ADORNING THE DOCTRINE OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-7-80 10:50 a.m.
It is a gladness for us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas to welcome the thousands and uncounted thousands of you who are sharing this service with us on television and on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Adorning the Doctrine of God. This is one of the pivotal moments in my life. I have been a pastor for fifty and three years, and there has never been a time more meaningful to me personally than this moment now. We begin today two tremendous series of sermons. The first will be delivered at the morning hour on “The Great Doctrines of the Faith”; the tremendous doctrines of the Bible. The evening hour at seven o’clock will begin a series that will go until Christmastime entitled “The Problems of Human Life,” and the sermon tonight at seven o’clock is entitled Noah: Drugs, Drunkenness, and Nakedness. It will burn your ears, and if you are inclined to be shocked, don’t you be present here tonight: you will be greatly embarrassed. Noah: Drugs, Drunkenness, and Nakedness; the problems of human life, beginning tonight.
Now, in this long series that will last over three years on “The Great Doctrines of the Bible,” there are two introductory sermons, and then we will follow the fifteen divisions into which the long series on doctrine is divided. The one today, Adorning the Doctrine of God, that’s on epistemology; and the second one next Sunday morning, How God Teaches Doctrinal Truth, that will be on hermeneutics; and then the following third Sunday, we begin the series on the Bible, bibliology. Then, after the delivery of those eleven messages, we’ll start on the doctrines of God, theology property; seven. Then, after that, the doctrinal series on Jesus the Christ, Christology; and there are about, there are sixteen messages in that series. Then we start the doctrinal series on the Holy Spirit, pneumatology; there are eight in that. Then the doctrinal series on the church, ecclesiology; there are thirteen in that. Then the doctrinal series on salvation, soteriology; there are fifteen in that. Then the doctrinal series on Israel, God’s chosen people, berithology. That’s a “Criswellian” word; you’ll never find it anywhere else. You have another one here, Criswellian, the doctrinal series on stewardship: economology. And then you have a doctrinal series on prayer, proseuchology; those are my words, but they come out of the Good Book. For example, the doctrinal series on Israel, God’s chosen people, berithology: berith, the covenant, the people of the covenant. We’re going to have the best time in the world, and we begin today. And I thank Gary Moore for giving me time to preach. I need all day long, and every minute he adds to this moment of pulpit delivery is a precious thing to me.
Adorning the Doctrine of God: it is a message built upon a verse in Titus chapter 2, verse 10: “Adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things” [Titus 2:10]. I might point out incidentally that that is one of the great doctrines of the faith right there: he calls Jesus “God.” “Adorning the doctrine of God our Savior”; and look, he does it again in verse 13, Titus 2:13, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” That’s going to be a part of the sermon this morning: Jesus, God our Savior. Adorning the Doctrine of God: the first part of the message will be a definition of the doctrine. A second part of the message will be the importance and the all-significant vitalness of the doctrine. And the third part of the message will be adorning the doctrine of God.
First, a definition of the doctrine: there are two Greek words here in the text that we especially notice. “Adorn,” kosmeō; the Greeks called the universe a kosmos. Kosmeo means “to beautify, to adorn,” and they called the universe a kosmos, “an adornment,” because to them it was so beautifully well ordered. When a woman beautifies her face, she will use cosmetics, from this word “to beautify.” So to adorn the doctrine of God is to beautify it, to make it attractive. Then “the doctrine”: the Greek word is didaskalia. Didaskō means “to teach.” Our word “didactic” comes from it. And what is taught is didaskalia, translated here “the doctrine” [Titus 2:10]. It is a word that describes what is taught, what is revealed, what is made known. Forty-eight times is that word used in the New Testament. In the second chapter of the Book of Acts, those first disciples “continued in the didaskalia, the doctrine, of the apostles” [Acts 2:42]. You have a good illustration of the use of that word didaskalia, referring to the substance, the sum, the summation of the teaching of the knowledge of God, in the Pastoral Epistles, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.
