What Happens When I Teach the Bible as Truth
October 27th, 1978
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I TEACH THE BIBLE AS TRUTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
National Council on Biblical Inerrancy, Chicago, Illinois
10-27-1978 7:30 p.m.
The subject they have assigned for me is What Happens When I Preach That the Bible is Literally True. And I am presuming that the reason I have been chosen for such an assignment is because I have been preaching for so long, pastoring a church, preaching the gospel now for over fifty-one years. I was reminded of that recently, when at the dinner table after the service on Sunday my little grandson, just a little tyke, evidently in the Sunday school lesson he had been taught about Noah and the Flood [Genesis 6-8]. So at the dinner table, in all sobriety and soberness, he said to me, “Granddaddy, did you know Noah?” Well, I almost did. But not in all of my life have I had a subject assigned me that pleased my own heart more fully and devotedly and devoutly than this one: “What happens when I preach that the Bible is literally true.”
First, what happens to me personally? In believing, and in studying, and in preparing, and in preaching that the Word of God is infallible, and inerrant, and inspired, and literally true, I grow in the knowledge of God and in the image of Christ. Christ is identified with His Word; both of them are called “The Word of God.” Revelation 19:11-13: “I beheld heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon it was Faithful and True . . . His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. . .He was dressed in a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God.” John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Both of them are called The Word of God. Christ is identified with His Word. When I minimize the written Word I dishonor the incarnate Word; but when I magnify the written Word, I glorify the incarnate Word.
God and His Word are one and the same. A man and his word may be two different things, but not God, who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever [Hebrews 13:8]. When I love the Word of God, I love God. When I believe the Word of God, I believe God. When I preach the Word of God, I preach God. When I receive the Word of God, I receive God. And spiritually, when I know the Word of God, I know God.
I am convicted by the Word of God. I am born again, I am regenerated, I am saved by the Word of God. Someday when I shall stand in the great assize before the Judge of all the earth, and the redeemed of God are marching in, and I assay to join their number, and the Lord God says to me, “By what right, by what prerogative do you enter My beautiful city and walk on My golden streets?” I’m going to say, “Lord God, when I was a boy ten years of age, in a revival meeting in a little white crackerbox of a church house, in the town where I lived, I went to a morning service in the day of the week; and happened to be seated by my old and sainted mother. And when the preacher had done his sermon, my mother turned to me, and said, ‘Son, today will you receive the Lord Jesus as your Savior?’ And I received the Lord Jesus. The best a ten-year-old boy could, I took the Lord Jesus as my Savior. And blessed Jesus, all I’m doing, all I’m doing is just resting upon Your Word and Your promise.” For You said in John 1:12, ‘As many as received Him, to them gave He the right, the authority, the prerogative, the privilege to become the children of God, even to them that trust in His name.’ And Lord God, all I’m doing is just trusting in Your Word and in Your promise.
My salvation rests not upon some monstrous experience: my salvation rests upon the Word and promise of the Lord. And if He lies to me and if He deceives me, I am lost. But if the promise of God in Christ is an everlasting “yea” and “amen,” I am saved, I am born again, I’m a child of the King, and I’ll see His face someday.
And not only in my personal life, but in my sermon preparation, preaching that the Bible is literally true is a heavenly and daily and continual benediction. And because I preach that the Bible is literally true, exegesis is possible in my study and in my ministry. The man who is liberal and does not believe in the inerrant, inspired Word of God, to him exegesis is foolishness and folly; it’s an anomalous situation that he could stand up there and exegete a passage, a word, and he doesn’t believe it’s inspired. But that’s possible for me. You see, when I believe that every word and every syllable of this Book is God-breathed [2 Timothy 3:16-17], then when I look at the Book, and when I look at the passage, and when I look at the text, and when I look at the Word, I know that is the God-inspired Word the Lord has meant for me and for my people, as they listen to the exposition of that Holy Scriptures.
Just for example, take a sermon on Revelation 22:17: “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth,” let the passer-by, the sojourner repeat the glad refrain, “let him that heareth say, Come. Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely,” ho thelōn, “whosoever will.” The Holy Spirit said to the apostle John, Jesus’ dear and sainted friend, the Holy Spirit said to the apostle John, “John, this is the last invitation in the Bible. And when you write that last appeal, don’t write there ho ginōskōn, whosoever understandeth let him come; don’t write there ho lambanōn, whosoever receiveth let him come; don’t write there ho paschōn, whosoever feeleth let him come; don’t write there ho philōn, whosoever loveth let him come. But John, in this last invitation, write there ho thelōn, whosoever will let him come. And I will write his name in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], I will wash his sins away [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5], I will save him forever” [John 10:27-30], ho thelōn—a sermon in an exegetical belief that every word is inspired of God, ho thelōn.
Then the message follows: I am not saved in my head and my mind; I’m not educated into the kingdom of God. Would it could be! Man, we’d just have schools, and everybody’d be saved, if we could train them and educate them. I’m not saved by the degrees that I have or the education that I have. I’m not saved academically. I’m not saved by being smart. I’m not saved in my head.
I’m not saved in my feelings. I’m not saved in that I feel that I’m saved. Feelings can be graphed, your feelings can be graphed; and they go up and down, up and down. If they’re normal, they go up and down. If they’re down all the time, you’re affected with melancholia. If you’re up all the time, you’re an idiot. If you’re normal, it goes up and down, up and down. And all feeling is like that. Love is a feeling: and when you love your wife, that’s a feeling. One day you love her so much you could eat her up, and the next day you wish you’d have done it! That’s a feeling. That’s a feeling. And if you tie your feelings to the gospel and your salvation, they’ll drag you to death. One day you’ll feel, “O Lord, I’m saved! I can hear the angels sing! Oh, glory to God!” and then the next day you’re under a juniper tree, “Lord, Lord, I can’t hear nobody pray. I’m lost. I was mistaken.” No!
