FACING THE FUTURE WITH GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-22-79 7:30 p.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas bringing the message entitled Facing the Future with God. It is a message from the twenty-sixth chapter—the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts. And let us turn to it, and we are going to read the text together; Acts chapter 27, beginning at verse 20 and reading through verse 25 [Acts 27:20-25]. Acts chapter 27, beginning at verse 20 and reading through verse 25; now all of us out loud, reading it together:
And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.
But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, you should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss.
And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship.
For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,
Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.
Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.
And the text especially, “Be of good cheer: for I believe God” [Acts 27:25]. Facing the future with God—for I believe God.
First: I believe God in His providential and guardian care. What a difference such a faith makes in a man. In this terror-stricken crew, sailors, soldiers, master, owner, two hundred seventy-six souls, described as saying, “All hope that we should be saved was taken away” [Acts 27:20]. In the midst of that panic-stricken and terrorized group, there is one man who is quiet and calm before the Lord. He comes forth after prayer and fasting and makes the announcement, “There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, whom I serve, saying, Fear not—fear not, God hath given you not only your life but all them that sail with thee” [Acts 27:23- 24]. What a confidence and what an assurance characterize the man who has found his hope, and his peace, and his assurance in the Lord.
If we had time, we might spiritualize on this story tonight: “fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, wishing for the day” [Acts 27:29]. That would be a good spiritualizing sermon; casting four anchors out of the storm-tossed boat on the sea of life. The anchor could be one of faith, “I believe God” [Acts 27:25]. An anchor could be assurance, “Be of good cheer: for it shall be even as God spoke to me” [Acts 27:25]. It could be of thanksgiving, “He took bread and before them all, in the midst of that raging storm, he gave thanks to God in the presence of them all” [Acts 27:35]. What in the world would you give thanks for when your life was in peril and you face certain disaster and death? That’s the calm and the assurance that God gives a man who is trusting in Him. What a beautiful thing, and what a wonderful thing, when our lives can find peace and rest and assurance in the presence of the Lord. “For I believe God” [Acts 27:25], facing the future with God.
Not only His providential guardian care, but I believe in His Word, in His immutable, inspired, and unchanging promise [2 Timothy 3:16]. Where do I find the Word of God? I find it here in this blessed Book. I believe God. I believe in His immutable, inspired, inerrant, and unchanging Word. It is an interesting thing to read the response of men to the Word of the Lord. World without end, literally, world without end; there are those who teach and preach and who believe that inspiration is nothing but a matter of degree; that the men who wrote this Bible, these prophets of the Old Testament, and these apostles of the New Testament, that they were men just as ordinary other men, differing only in the degree of their genius. They would say that Judas could easily have been the apostle Paul, had he had the ability. They would say that all literature is just a matter of degree. Any man could have been an Ezekiel, or an Isaiah, or a psalmist, or a John the sainted apostle, if he had the gift. And the difference between these men who, under the inspiration of the Word of God, wrote the Bible for us; the difference between these men and all of the other men who write is just the difference in their ability, in their genius, in the literary accomplishments that they were able to achieve. That is a strange thing to avow: that these prophets and these apostles were not distinct and set apart in the Word that they brought.
That is a strange thing to say because we have the literature of the world before us, and we can read it. And we can compare what men of the world write in all of their highest genius—we can compare it with what men write under the inspiration and the aegis of the Holy Spirit of God [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. Take the greatest geniuses in literature. Of the ancient world it would be Homer. You can read Homer; any library will have the Iliad or the Odyssey. You can check it out and read it. The greatest genius, literary, of modern times is Shakespeare. There is not a library in the world that doesn’t have Shakespeare; you can check it out and read it for yourself. And all of the great nations in between, whether the literature be German or Russian or Italian or French or English, read it. Look at it. Then compare Shakespeare or Homer with Isaiah or the sainted apostle John. You move in a different world when you move into the inspired light of these who are writing with the inspiration, the God-breathed words that God gave them from heaven. There is a light and a glory, an inspiration, an ableness to create life in this Book that is not found in any other literature of the world.
And that includes the literature of all other religions; the Bhagavad Gita, or the Vedic hymns, or the Koran, or the Sayings of Confucius, or the Four Laws of the enlightened Buddha. Put it all together, boil it down into its quintessence, and there is not the light from all of it together to compare with the light that shines from one leaf of the New Testament revealing the Lord Jesus Christ. God breathed into Adam the breath of life [Genesis 2:7], and he had the ability to create life, to father children [Genesis 4:1-2]. The same Holy Spirit breathes into this Book the Word of God [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21], the breath of life, the breath of God, and it is able to create life in the hearts and souls of those who listen to its words and who follow its sacred message. What a wonder. What a wonder. The Book that I hold in my hand; the living message from the living Lord; the Spirit of God is in the words of the Bible. Its message is miraculous. It is universal. It speaks to the human heart in every condition and kind and tribe and nation and tongue under the sun. It fills the centuries. It fills all time. It bursts through the barriers that separate and partition the races and the nations of humanity. It is universal.
