A Famine for the Word of Life
January 11th, 1981 @ 8:15 AM
A FAMINE FOR THE WORD OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-11-81 8:15 a.m.
And it is a gladness for us to welcome the multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas over the two radio stations that bear its message. This is the pastor preaching the sermon. This is the last in the long series on bibliology, the great doctrines of the Bible. Beginning next Sunday we follow the one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, the seven messages on the doctrine of God. Next Sunday, God and the Reasoning Mind; the following Sunday, God the First Universal Fact; the next Sunday, What is Wrong with Being an Atheist?; the next Sunday, He that Cometh to God; the next, Is There a God Who Cares About Me?; the next, The Abounding Grace of God; and the last, The Unfathomable Mystery of the Trinity. In the series on doctrinal studies in the Bible, this is the series on the doctrine of God.
Now as I said, this morning closes the long, especially long series, on bibliology. It is entitled A Famine for the Word of God. It is from Amos, who wrote in the eighth chapter of his prophecy and the eleventh verse:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:
And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.
A famine for the word of life.
Amos came from Tekoa [Amos 1:1], by the Red Sea in the wilderness of Judea up north to the kingdom of Israel, to the capital city of Bethel where was located the king’s court and the king’s chapel. He was a country preacher, and there he delivered the prophetic message of the Lord. And the land trembled under the weight of his words.
You could hardly describe the vivid and living contrast between what Amos was saying and the affluence and stability of the land. Uzziah was king of Judah, the Southern Kingdom. He was a wise and able administrator, king for fifty-two years [2 Chronicles 26:1-3]. Jeroboam II was king of the Northern Kingdom Israel, the ablest general that Israel ever had, and he was king for forty-one years [2 Kings 14:23]. The country was imminently stable. Those two men were friends, Uzziah in Judah and Jeroboam II in Israel, and combined they brought their kingdoms back to Solomonic glory. They had conquered Syria and the nations around [2 Kings 14:25-27].
In the prophecies of Amos, he speaks of their abounding affluence. He speaks of their summer homes and their winter homes. He speaks of their ivory palaces. He speaks of their lying on couches of ivory [Amos 6:4-6]. He describes their optimism, describing the evil day as far from them [Amos 6:3]. And he describes the day of the Lord, which they say was a day of increasing prosperity [Amos 6:8-14]. That was in 760 BC; and in 722 BC, a few years later, the kingdom was destroyed forever [2 Kings 18:10-12].
It reminds me, when I read Amos and the historical sequence that immediately followed [Amos 5:27; 2 Kings 18:10-12], of Harry Emerson Fosdick and all of the liberal, post-millennial preachers of America and of the world who in the 30s, in the 30s—and I went to New York City to hear Fosdick preach—in the 30s were saying we would have no more war. The millennium was near, and the whole race of men in the earth, under their preaching, was apparently preparing for an era of prosperity and peace and affluence that would last forever. And that was immediately before 1939, when Hitler unleashed his Nazi legions on the civilized world and bathed the earth in human blood. It’s an amazing thing how men can misunderstand the signs of the times, and that was the day of Amos.
When Amos came before the nation of Israel, he announced four judgments from Almighty God. The first judgment we read in Amos 5:27: “Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus,” to Babylon, to the Euphrates, “saith the Lord, whose name is The God of hosts.” And he repeated it in Amos 7:17, “Therefore thus saith the Lord; Israel shall surely go into captivity forth out of his land.” That’s the first judgment of God; they would go into exile and into captivity [Amos 5:27].
The second judgment of God upon Israel is found in Amos chapter 7, beginning at verse 9, “And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword” [Amos 7:9]. Nothing could have been more extraneous to the thoughts of the whole nation than that. The second judgment was desolation, “The high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,” desolation [Amos 7:9].
The third judgment of Amos against Israel is in the prophecy, chapter 8, beginning at verse 3, “And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord God: and there shall be many dead bodies in every place; they shall cast them forth with silence” [Amos 8:3], in utter astonishment at the vast increase of the population of the dead. The third great judgment of Amos against Israel was death [Amos 8:3].
The fourth judgment is in an altogether different category. The first one, of captivity, exile, and slavery [Amos 5:27]; the second judgment, desolation and waste [Amos 7:9]; the third judgment, death, corpses, and those that remained alive looking at their vast number in silent astonishment [Amos 8:3]; the fourth judgment is in an altogether different category.
The days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:
They shall wander from sea to sea, from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.