For example, Paul will write in [1 Timothy] 4:13, “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to didaskalia, to the doctrine.” He closes that same chapter with another exhortation: “Take heed to thyself, and to the didaskalia, the doctrine; continue in them: in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” [1 Timothy 4:16]. What an awesome responsibility! In the sixth chapter of 1 Timothy, “Teach the didaskalia, the doctrine, which is according to godliness” [1 Timothy 6:2-3]. In 2 Timothy, chapter 3, the apostle writes in verse 16, “All Scripture, all of it is theopneustos, God-breathed,” translated here, “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for didaskalia, for doctrine” [2 Timothy 3:16]. Then in the charge that he makes to Timothy in chapter 4, “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ . . . preach the Word . . . rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and didaskalia, doctrine” [2 Timothy 4:1-2]. And then in Titus, again, he begins this second chapter, “Speak thou the things which become sound didaskalia, sound doctrine” [Titus 2:1]. And then my text: “Adorn the didaskalia, the doctrine of God our Savior in all things” [Titus 2:10]. We have then in that word a plain meaning: there is a definite and definitive summation of the truth of God delivered unto us called the doctrine, or the faith.
You have a magnificent exhortation of that in Jude, Jude 3. Jude says in his exhortation, “Earnestly contend for,” now, epagonizomai, epi is a propositional word in Greek used to emphasize, and he adds it to the Greek word agonizomai, our “agonize” is that word. Epagonizomai, translated here “contend earnestly for”; now you look at the Greek construction, “for the faith, for,” translated here, “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” [Jude 1:3]. Here’s the Greek of it: “for the once for all delivered to the saints, faith.” There is a definitely delineated and described and definitive body of truth that is called “the once for all delivered to the saints, faith” [Jude 1:3]. Not just any system, or any body of knowledge, or any body of speculation or philosophy, but “the once for all delivered to the saints, faith”; the faith, the doctrine, a definite system and a definite body of truth.
Paul says in the first chapter of Galatians that he received that doctrine from Christ Himself, not from flesh and blood. He wasn’t taught it by men, but, he says, “I received it directly from Christ Himself” [Galatians 1:11-12]. Paul actually presents a fifth of the four evangelists. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul, there are five Gospels. Paul says that he was true to that system to martyrdom and to death. In this last chapter of 2 Timothy, he says, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, the doctrine” [2 Timothy 4:7]. When Jude says, “the once-for-all, delivered-to-the-saints, faith” [Jude 1:3], then it is final; it is once-for-all, delivered-to-the-saints, faith. I’m not to add to it. I’m not to take away from it. The last book in the Bible, the Apocalypse, in the last chapter says we’re to add nothing to it, nor are we to take anything from it [Revelation 22:18-19]. And when a true minister stands in the pulpit, he’s not to present his opinions and ideas over against the faith once for all delivered to the saints; but he is a voice, he is an echo, he is to deliver the truth and the revelation of God, that system, that body of truth called the didaskalia, the doctrine, the faith.
Now, we are told very plainly in the Bible its origin, where it comes from. The doctrine, the faith originates in the self-disclosure and the self-revelation of God. There is a branch of philosophy called epistemology. Epistemology is the study of how we know; it is a presentation of our knowing. Epistemology searches out the origin, and the validity, and the limits, and the methods of knowing, of knowledge. How do we know that we know? What are the processes of learning? And what are the origin and the limits of our knowing? These ancient philosophers much discussed that and studied that. Plato said that the ultimate truth of knowledge lies in the mind, it lies in the processes of reasoning, it lies in the nous, it lies in ideas. For example, Plato would say that chair, that’s temporary; that’s not actually and real. That chair there, that’s a different kind of a chair, it is temporary, it is ephemeral. Plato would say the real chair is the idea in the mind; and that abides forever. That is Platonic. All of the idealists will trace their origin back to Plato. Contrariwise, Aristotle taught that true knowledge is gained by the senses and by factual observation. And all of your secular humanists and your empiricists and your pragmatists, your pragmatists, and all of your secularists will trace their origin back to Aristotle; that we don’t know except in our senses and in our factual observation.
