How God Teaches Doctrinal Truth
September 14th, 1980 @ 8:15 AM
HOW GOD TEACHES DOCTRINAL TRUTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-14-80 8:15 a.m.
It is a gladness to welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas on the two radio stations that carry this early morning hour. This is the pastor of the church delivering the second message in the long series on “The Great Doctrines of the Bible.” It is divided into fifteen sections. This series that will continue over three years, and the first part is introductory. And there were two sermons in the first section. Last Sunday the first was preached, entitled Adorning the Doctrine of God; and this Sunday is the second which is introductory, entitled How God Teaches Doctrinal Truth. Then next Sunday we begin the series of eleven messages on bibliology. And the title of the sermon next Sunday morning, the first one in that series, the title is Books and the Book. Then in the series that will continue until Christmas, through this fall, on Sunday night, the message tonight is entitled Ishmael: Islam and the Oil Slick. And when you listen to it you’ll say, “Now the pastor got that message out of the headlines of the daily paper and out of the magazines that are published in the days of the week.” No, the message comes out of the Bible; and what you read in the headline and what you see discussed in Newsweek, and Time, and United States News and World Report, and the Wall Street Journal, and Barron’s, and all the rest of these magazines is just what you have been reading in the Bible, and we didn’t realize it. So we pray God will bless us marvelously tonight, as we pray He blesses us now in the second message introductory on “The Great Doctrines of the Bible.”
In Isaiah chapter 28, verses 9 and 10, How God Teaches Doctrinal Truth:
Whom shall he teach knowledge? And whom shall he make to understand doctrine? Them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line, here a little, and there a little.
Our first part of the message is entitled “The Teaching of Doctrinal Truth is a Part of our Heavenly Commission.” In Matthew 28 and the last two verses is found the Great Commission of our Lord. And in the King James Version it is translated like this:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the triune God: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.
He uses a word there that at least to me is a surprise: translated “teach,” “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,” but in the twentieth verse, “Teaching them to observe all things”; the word for “teach” is the second one, “teaching, didaskō—and remember last Sunday, the word translated “doctrine” is “didaskola, what is taught” – but up there at that first one, translated “teach,” that’s “teach” in a different kind of a way, altogether different kind of a way. The word for “to make disciples, full-orbed followers of our Lord,” is “matheteuō.” Our word “mathematics” comes from that, “matheteuō,” “matheteuō.” And this is in the imperative, “matheteusetai,” the only imperative in the Commission. “Go ye therefore, and matheteuō all the people” [Matthew 28:19]. Now I would have thought He would have said there, “euangelizō, evangelize all the people. . . Go ye therefore and evangelize all the people, baptizing them, then teaching them.” But He did not use “euangelizō,” “evangelize”; He uses “matheteuō,” which is a far broader and deeper meaningful word. And to put it all together simply it is this: to win people to the Lord is a tremendous assignment, and that’s what we’re all about; but there is more to the Christian faith than just, “What must I do to be saved?” [Acts 16:30], or John 3:16. The full-orbed, the whole gamut and spectrum of the Christian faith involves the whole life, all that is in it. And that is the meaning of this Great Commission: we are to make disciples, teach, taught disciples of all of the people [Matthew 28:19-20]. That’s our heavenly assignment.
In our Bible, this is the tremendous work of the pastor and the teacher. In Ephesians the apostle Paul says that when Jesus ascended up on high, after His crucifixion, and He entered heaven; being victorious, He divided the spoils of His victory. And these are some of the spoils: “He ascended up into heaven victorious, and gave gifts unto men. He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” [Ephesians 4:8-11], those two go together. A good pastor is always a good teacher; pastors and teachers. Now why did Jesus do that? These are His gifts to the church: pastors and teachers.
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come to a unity in the faith, till we come to the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man. . .That henceforth we be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine. . .But speaking the truth in love, we may grow up our people into all of the things like Jesus, who is the head of the church.