Look at that. There is no such thing as French mathematics. There is no such thing as English physics. There is no such thing as German astronomy. There is no such thing as American anatomy. These great truths of God are universal. They belong to no nation and no people and no tribe and no tongue. It is the same with God’s other great Book of truth. It is universal. It speaks to the human heart in every age and in every condition, in every kind and tribe and syllable and language under the sun. The miracle of the Bible is a phenomenon that is observable before us today.
Look at it. When I was a little boy, a little, little, little boy, a small child, I went to Sunday school. And in those days, they had what they call the “card class,” and every Sunday we were given a little picture. And underneath the picture was a verse of Scripture, and we learned the verse of Scripture. As a little, little child, moved by the Word of God. Now, after these years and years and years and through the seminary and a doctorate in theology, I still am moved and enthralled and lifted up, inspired and encouraged by that same Word of God. It is like a lamb could wade in. It is like a big lumbering elephant could swim in. It is unfathomable, yet in the reach of the humblest and the tiniest among us.
I think of the light. It is a mystery, light. These scientists study it—especially America now is trying to gather strength and energy from it. The scientist studies it, and he says it moves on a wave that goes one hundred eighty-six thousand miles a second. What things they try to discover about the wonder of God’s light! And the scientist is overwhelmed by the things of the potentiality, of that glow from the sun. That is the scientist. But did you also know that the humblest and the most ignorant among us can gather enough light to walk in the way? The sun shines upon him too. And whether it is the scientist seeking to discover its secrets and seize its energy for modern man, or whether it is the most ignorant and unlearned man among us walking in its light, it’s a wonder, this Word of God. The man of genius can study it and preach about it and write about it, and yet the humblest member of this church can be moved by it, and stirred by it, and changed by it, and blessed by it, and encouraged by it. I believe in God, in God’s Word.
If I can, I want to show you something that came to pass in the kindness and goodness of this preacher who sits here by my side. His name is Allan Stephens. He is pastor of the East Hill Baptist Church in London. And being in London, he took us to Colchester, which is a city a little north and mostly east of London where Charles Haddon Spurgeon was converted. And while we were there in Colchester, he took us, he took me to the city hall. And in the city hall, there is a beautiful and effective room made out of marble. And it is dedicated to the Colchester martyrs. And the tablet there in the hall, says it is in memory of those blessed martyrs for Christ who were burned alive in this town of Colchester for their firm adherence to the faith. Then it has a heraldic motto: “No cross, no crown.” And here is a picture of that beautiful memorial to the Colchester martyrs. And I read about them. And you look at these men. You look at them. William Chiveling, a tailor of Colchester; the charges against him were that, quote “the heresy of reading the Holy Scriptures,” and he was burned outside the gate in 1428 for reading the Word of God. The next one, John Camper. The light of learning was quenched for one hundred years until Tyndale arose and printed the New Testament, and little companies gathered for its reading and study. John Camper was one of those, and he was burned at the stake in Colchester in 1546 for reading the Word of God. I turn to the pages of those martyrs. On the second day of August, 1557, [ten] of those noble witnesses were burned at the stake, and with joy they clapped their hands in the fire at being counted worthy to suffer for His name. I turn the page: here is John Johnson, age thirty-four, a widower in prison with his three young children. He was condemned to suffer in the fire with them. And the triumph and joy in the flames of these four, the widower and his three children, caused the bystanders to shout with admiration as they received the martyr’s crown. Just one other in that long group: on the twenty-sixth of May, 1558, two men, William Harris and Richard Day, and one woman, Christiana George, suffered in Colchester. Foxe, who wrote that famous Book of the Martyrs; Foxe says of them, quote, “Being settled in their places and chained unto their post, with the fire flaming fiercely around them, they like constant Christians triumphantly praised God, in His name.” Dear me, what power in that Book—leading men unto death! As I read that little pamphlet describing those Colchester martyrs who were burned at the stake because they loved and read the Word of God, I couldn’t help but think of one of the great, famous infidels of America who is speaking before a popular audience about the tortures of the Inquisition said. And I quote from his address:
There is not much of the martyr about me. I would have told them, “Now you write it down, anything you want me to confess and I will sign it. You can have one God or a million. You may have one hell or a million. But stop persecuting me.