Now, the Christian faith avows that in neither one of those categories can we come to the true and full knowledge of all that God means and does. The Christian faith would say that a man cannot know God by reasoning. Do you remember Job, in the eleventh chapter and the seventh and eighth verses, Job cries, “Can a man by searching find out God? The knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is higher than the heavens, it is deeper than hell, it is longer than the earth, it is broader than the sea” [Job 11:7-9]. The Christian system of theology would say that you cannot know ultimate knowledge by reasoning: the mind cannot answer the question, “Where did I come from?” nor, “Why am I here?” the meaning of existence; nor, “What is my destiny? What lies in the future?” the mind cannot know.
Likewise, the Christian system of theology would avow that we cannot know ultimate truth by our senses, by factual observation. It is limited, and you can’t get beyond it; all you can do is just see what you see, or feel what you feel, or observe what you observe. But the truth, the real actual purpose or meaning lies beyond what the senses is able to realize or factual observation is ever able to know. Therefore, the Christian system of truth binds itself to the self-revelation of God! It is only as God reveals Himself, discloses Himself, that finally we come to the knowledge of the truth, ultimate and final truth; and that ultimate and final truth in the self-revelation of God we call didaskalia, “the doctrine,” or, “the faith” [Jude 1:3].
We shall now discuss the importance and the significance of that doctrine. Doctrines make us what we are. Whatever we are is a result of didaskalia, the faith, the doctrines. If the doctrines are true and faithful and correct, they are a foundation upon which the Christian life erects the superstructure. Doctrines are the foundation upon which the Christian life does rest. And if the foundation is correct and true and inerrant, then the house above is strong and living. But if the foundation is incorrect, and unstable, and untrue, and not strong, then the walls that are built upon it will ultimately collapse. And that is the tragedy that has overwhelmed modern culture and modern civilization. They have built their house upon the sand, and we are seeing it collapse all around us.
The psalmist cried, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” [Psalm 11:3]. There are uncounted millions and millions of modern day living that has been misled by the rosy promises of secular humanism, materialism, false philosophy, pseudoscience. And these millions now live in abject, abysmal, existential despair. There’s no meaning in life, and there’s no hope and no future. There are other millions and millions who have been deceived by the hopelessness of human speculation. They have turned aside from the great foundational faith that God has revealed to us, and in human speculation, they have lost their way, their hope.
Thomas Hardy died in 1928. Thomas Hardy was the most gifted of all of the novelists and poets of the English world of our modern times. Thomas Hardy was a modernistic man. He was typical of this modern world. Let me read you one of the most wistful utterances you’ll ever hear in human speech. This marvelous genius of a literary giant is standing in a church, and he is watching the people worship—I thought of you, kneeling there by your chair—and this is Thomas Hardy as he stands in the church and watches:
Since heart of mine knows not that ease
Which they know; since it be
That He who breathes All’s Well to them
Breathes no All’s Well to me,
My lack might move their sympathies
And Christian charity!
I am like a gazer who should mark
An inland company
Standing upfingered, with “Hark! hark!
The glorious distant sea!”
But I feel, “Alas, ‘tis but yon dark
And wind-swept water to me!”
[“The Impercipient,” Thomas Hardy, 1898]
This is the modern existentialist despair of hopelessness because we have departed from the great foundations of truth, and we are beginning to build our lives and our culture and our civilization upon the shifting sands of human speculation.
We’re discussing the all importance of doctrines, correct doctrines. We have spoken of it as the foundation of Christian living, Christian life. Second: as a dipper will hold and mold and shape the water, so the doctrines, the faith holds and shapes and molds the church. If the doctrine is heretical or deviational, the church will be just that: it will be heretical and deviational. But if the doctrine is true and faithful, the church will be just like that.