The great assignment of the pastor-teacher is to substitute for the erroneous and mistaken conceptions of the people the true and viable and vivifying and life-giving Word of God. And when he does that, the people are strong in the faith, and all of these heretical doctrines that we meet in life immediately find no repercussion in those who have been faithfully taught the truth of God.
Now, that is the final and earnest appeal of the apostle Paul, as he would write to his son in the ministry, Timothy. He says to him, to Timothy, “Timothy, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine; teach the doctrine” [1 Timothy 4:13]. And finally closing his book with this: “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust” [1 Timothy 6:20]. Now all of those words, “that which is committed to thy trust,” is the translation of just one Greek word, parathēkē. “Keep, O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, parathēkē. There is a deposit, there is a system, there is a definite substance of truth that God has given unto us. And he makes the appeal, “O Timothy, be faithful in keeping that which is committed to thy trust” [1 Timothy 6:20]. And he uses the same word in the second chapter of his final letter: “The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou,” and there’s that same word, parathou, in a verbal form, “the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” [2 Timothy 2:2]. That is a remarkable, remarkable conception of the truth of God. It is a very definite system. It is a very definite deposit of truth. And the apostle makes an appeal to Timothy that he be faithful to keep that deposit of truth which was committed unto him, and then that he commit that deposit of truth to other men who will also be able to teach yet others [2 Timothy 2:2].
Those words are so full of meaning. The Bible, the New Testament is called diathēkē, diathēkē. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, diathēkē there is used to refer to a will, to a testament; a man makes out a last will and testament [Hebrews 9:15-17]. And then parathēkē is the deposit in the hands of somebody that you trust what it is that you have willed, what you have written in testament. That is the description of the Bible, of doctrinal truth. It is a very definite and precise system. That is, it is not nebulous like a spray of stardust in the sky, nor is it shifting like the changing form of the clouds, nor is it trackless like the path of a serpent gliding over the rocks or like the flight of an eagle in the sky; it is not evanescent and intangible. It is very definite. The doctrine of God, the revelation of God, the truth of God, it is what God hath revealed to us, and we are faithfully to teach and to preach.
Reading B. H. Carroll, the great giant of our Baptist Zion in Texas, who founded the Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, reading him I came across a passage in which he describes having heard John A. Broadus, who was president of the Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and doubtless one of the greatest scholars that our people have ever produced. Here’s what Dr. B. H. Carroll said in this book that I read, quote:
I heard Dr. Broadus once say, looking, it seemed to me, more solemn than I ever saw him at any other time, quote, ‘Brethren,’ Dr. Broadus says, ‘Brethren, we must preach the doctrines. We must emphasize the doctrines. We must get back to the doctrines. I fear,’ said the old man, ‘that the new generation does not know the doctrines as our father knew them.’ It made a marvelous impression upon my mind. The only thing that feeds people is the Word of God. Other things may entertain, but the Word alone feeds, nourishes, and makes stalwart men and women in Christ Jesus.
That’s exactly what Paul was saying. And the truth of this message is the salvation of our souls. For the apostle wrote to his son Timothy, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in so doing thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” [1 Timothy 4:16]. If a man fails to preach the truth of God, he not only sins against the Lord, but he wrongs the people in the ruin of their souls and their lives. You stagger under the responsibility that God has laid upon His people.
Now, the history of the church is the story of their tremendous attempt to be true to that great assignment. There is a Greek word, katecheō, from whence you spell out the word “catechism, catechumen.” Back yonder, in the beginning of the history of the church, back at the beginning, in the apostolic age, they taught these young neophytes, these young Christians, these new converts, they taught them the faith, the Word of God, the doctrine of God. And those young converts were called “catechumens”; katecheō, to instruct catechumens. And the word “catechism” comes from that method of instruction. I think the four Gospels were little tracts that were used to teach the catechumens. I think the reason that the first three Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are so much alike—they’re called “Synoptic Gospels” because they look at the thing alike. I think the reason they’re alike is this: that in teaching the catechumen they went over and over and over it until finally it came to be in a form, and we’re going to have a message on the form of sound words—it took a form that was repeated and repeated and repeated so that whether you read it in Matthew, or Mark, or Luke, you pretty much read the same thing. It was what was taught the new converts; they were catechumens.