He would have turned Judas to his own churlish beliefs, had they pushed down and turned the thumbscrew. What a difference the Word of God makes in a man! I believe God. I believe His Word [Acts 27:25].
Not only that, I believe God, facing the future with God, believing in His guardian care, believing in His immutable and unchanging Word [1 Peter 5:7]. I believe God in His promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord [John 3:16]. You see, that’s what all of this section of the Book of Acts is about. This man Paul is on trial for his life, and what is the accusation? The procurator said it in these words, “It concerns one Jesus who was dead, whom this Paul affirms to be alive” [Acts 25:19]. And in his defense, the apostle said to King Agrippa, “King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8]. I believe in God. I believe in immortality, in the future life, in salvation, in the eternal gift of God in Christ Jesus; “The Lord having provided some better thing for us” [Hebrews 11:40].
You know, in my studying, it is amazing to me as I read and read, it is amazing to me how even philosophers and even infidels are somehow persuaded about the reality of another life, of a future life, of immortality. It surprises me. For example, Bob Ingersoll, who was the most blatant and popular of all the infidels who ever lived in America, Bob Ingersoll one time said, “You know, when we die, we say we hope to see you again.” What an astonishing admission on the part of an infidel. Or take Tom Paine, who doubtless is one of the most famous infidels in America, Tom Paine is arguing for immortality, and this is what Tom Paine says in his argument. He says that to him it is unthinkable that God, who only could create the soul, would extinguish it; that God created the soul just to destroy it. That’s Tom Paine. In reading ancient literature, Plato says in one of the most marvelous and eloquent passages in his philosophic literature, Plato says that, “All of the speculations and hopes regarding immortality are the wrath upon which our souls now are cast, waiting for some sure word of God on which we could be more securely and more safely carried.” What an amazing thing! What an astonishing thing.
Listen to this quote that I wrote down from Cicero, quote, “There is, I know not how, in the minds of men a certain presage, as it were, of a future existence. And this takes the deepest root and is most discoverable in the greatest geniuses and most exalted souls.” Cicero noted that.
Here is a little line from Tennyson. “A Prayer”:
Ah, Christ, that it were possible
For one short hour
To see the souls we loved
That they might tell us
What and where they be.
[“A Prayer,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson]
You can’t deny that. There is in the human heart and in the human soul a longing after God, after a better life, a better world, immortality; when we die, that we live again. That is ingrained, it is a part of human nature.
Now I want to ask you, does God put that in all of us? It is universal. There is no people or language or tribe however degraded, that does not believe in some kind of an afterlife. Even the American Indian put a bow and arrow and a bowl of food for the Indian warrior for his happy hunting ground. Even the ancient Egyptian wrapped up and placed all of the things that he possessed in the grave of the dead, for them to use in a life that is to come. It is universal. Now I ask you, does God put that in the human heart, that longing after another life, only to extinguish it in cruel interdiction and negation? Does God do that?
It is like a little child, and Christmas is coming. And he says to his daddy, “Daddy, will there be anything for me at Christmas?”
And daddy says, “Son, wait and see. Wait and see.”
And he has a little daughter and the little girl comes up to the father and says, “Daddy, will there be anything for Christmas for me?”
And daddy says, “Wait and see, wait and see.”
Then when Christmas comes, there is nothing. Does a man do that? Does God do that?
Listen, I ask you: along crawls a caterpillar on all of its legs, and it feels its house growing old. And it wraps itself around, and it dreams of another day. It dreams of a flowering garden, and it dreams of flying, and it goes to sleep in that dream. Is that impossible? Is that not capable of realization? Is that unthinkable and incredible? What does God do? The day comes soon when the wrapping is broken apart. The decay has quickened into life. And the caterpillar, a worm, flies through in the beauty of its wings, under the light of the sun, in the flowers of the garden. My brother, does God do more for a worm than He does for a man? Is it unthinkable that God would do that for us when He does it for a worm?
I believe in God, facing the future with the Lord—an ultimate and a better life [Hebrews 11:40]. An infidel said to a humble peasant in the French Revolution, “We are going to tear down your churches, and we are going to tear down your steeples, and we are going to tear down every sign of the superstition of your belief in God and of an afterlife.” And the humble peasant replied, “Citizen, sir, then you must pull down the stars also.” In the heart of a man God has placed eternity [Ecclesiastes 3:11]. And we look forward and pray for and hope for a better life, in a better world, in the presence of our living Lord. I believe in God, in His promise of immortality, of a better life to come [Acts 27:25; Hebrews 11:40].