In the 300s, in the latter part of the 200s AD and up into the first 300s AD, there was a violent doctrinal controversy that swept the entire Roman Empire. A brilliant man and a marvelous preacher by the name of Arius promulgated the doctrine that Jesus is not God: He is like God, but He is not God. And he swept the whole Christian world into that heresy. When Athanasius stood up against him, declaring that Jesus is God of very God, deity itself, they said to Athanasius, “The whole world is against you.” Then he replied that famous sentence, “Then it is I, Athanasius, against the whole world.” As you know, it resulted in the Council of Nicaea, in 325 AD, that spelled out the deity of our Lord; God in the flesh.
Well, Edward Gibbon wrote the greatest history in the history of the world. It is entitled The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He was an atheist—or, let’s be nice to him—he was an agnostic. And when he came to that story, Arius saying that Jesus is homoiousios, like God, similar to God, similar to the essence and substance of God but not God, and Athanasius says, “Jesus is homoousios, He is the identical substance, the identical essence of God; He is God of very God,” the difference in the two words homoiousios and homoousios is the difference of a Greek iota. So Edward Gibbon made the sarcastic remark that they tore apart the entire Roman Empire with a Greek iota, a little tiny “i.”
Thomas Carlyle picked that up, and in the vigor of his young manhood, he used that as an illustration of how clergymen, men of the cloth, men of the church divide up over inconsequentials, arguing in forensic confrontation over pointless differences. That’s what Carlyle did. When Carlyle became an old man and a wiser man, he apologized for that avowal and attitude to which he’d given himself in younger years and admitted that those differences sometimes spell the difference between heaven and earth. Carlyle’s later attitude is correct: these doctrines sometimes in their smallest enunciations are all significant and vital. There’s not an astronomer, there’s not a mathematician, there’s not a chemist making out his chemical formulae, there’s not a banker in the earth but that would say to you that point, that decimal point is all important: you move it, and it changes the world. There’s not one of them but would say, “You can’t transfer digits and numbers without making a colossal difference.” It is the same thing with the faith: what that doctrine is and how it is presented and spelled out, makes the difference in all heaven and earth.
A little pebble falling in a brook
Has changed full many a river,
And a dew drop bending low a twig
Has warped a giant oak forever.
Doctrines, the teaching, the didaskalia is vitally important; that’s why these exhortations in the Pastoral Epistles; to be faithful in teaching the doctrine.
A third thing about the doctrine: not only is it the foundation of human life, and not only does it form and mold and shape the church, but rigidity of belief has guided and determined the destiny and the course of our Christian civilization. That’s what has done it. In the beginning, those first apostles of Christ and disciples of our Lord faced a pagan world given to idolatry. And the Roman Caesars seizing upon it made themselves the object of the worship of the people in their idolatrous temples. And they identified worship with patriotism. And if they didn’t worship and bow before the emperor, the image, they were guilty of treason. So the Christian, the first Christian, when he went out into the Greco-Roman world, refused to bow even to put a little pinch of incense on the flame that burned before the image of the Roman Caesar. And they said, “Kurios Iesous, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord,” and not “Kurios Kaisar, Caesar is Lord.” And because of the unbendingness, the rigidity, the commitment of those early Christians, they were fed to the lions. The Coliseum was stained for centuries with the blood of those martyrs. They were burned at the stake, but they refused to compromise and to bow. Rigidity of doctrine made the Christian the powerful martyr in those first centuries.