Now that is a method that goes back to the beginning of God’s purpose of grace for His people. In the great shema in Deuteronomy, how God did His chosen family:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and you are to love Him with all of your might and strength. And the words that I command thee, thou shalt teach diligently unto thy children. Talk of them when you sit down, when you get up, when you walk, when you rise . . . And when thy son shall say to thee in time to come, What mean these testimonies and statutes and judgments? . . . then you are to tell them what God commanded us to do in all of these statutes: to love our Lord for our good always.
[Deuteronomy 6:4-7, 20-25]
When someone could ask, “How is it that Israel, out of their homeland for thousands of years, scattered and buried among the nations, still live? How do they do it?” The answer, I think, is a simplistic one: that Jew is as distinct as the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean. He is as unconsumed as the burning bush [Exodus 3:2-3]. He’s here, why? I think the answer is obvious: that father and that mother and that rabbi taught that child all the days of his life. He can’t remember when he wasn’t taught it. Isn’t that a strange thing, how humanity is malleable in the hands of a teacher? Any little boy, you can teach him to be a cannibal or you can teach him to be a goose-stepping fascist, or you can teach him to be an atheistic communist, or you can teach him to be a Mohammedan. I’m not saying that heredity does not have a vital part in the life of a little child; I’m just saying that what he actually becomes is the teaching that he learns as a small child and growing up into manhood and womanhood. I could not emphasize too much the vital necessity for our church to take our youngsters, our children, and guiding them up in the mind of God, teaching them the things of the Lord. That’s what God says. And that’s God’s method of teaching His doctrine.
Now to follow through the history of the church: they continued that teaching and education; all of it was in the hands of the church, all of it, all education was in the hands of the church. Every great old university in this world was founded by the church, all of them. The Sorbonne over there in Paris, Oxford and Cambridge in England, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, all of them in the United States, all of them were founded by the church. And the public school system arose out of the church. On the first Sunday in October we shall celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the Sunday school. The Sunday school was the teaching ministries of the church. Then they decided that on Sunday they’d teach the Bible and the Word of God; and then the days of the week they would teach the three “R’s,” reading, writing, and arithmetic; and they divided it that way. And the division during the week came to be known in America as our public school system. And when we began our public school system it was religious. Ninety-five percent of all of the content of the public school system, in the beginning, was scriptural, Bible, and moral. Today, today, our public education has so far departed from that religious commitment of the church that it has become almost completely secularistically humanistic; which is another nice word for atheism. And any time we think that we can gather the fruit off of the tree and the tree not live we have a strange interpretation of how God does life and living. When we destroy the tree, we destroy the fruit. And that is what is happening in America. We have cut down the great doctrinal truth of God from whence we gathered the fruits of the Christian life; and now we live in the face of the most tragic and sorrowful of the disruption and disintegration of the moral fiber of our people, because we have turned aside from the great doctrinal basis that gives birth to the moral fruit of the Christian life.
How does God teach His doctrinal truth? We now discuss our second part of the message: the method that God uses. The first part we’ve just discussed is the heavenly assignment that God has given us to teach it. The second discussion is the method God uses to teach it. When I read this passage from the King James Version, we don’t quite get what is said in its actuality. “Whom shall he teach knowledge? And whom shall he make to understand doctrine? Them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, there a little” [Isaiah 28:9-10]. Now we haven’t time to exegete the passage, to expound on the passage. These are doctrinal messages, and they’re not expository passages of Scripture; so I just have to briefly summarize this. What Isaiah is doing here, he is writing down what his enemies are saying about him. And they say about Isaiah and his prophetic message, “To whom does he come with his so-called knowledge, and his so-called doctrine? Does he think we are infants just weaned?” Then in mockery he says, “For this is the way that he teaches us: always it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, adding a little here, adding a little there, until it is wearisome” [Isaiah 28:10]. Now that’s what his enemies said about him, how Isaiah brought his message: repeated it, repeated it, precept, then another precept, then a line, then another line, and then add a little here, and a little over yonder. That’s what in mockery the enemy said about how Isaiah brought his message.
