV station in the land, why? Preach a psychological sermon and any professor in the audience will know twice as much about it as you do. Preach a sociological sermon and any professor of sociology in the audience will know twice as much about it as you do. Preach a sermon on politics and any politician in the audience will know twice about it as much as you do. Preach a sermon on foreign affairs and the UN and there’s no state department official in the congregation but that knows twice about it as much as you do. Preach a sermon on welfare handouts and there’s no social worker in the congregation but that knows as much about it as you do. But preach a sermon on the living Word of the living God and nobody knows as much about it as you do; that is your province and your heavenly calling. Drive toward it, call for it, pray for it, preach for it, repentance, and faith unto salvation [Acts 20:21], and you will fulfill your heavenly mandate. To the senator and the congressman, “Are you born again [John 3:3, 7], are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?” [Revelation 7:14]. To the legislator and to the judge in the bench, “Are you saved?” To the governor and to the cabinet member, “Do you know the Lord?” And to the president of the bank and to the sweeper on the street:
Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
[“Are You Washed in the Blood?”; Elisha A. Hoffman, 1878]
That’s my assignment; his may be politics, and hers may be social work, and yonder the man has his corporation, but my assignment is to preach the gospel of the Son of God and call men to repentance and salvation [Acts 20:21]. And when I do it, God will give us the earth, the ends of the creation, for our inheritance [Acts 17:30].
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear; O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
We shall not cease from battle strife,
Nor shall the sword sleep in our hand,
‘Til we have built Jerusalem
In this fair and pleasant land.
[from “The New Jerusalem,” William Blake]