What do you think about that? Do you think, in a series of the judgments of God upon the nation, of slavery, of desolation, of death—do you think that the climactic judgment would be one of famine for the word of life? [Amos 8:11-12]. The psalmist cries in lamentable words in Psalm 74, verse 9, “We see not our signs; there is no more any prophet: neither is there any among us that knoweth how long” [Psalm 74:9]. Is that a climactic judgment, that we have lost the word of the Lord?
I think of Saul as he conjures up, through the witch of Endor, the spirit of the prophet Samuel [1 Samuel 28:7-12]. And God permitting the apparition, Saul says to Samuel, “I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and there is no answer from Him, and there is no prophet to speak what I shall do” [1 Samuel 28:15]. Think of the indescribable, lamentable, catastrophic sorrow. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to turn. I am distressed, and there is no word from God” [1 Samuel 28:15]. Is that a climactic judgment, a famine for the word of the Lord? [Amos 8:11-12].
The first judgment was captivity and exile and slavery [Amos 5:27], but what is exile and captivity if God is with you? John on the isle of Patmos was exiled in his old age, there to starve of exhaustion, and privation, and exposure [Revelation 1:9]. But it was on that exiled isle of Patmos that heaven opened, and he saw One standing in the midst of the seven golden lampstands and He looked like the Son of God [Revelation 1:9-13]. What is exile if God is with you? It was while John Bunyan was in Bedford Jail that he saw those visions of Pilgrim’s Progress, the greatest book that’s ever been written outside of the Word of God. Is that a judgment, a searching for a word from heaven?
The second judgment was desolation, waste [Amos 7:9]; but what is fire, or flood, or loss, or desolation, or waste if God is with us? Job sitting in his ashes cried to God, saying, “Naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21].
A Turkish woman in Konia, old Iconium on Paul’s first missionary journey, in a hospital was heard singing this song:
Trample upon me, yea, tread on my head,
Consume me with terror, Thou Judge of the Dead,
If only, O God, I thus Thee may know,
And Thee once behold while I tarry below.
Throw me like Abraham into the fire,
Like Moses withhold from the land I desire,
If only, O God, I thus Thee may know,
And Thee once behold while I tarry below.
Hang me, like Jesus, upon the rood tree,
Or a beggar like Lazarus through life I would be,
If only, O God, I thus Thee may know
And Thee once behold while I tarry below.
[quoted in The Moslem World, Samuel M. Zwemer, 1920]
What is desolation or loss or waste if God is with us?
The third judgment was the judgment of death [Amos 8:3]. But what is death if God is nigh, if the word and the promise of the Lord are real to our souls? What is death if Jesus is standing by? Stephen, when he was stoned to death, lifted up his eyes and there on the right hand of God stood the Lord Jesus Christ, ready to receive the soul of His first Christian martyr [Acts 7:55-56, 59]. And one of the most triumphant passages in human literature are the last words of the apostle Paul, written to his son, Timothy, in the ministry:
I am now ready to be offered up, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith:
Henceforth, ready for me, waiting for me, is the crown of righteousness, which the Lord shall give me in that day: and not to me only, but to them also that love His appearing.
[2 Timothy 4:6-8]
It’s a triumph. It’s a victory; it’s our finest hour—death, if Jesus is near. It is twice to die if we don’t have the word and the promise and the presence of God. And that is the tragedy; the famine for the word of life that has overwhelmed our modern world [Amos 8:11-12].
I will not take time to speak of the great pagan religions that have consciously, and purposively, and volitionally refused the Holy Scriptures: the millions and the millions of the Hindus in India; the millions of the Buddhists in Burma and Thailand; the millions and the millions of the Shintoist shrines of Japan; and the stirring of the Muslim world that brings terror to my heart in their violent opposition to what they call “the infidels,” the Christian faith. I will not speak of them.
I will speak only of the Western, cultured, intellectual world of our new civilization. There are other millions and millions who, under socialist and communist governments, outlaw the Word of God. It is not to be taught, it is not to be propagated, and it is only to be preached in certain licensed sections: like one in a city of seven million such as Moscow or one place in a city of four million like Leningrad. They have exchanged the living Word of God for an essay on capital and labor, and they have exchanged the living Lord for a dead, socialist hero named Nikolai Lenin—a famine for the word of God [Amos 8:11-12; Romans 1:18-23].
But no less true do I find that tragedy—not just alone in this socialist, communist, collectivist governments of the world, but I find it in the intellectual, secularist, materialist, humanist, academic, political, social, economic, personal, domestic life of the American people. It is an unspeakable tragedy, the turning aside from the living Word of God for the fortuitous and blind and adventitious systems that are taught our people and are received as being the truth of natural science.