All right, let’s look at that. God’s method of teaching: here a little, there a little, precept upon precept, line upon line [Isaiah 28:10]. Now you tell me, isn’t that the way we learn anything? Isn’t that right? Music, isn’t that the way you learn music? Starting here, and then here, and then here and you add to it, and you add to it, and you continually add to it. Isn’t that the way you learn music? Isn’t that the way you learn mathematics? Until finally you get to calculus. A little here, a geometric body will be like that. This proposition on the basis of this proposition be the basis of this proposition; and you keep adding to it and adding to it. Isn’t that the way you learn physics? And isn’t that the way you learn chemistry? It is here a little, and there a little, and there a little, as we continue in the growth of the Lord. That’s the way we learn. That’s the way God teaches us His great truth: it is here a little, and there a little, and there a little, and a continual little.
I sometimes marvel at God in the way that He will inspire trifles and inconsequentials and minutiae. For example, in the thirty-first chapter of Exodus [Exodus 31:1-2], and the thirty-fifth chapter [Exodus 35:30-31], and the thirty-sixth chapter of Exodus [Exodus 36:1-2], the Bible, and it uses these words, “And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon Bezaleel and Aholiab.” Well, I would think, “Man, man, the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon Bezaleel and Aholiab, and gracious, He is going to shake the earth and the heavens.” After discussing at length how the Spirit of the Lord came upon Bezaleel and Aholiab, you know what the Spirit of the Lord came upon Bezaleel and Aholiab to do? The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon Bezaleel and Aholiab to make pots, and pans, and curtains, and rods, and staves, and stops, and rings in the house of the Lord, in the tabernacle of God. What an amazing thing that I read in the Bible!
Well, I get to thinking about how God does things like that. Mightily the Spirit comes upon those men to make rings and rods and staves and curtains for the house of God. And then I get to looking in God’s other book: out there in nature. And I am no less amazed at His inspiration in little minutiae, in the smallest trifling detail. Like a butterfly wing. One time a man said to me, who was looking in a microscope, he said, “I want you to come and look at this.” And I looked down through that microscope; he had a butterfly wing there. And when I looked through that microscope, powerful microscope, at the butterfly wing, every piece of it was just beautifully adorned and marvelously homogenous, just the same all the way through. And he said, “Now I want you to look again.” And he took a piece of paint, looked like solid paint to me, and he put that under the microscope, and said, “Now I want you to look at that.” So I looked down in that microscope, and what looked like solid paint to me, when you looked at it in the microscope was blobs and globules. Only God could do that. But think of God taking time out to make a butterfly wing; then you get to thinking about God through all of nature. There are no two snowflakes alike, and they’re all marvelously wrought, and God makes all those snowflakes. Or a flower; in my walking sometimes I see little weeds that have little flowers that come up about that far from the earth, and sometimes I pick one of them up and look at it. It is marvelously wrought. That’s God. The smallest detail, that’s God. In fact, all, all of excellence is just that, all of it is. Without it, it doesn’t exist.
I went to the British Museum one time. I wanted to see those Elgin marbles. I’ve been down there at the Parthenon in Greece, and under the pediment, that triangle above those beautiful columns, all of those statues up there had been taken by Lord Elgin and brought to the British Museum in London. And I’d heard a story about Phidias, who made them, the great Athenian sculptor. He was working on the backside of those marbles, way up there. And somebody said to him, “Phidias, nobody will ever see this, the back side, and you so meticulously working on it.” But Phidias replied, “But God can see it.” And he made the back side, where he thought nobody would ever look, just as beautiful and just as perfect as the front side. So I went to the British Museum to look at that; and I looked on the back side of all those Elgin marbles. They were as beautifully wrought and as delicately chiseled on the back side, where he thought nobody would ever see it but God, as on the front side. That’s art.