May I say just one other? I believe in God. I believe in the immortality of a man here in this earth until his work is finished. God said to the apostle Paul in chapter 23 [Acts 23], in the night when this conspiracy of murder was against him, in the night the Lord stood by him—this is verse 11—the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul: as thou has testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also in Rome” [Acts 23:11]. And then in our passage, in our text, “There stood by me the angel of God. . . saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar . . . Wherefore. . .be of good cheer: I believe God, that it shall be even as it was said unto me” [Acts 27:23-25]. Our lives are immortal here in this world until our work is finished. As long as God has a work for me to do, there will no evil overwhelm me, and no death shall destroy me, as long as I have an assigned task here in the earth.
And I want you to see what God did with the apostle Paul. He is a prisoner in Rome, as God said He would be a witness to His saving grace [Acts 23:11]. He is in Rome. Now you think of that. Three soldiers are chained to the apostle Paul every day in the Praetorian palace. There is a change of guard, three every day; every eight hours there is a different soldier chained to the apostle Paul. Can you imagine what happened when a man was chained to the apostle Paul for eight hours? Can you imagine? Can you imagine? So he writes in the first chapter of the Philippian letter, verse 12: “I would you should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out to the furtherance of the gospel; so that my chains—my bonds in Christ are manifest in all of the Praetorian palace, and in all other places” [Philippians 1:12-13]. What an amazing come to pass! So in the same Philippian letter, Paul writes to those dear people in Philippi, who sent him a gift, a love letter, and he says, “All the saints salute you that are of Caesar’s household!” [Philippians 4:22]. Just look at that. Taken a prisoner to Rome, and in the Praetorian palace chained there to those guards, a witness for Christ. That’s God’s immortality for the apostle Paul, until his task was finished.
Then one other thing. Not only does God say, “You are to be My witness and until that task is finished, there shall no evil overwhelm you, and there shall be no death draw nigh you,” but God said, “And lo, the Lord hath given thee all them that sail with thee” [Acts 27:24]; two hundred seventy-five others of them. Isn’t that a marvelous thing? For his sake. For his sake. For Paul’s sake, God says, I will spare these other two hundred seventy-five, for his sake I will do it. Ah, dear people, when all two hundred seventy-six of them were saved out of the raging storm, every one of the other two hundred seventy-five, if they were honest, they would say, “We are here and spared and saved and alive because of the love and prayers and godly devotion of this man right here.”
And sweet people, we are exactly like that—all of us. We are here and saved and spared because of; some of us would say, “because of my old sainted mother”; some of us would say, “because of my godly father”; some of us would say, “because of a devout undershepherd and pastor.” Some of you would say, “because of this faithful Sunday school teacher”; some of you would say, “because of this dear friend.” Some of you might say, “because of my husband”; some of you might say, “because of my wife.” Some of you might say, “because of my own little child, led me to Jesus.” But every one such of us, if we were honest, would say we are here in the kingdom of God, saved and facing heaven, because of somebody’s prayers and love and endearment and care. Ah, how much we owe to so few! That’s God. That’s the Lord.
Now may we stand together? Wonderful, precious, living Savior, would to God I could preach the gospel as I want to preach it. Would I could say those words as I want to say them. Lord, with such stammering lips is the Lord glorified. And with what feeble and halting sentences do we magnify our wonderful Savior. But our Lord, it’s in our heart to lift Thee up. And may the Spirit take the testimony, and on wings of omnipotence and inspiration bear the truth to the hearts of the people. And may they rejoice in the glory and goodness and grace of our Lord. And our Savior, tonight may it be that some will find Thee dear to their hearts and place life and heart and home and destiny with us, in our pilgrimage to heaven—facing God-ward and heavenward and Christ-ward with us. In Thy blessed and saving name, amen.
While we stand, while we pray, while we wait, while we ask God’s blessings for you; down one of these aisles, down one of these stairways, “Pastor, I am on the way. I have decided for God, and here I am, bringing my whole family with me.” Do it, and welcome. “We are going to bring our children up in the love and nurture of the Lord, we are all coming” [Ephesians 6:4]. Or a couple; or just one somebody you, “I want to be saved” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or, “I want to be baptized just like God said in His Book” [Matthew 28:19]. Or, “I want to put my life in the fellowship of this wonderful church.” Or, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now. Do it now. Make it now. May angels attend you. May the Holy Spirit bless you as you answer with your life, while we pray, while we wait, and while we sing.