In our morning newspaper a man writes:
This fellow continues quoting from the Bible to substantiate his point of view. That, of course, is a grievous mistake. Research would have shown that the Bible was written at unknown times by unknown authors and assembled in the fourth century at Nicaea, and the writings of the Bible can be given no historical credence today. To believe in Christ as actually having existed, one must believe that these late writings were divinely inspired. There is a gulf you can bridge. Surely we should forget the myths and legends of the Bible, or merely accept them as such.
And from our morning newspaper, a little interesting thing about the modern liberal pulpit that no longer preaches the Word of God:
Ministers of the gospel got a suggestion from editor Earnest Joiner in the Ralls Banner who reported that he had bought a Bible. ‘It cost $14.95,’ he wrote. ‘It has 773,692 words in it, and is such interesting reading, we are considering asking ministers of our acquaintance to base a Sunday sermon on it one day when there is a lull upon the congregation from an overdose of economics, labor statistics, soil conservation, politics, and the lagging subscription campaign.
All of which I’ve just chosen as a reflection of the turning aside of America from the Word of God and the revelation of Jesus Christ to these new prophets, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud; and the inevitable judgment that follows after. I quote from an evangelist, Billy Graham, from an agnostic, H. G. Wells, from an atheist, George Bernard Shaw, and from a Christian British journalist and social critic, Malcolm Muggeridge. Listen to what these men say of our civilization.
First, the evangelist Billy Graham: “Man is on a collision course, probably heading into a third world holocaust which might well destroy humanity between now and the year 2000.” The agnostic H. G. Wells, English historian and social critic: quote, “The end of everything we call ‘life’ is at hand and cannot be evaded.” From the atheist George Bernard Shaw, the Irish dramatist, essayist and critic: quote, “The science to which I pin my faith is bankrupt. Its councils, which should have established the millennium, have lead directly to the suicide of the human race.” And our contemporary, the brilliant Malcolm Muggeridge, British journalist: quote, “We live in a world of scientific achievement and gross materialism. We have sown the wind of egotistic humanism, and, God help us, we are reaping the whirlwind”; a famine for the Word of life [Amos 8:11-12].
These things can’t save us. Karl Marx, and Sorel, and Engels, and Lenin can’t save us. Sigmund Freud and all of their psychoanalytical theses can’t save us. The advancement and the achievements of science in its gadgetry can’t save us. Only God can save us [John 14:6; Acts 4:12]—and oh, for a renewed discovery of the Word of the Lord! [Jeremiah 37:17]. You couldn’t read in 2 [Kings] the story of King Josiah who had it in his heart to turn to God and repairing the temple [2 Kings 22:3-7] was visited by Hilkiah the high priest and Shaphan the prophet, who said to the king, “We have found the Book of God!” [2 Kings 22:8-10]. What a marvelous discovery in human life, in national life, in political life, social life, every life, to discover the pertinency and the meaning of the Word of God.
I stood—when I was pastor in Oklahoma, in Ponca City Governor Marlin had just erected a marvelous, effective bronze statue to the pioneer woman—she with her family who laid the foundations of the world in which you and I live. And as I looked at that magnificent piece of sculpture, that pioneer woman had the hand of a child in one hand, holding the hand of a child in one hand, and in the other hand she was holding the immutable, and unchangeable, and everlasting foundation of the Word of God. It has made our people great, it has made our nation great. It will save our souls from judgment and it will deliver us to everlasting life [James 1:21]. God grant us a returning to the living Word of the living God. May we stand together?
Our great God in heaven, whose Son is called the Word [John 1:1], whose Book is called the Word, who opens to us the visions and the vistas of glory by the promise of His unchanging and immutable Word; O Lord, that it might live in us. Reading it, listening to it, heeding it, may God speak to us and may the words of the Lord, as we hear and as we read, be to us life everlasting [John 12:50].
And while our people pray, standing in the presence of the living Word of God, a family you, a couple you, just one somebody you, “Pastor, today we have decided for Christ and here we come.” Some of you, into the fellowship of our wonderful church; some of you, taking Jesus as Savior [Romans 10:9-10]; some of you dedicating your life in a new way to the Lord, as God shall press the appeal to your soul, answer with your life.
And thank Thee, Lord, for the harvest You give us; in Thy saving name, amen.
Down a stairway, in the balcony round, come. Down one of these aisles, on this lower floor, come. Our deacons welcome you, our ministers welcome you. The angels in heaven rejoice in your coming while we wait, while we pray, while we sing. “Here I am, pastor.”