I went to the fine art museum in Florence to look at Michelangelo’s David. I’d heard forty stories about that. And one that you’ve heard all your life: he was working and working, after his people watching him thought he was through. And for months he worked on that, and finally a fellow said to him, “Those are just trifles.” And he said, “Correct, that’s right. Trifles make perfection; but perfection is no trifle.” That’s the way God teaches us. We learn today and tomorrow and little by little, and precept by precept, and line upon line [Isaiah 28:10], until we come to the fullness of the stature of the knowledge of Christ [Ephesians 4:13].
And what was said about Isaiah; the same kind of a thing was said about the apostle Paul when he was in Athens, and they heard him speak and preach, those learned and philosophical sophists, those Epicureans and Stoics. Having heard him, they said, “What would this spermalogos say if he had anything to say?” [Acts 17:18]. Spermalogos, “seed picker,” “seed picker,” dealer in trifles, “What would he say if he had anything to say?” What Paul was saying was so simplistic, this seed picker, this dealer in trifles. And you know, sometimes I wonder about the plainness of the teaching of God, the doctrine of God. Simplistic, people could say it. Why, I hear that in the papers all the time: “These fundamentalists, they have simplistic solutions for all of the complicated problems of life.” Haven’t you heard that? Every time you pick up a paper, “These Christian fundamentalists, they have simplistic solutions to all the complex problems of life.” I think that’s correct. I think the problems of life are simplistic. The Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17] are called “The Ten Great Words.” They’re just little simple words. And the Christian faith is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” [Acts 16:31]. And all the problems of life have simplistic solutions. The problem that we have is we don’t want to listen to God, and we try all kinds of devious and circuitous things to get around the word of the Lord and what God wants us to do; but the way is always plain and simplistic.
I was reading again, Robert Browning’s “Death in the Desert,” which is a description, a fanciful, imaginary description on the part of Robert Browning of the death of John the pastor of the church in Jerusalem, the sainted apostle John. Now you listen to Robert Browning, and talk about a simplistic, simple, solution, listen to him. This was written, by the way, to combat that anti-supernatural, rationalistic teaching of the German theologian Strauss. And listen to Robert Browning as he says, “I say the acknowledgement of God in Christ, accepted by thy reasons, solve for thee all questions in the earth and out of it; and has so far advanced thee to be wise.” Now isn’t that something? All the questions that arise in heaven and in earth are solved just by the acknowledgement and the acceptance of Jesus our Lord. And you talk about simplistic, that’s simplistic, but that’s God, and that’s the way He teaches us.
Now, I am exactly half way through this message. And I must stop. May I make my appeal? The invitation of our Lord is humbly and simply this: “Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” [Matthew 11:28]. Now listen to Him, “Take My yoke upon you, enroll in My school, and learn of Me. Sit at My feet, and I will give you rest” [Matthew 11:29]. Isn’t that a wonderful invitation? “Take My yoke upon you, enroll in My school, and learn of Me; sit at My feet.” A man could know all of the geography and history of the land of God, and not know God. A man could understand the syntax, the syntax of every sentence about the grace of God, and yet not know God. That’s the beautiful encouraging meaning of this text of our Lord: “Enroll in My school, sit at My feet, and learn of Me” [Matthew 11:29]. I know God through Jesus. And I’m taught the truth of the Lord in His blessed words; His Spirit teaches and leads us into all truth [John 16:13]. And that’s the invitation of our Savior to us: come, come, come. We’ll enroll in the school of our Lord, we’ll sit at His feet, we’ll learn of Him, we’ll let Him guide us through life and ultimately to heaven [Matthew 11:28-29].
And that’s our invitation today: come, giving your heart to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], coming into the fellowship of this dear church, answering God’s appeal to your heart. This last week there was a tremendous spiritual emphasis week in our academy, and so many of our young people responded. Come, if God has spoken to you, and welcome. All of us are going to remain here just for this moment, in prayerful waiting for you. And in the balcony round, and on this lower floor, down a stairway, down an aisle, “Pastor we have made a decision for God, and here we come.” Do it now, make it now. Our ministers and deacons and God’s praying people are here; come, while we stand and sing our hymn of appeal.H