If we had all day and a week we would follow it through the centuries that followed after. A good example is our Christian America: it came out of that rigidity of belief, that commitment to the doctrine of God. Refusing to accept the dominance of a state church over their little congregations, the Pilgrims came to America. And our forefathers founded this nation, where we might have a free church in a free state. And in those days, there was a little Baptist congregation in England that under severe persecution fled to Holland. They had a pastor named Thomas Helwys. And over there in Holland, their consciences began to strike them, and they said to one another, “We’re not doing right to stay here in Holland to avoid persecution in England.” So they decided, that little Baptist congregation, to return to England at the peril of their lives. When they did so, Thomas Helwys, writing a little tract on religious liberty, sent it to King James I of England, with this word: “Halt! The king is a mortal man and not God. Therefore hath no power over ye immortal souls of his subjects, to make laws and ordinances for them, and to set spiritual lords over them. If the king has authority to make spiritual lords and laws, then he is an immortal God and not a mortal man.” And as they closed their Amsterdam confession of faith, “For Christ is the only King and Lawgiver of the church and conscience.” And they seized him and imprisoned him and kept him there until he rotted and died: the rigidity of the faith! By the way, one of their converts was the name Roger Williams. The commitment to the doctrine, the rigidity of faith, the unbendingness of the commitment has made, founded Christian America.
We are speaking of the importance of the doctrine, the didaskalia, for the Christian life, its foundation; for the molding of the church, its inerrant truth and how it affects and determines the destiny of history. We come now to the word in our text: “Adorning the didaskalia of God our Savior” [Titus 2:10]; making it beautiful and attractive. The doctrine is the skeletal system upon which we live, and work, and move, and exist. Without that skeletal framework, we would be queer heaps and blobs of human flesh. It is the skeletal structure that lifts us up and makes it possible for us to do and to work and to become.
It was in the wisdom of God, in a miraculous wisdom of God, that we were given this human skeletal system. A skull, a cranium, a cranial cavity to house our brain and to protect it; a system of vertebrae, and a thoracic cavity to hold and to protect our heart and lungs and our vital organs; femurs for locomotion; tarsals and metatarsals for walking; carpals and metacarpals and phalanges for handling; engineers say it’s a miracle of God, the strength, and the mobility, and the pliability, and the utility of our skeletal structure. It is thus with the faith, with the doctrine of God: without it, it is nothing but a heap of meaningless mass. But with it the doctrine exists, and it moves, and it works. But in itself the skeleton, bare and bleached dry, is crude and unlovely and sort of awesomely forbearing; it needs something.
One of the most unusual visions and one of the most dramatic in the Bible is the thirty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel, when he stands and looks over a valley of dry bones, and says, “They were very dry” [Ezekiel 37:2]. And as he stands and looks, then God begins to move and to work. And in keeping with that Negro spiritual, Ezekiel looks, and those foot bones are added to the ankle bones, and the ankle bones are joined to the knee bones, and the knee bones are joined to the thigh bones, and the thigh bones are joined to the neck bones, and the neck bones are joined to the head bones, and he sees all those bones, bones, bones, coming together. So they’re all together there in the valley, but it isn’t fulsome, it isn’t beautiful, so God says to Ezekiel, “Pray.” And the Spirit of God comes and He covers all of those skeletons with beautiful, beautiful flesh. And then He breathes, God breathes upon them, and they live, and they stand up a great army for God [Ezekiel 37:7-10]. It is thus with the doctrines of the faith. They need to be incarnate in warm flesh and blood. They need to live in us.
I read an atheist, and he said, “I can argue with the Christian apologists, but in our home is a little maiden servant girl, a disciple of Jesus.” And that atheist said, “The pure, holy, honest, virtuous life of that little maiden girl staggers me, pulverizes me!” What are you going to say against a beautiful, godly Christian life? What answer are you going to give to that godly praying mother? What answer can an atheist say against a devout and God-fearing and upstanding, sun-crowned, glorious, Christian man? The world may not read the fine print of our systematic theology, but it surely looks at the bold type of our Christian living. And that’s why the apostle speaks; we are to adorn the doctrine of Christ our Savior [Titus 2:10].