Then where is the seat of salvation? Right where God’s Word said it was: ho thelōn, “Whosoever will, let him come” [Revelation 22:17]. A man is saved in his will; he’s saved in his volition. He is saved in a great decision that he makes: “I cast my life now and forever with Jesus my Lord. I have decided to follow Jesus.” That’s where a man is saved. That’s exegetical: because I believe that every word in the Bible is inspired of God.
Second: preaching that the Bible is literally true, what does it do to the people? What does it do to my congregation? Upon a day, after I had been at our dear church for about a year, I announced to the people that I was going to preach through the Bible. I was going to start at Genesis, and go to the last benedictory prayer in the Revelation. You never heard such lugubrious prognostications in your life! They’d never heard of anything like that. And the leading people of the church came to me and said, “Oh, pastor! Oh! Oh! You’ll kill our church! It’ll die and nobody’s going to come to hear somebody preach about Habakkuk or Haggai or Nahum! I don’t even know where they are.”
I grant you, we had a problem. We had a problem; but it was a different turn and a different kind. The problem was: what in the earth are we going to do with the people who are trying to crowd into this auditorium to hear the Word of the Lord? And through those years, I went through the Bible seventeen years and eight months, seventeen years and eight months. Where I left off Sunday morning, I began Sunday night, seventeen years and eight months. And world without end did I hear people talking to one another, “When did you join the church?”
“I joined in Isaiah.”
“When did you join the church?”
“I joined in Galatians.”
“When did you join the church?”
“I joined in 2 Timothy.”
What happens when you preach that the Bible is literally true, people come to church with the Word of God in their hands. And they open it, and we read it every service; we read it out loud together.
I do not know of a better, finer descriptive sentence of what true worship ought to be than this one in Acts 10:33: when Cornelius, speaking to the coming of Simon Peter up from Joppa, he says to him, he says, “And now are we all here gathered before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of the Lord” [Acts 10:33]. That’s the purpose, and that’s the reason, and that’s the best description of our worship services that I could ever read in any language in human literature. “Now are we all here gathered before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of the Lord.” “Preacher, preacher, do you have a word from God that will save our souls from hell, do you? Preacher, do you have a word from God that will save our homes and families from damnation, do you? Do you have a word from the God that will save our children from the fire, do you? Do you have a word from the God that will deliver our nation from judgment? If there is, what is it, preacher?” And when you deliver that message, that man will sit there and listen to you; and he’ll come back, and he’ll come back, and he’ll come back, and after thirty-five years he’ll still be there listening to the Word of the Lord.
Number three: what happens when I preach that the Word is literally true? I have spoken of what happens to me, I have spoken of what happens to my congregation. Last may I speak, what happens to God when I preach that the Bible is literally true? What happens to God? This is what happens to God: He is pleased. He is pleased.
In the beautiful story of the transfiguration, the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him” [Matthew 17:5]. Let Him speak. Let Him speak. It’s not my ideas, it isn’t my persuasions, I haven’t thought up the message: I am just an echo, a voice crying in the wilderness. I just repeat what God has said. And the Lord is pleased. He is pleased when I preach that the Bible is literally true, that His Word is everlastingly an “Amen” [2 Corinthians 1:20].
When I preach that the Word of God is literally true, I place under obligation the Lord God to bless me. He is under oath and under promise to help me and to bless me: I put Him under tribute and obligation—I do—when I preach His Word as infallible, inspired, inerrant and true; 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If My people will, I will.” That’s God. That’s God. If I will, He will. And when I preach that the Bible is literally true, I place Him under obligation to bless me and to help me, and to stand by me. He said, “My Word shall not return unto Me void, it will accomplish that whereunto I have sent it” [Isaiah 55:11]. And when I preach the Word and deliver the Word of God, He is under obligation and duty and tribute to stand by me, and to help me, and to bless me. And He never fails.
Did you know, they made a film of my life recently, called “This I Know.” And it’s a film about this: my dedication to the Word of God. And in filming it, they took me down about oh, a hundred some odd miles away from Dallas, they took me down to my first little rural church, little tiny church. And in the community, the leading man in the church, after fifty-one years, is a boy that I won to Jesus. And it came about like this: there was a man in the community who was not saved; his wife was a Christian, and he was not. I went to the home one evening and ate dinner with them. And after the dinner was over, I sat down with that man, and opened my Bible, and showed him how to be saved. They had a little boy, just a little fellow. And in order for me to be with the father alone, they sent the little boy to bed. And so after I talked to that father, after midnight, he said, “No.” He said, “No.” And I went to bed so discouraged, so downhearted. I’d so prayed and asked God to bless me.
The following Sunday, down the aisle came that little boy. Oh, he was about twelve years of age. Down the aisle came that little boy and he said to me, “I have accepted Jesus as my Savior.” And I said to the little lad, “Spencer, you say you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. When did you do that?” He said, “Friday night when you came out to our home and you talked to my father, do you remember my mother and dad sent me to bed, sent me to my room? But,” he said, “I didn’t close the door. I left the door open so I could hear what you said to my father.” And he said, “I listened to you until after midnight.” And he said to me, “My father turned you down; but up there in my bed I listened, and I accepted Jesus as my Savior up there in my room on my bed.”
No word ever spoken for God ever falls to the ground [1 Samuel 3:19-20]. Somehow, some way, in areas of life that we don’t understand and don’t know, God blesses it in His good purpose, in His elective choice, and in His heavenly time. God said if I would be faithful to His Word, He would send us souls. And He has never failed. He doesn’t ever fail. He doesn’t ever forget. His Word is like Himself: “The same yesterday, and today, and for ever” [Hebrews 13:8].