That’s one of the strangest things you’ll ever look at here in the Bible. In that second chapter of Titus, he says, he says to Titus, “You speak the things which become sound doctrine” [Titus 2:1]. And wouldn’t you have thought that thereafter follows an expatiation on the atonement, and the virgin birth, and soteriology, and bibliology, and all of these things that we’re going to discuss? Now you look at it. The next verse, “Say to the aged men…” [Titus 2:2]. Now the next verse, “Say to the aged women…” [Titus 2:3]. And the next verse, “Say to the young women…” [Titus 2:4]. And the next verse, “Say to the young men…” [Titus 2:6]. And then the next verse, “Say to those who work… [Titus 2:7]. Adorning the doctrine of God our Savior [Titus 2:10]. Looking for that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ; Who gave Himself for us . . . that we might be zealous of good works [Titus 2:13-14]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing, adorning the doctrine of God?
And I see it here in the life of our dear church in a way that lifts me to heaven in gratitude and bows me to the earth in humility. Because of the spiraling costs, inflationary pressures, even the utilities in our church are beginning to cost seven hundred thousand dollars a year; and because of the spiraling pressures of higher interest rates, our beautiful new building is costing far more than we had planned. And facing that difficulty, one of the sweet members of our church wrote me a letter about four weeks ago, and said, “I have heard of the great need in the church. I am enclosing a check for fifty thousand dollars to help a little bit”; adorning the doctrine of God our Savior [Titus 2:10].
About three weeks ago, down that aisle came a little maiden lady in our church. And kneeling there with me, she said, “I want to give myself and all of me to the Lord.” So I asked Lanny Elmore, our minister of missions, and I had the two to visit together. And it was agreed that that little maiden lady would go work in our Good Shepherd Chapel—that’s our ministry among the poor pressed against the heart of this city—and she’s going to play the piano, and she’s going to teach a class, and she’s giving her life to work there.
Then last Wednesday, Wednesday of this week, she came to me and placed in my hands a check for ten thousand dollars. And I remonstrated against it. It is all her living; it is everything that she has. A relative said, “What will you do?” And she replied, “God will take care of me”; and brought to the Lord everything that she has. Had I been a younger pastor, as I have made mistakes in days passed, I would have refused it; I learned that hurts the hearts of people who prayed and who have decided God leads them to this sacrificial gift of themselves. And then later on, I would have said, “No, don’t you give that to me.” And then one said to me, “Pastor, I’m not giving it to you; I’m giving it to God.” So I took it, all of her living, everything that she possesses, and I dedicated it to the Lord God in this dear church. But I want you to know that since Wednesday night, I have never been so humbled in all of my life. Adorning the doctrine of God, not just avowing or saying or speaking, but doing it in a beautiful and precious way.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died;
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
[“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Isaac Watts]
Adorning the doctrine of God with a beautiful and committed and consecrated life [Titus 2:10].
May we stand together?
Our Lord, as we begin this long series on the great doctrines of the faith, may God speak to our minds and speak to our hearts, and may we respond in a beautiful way, adorning, beautifying, making lovely and attractive the great, mighty, foundational truths of God. Lord, meet with us in power, in a double portion of the pouring out of the Spirit of God. And then, our Lord, seal and sanctify the truth we try to preach by the gift of souls. May people be saved and may God add to His church.
And in this holy and heavenly moment, when we stand before God in prayer, in supplication for you, a family to put life in our dear church, to rear your children here in the circle and circumference of our teaching ministries; a couple to put your life with us; somebody you to accept Jesus as Savior, to follow the Lord in baptism, to answer God’s call with your life; in a moment when we sing, make that decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we sing, make that first step. Down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles; it’ll be the greatest step you ever made in your life. Do it now.
And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You will give us. In our Savior’s keeping name, amen.
Now, while we sing, come, and welcome, welcome, welcome. Down that stairway, down this aisle: “Here I am, pastor. I have made this decision for God, and I’m on the way.”