Choosing the Wrong World
May 3rd, 1981 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-3-81 7:30 p.m.
Thank you orchestra and choir, and welcome the multitudes who are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas on the two radio stations that carry it. This is the pastor of the church delivering the message to a sponsoring group of young people from our Sunday school and our hour of training. This is the last in a long series of messages that have consumed the evening hours of the springtime. This one is entitled Choosing the Wrong World, and is based upon the story of the rich young ruler. And let us read it together. In your Bible, turn to the Book of Mark. Matthew, Mark, the Second Gospel. Turn to the Gospel of Mark, and we are going to read out loud together verses 17 through 22. The Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, verses 17 to 22. Mark 10:17-22, and if you would share your Bible with your neighbor, we’ll all be able to read. Now, out loud together, Mark 10:17-22:
And when He was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to Him, and asked Him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou Me good? there is none good but One, that is, God.
Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honor thy father and mother.
And he answered and said unto Him, Master, all of these have I observed from my youth.
Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.
And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
The rich young ruler choosing the wrong world; there is everything about this young man that commends him to us. He was rich. All three of the synoptic Gospels tell this story. And putting them together we find that he was rich, that he was young, and that he was chosen in his youth as a ruler of the community in which he lived. This young man has made a remarkable impression upon all the generations who have known the name of Christ our Lord.
In the Riverside Church in New York City is one of the most famous paintings in the world. It is a painting of this young man standing before Christ; and the Lord, with the sweep of His hand, pointing to the needs of the world; and the young fellow standing there before Christ, warring in his heart – which way shall he go, and which world shall he choose? The rich young ruler; anyone who is rich is impressive. A boy fell in love with a girl. And when they were talking about their devotion, he said, "Oh, I would love you if you had a Ford, but thou hast a Cadillac." How much more does that contribute to the affection when somebody that you like is rich? He was attractive. He was young – youth is always interesting – and even as a young man, he was recognized as a leader, an elected ruler in his community.
Another thing about the young fellow: his almost amazing moral courage. When the Lord, on the other side of the Jordan in Perea, is making His last journey to Jerusalem to die, He is a despised and outcast prophet. When the Lord was making this last journey to Jerusalem, this young fellow, in broad daylight, where everyone could see him, knelt down before Jesus and addressed Him: "didaskale agathe, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" [Mark 10:17]. Nicodemus came to the Lord by night [John 3:1-2], a member of the Sanhedrin, no less a rich and gifted man, but he did not have the courage to speak to Jesus face to face in broad daylight. This young fellow, where everybody could see, could watch, could observe, came to the Lord and knelt down before Him and addressed Him in the same way that you address God – didaskale agathe [Mark 10:17].
Another thing about him: he had from the days of his childhood been a respectable and moral and pure and beautiful young man. When the Lord went through the commandments, the young fellow said, "Master, all these have I observed from my youth" [Mark 10:19-20]. And Jesus, beholding him loved him [Mark 10:21]. He could not help but admire, to love, that clean young fellow. All of his life had walked in the way of the commandments of the Lord. Then, answering his question the Lord said to him, "Just one thing you lack [Mark 10:21]: you have the world in your heart. You love treasure and acceptability, popularity. You like the things of this life more than you love God." Isn’t that a penetrating characterization and judgment of our Lord?
There is not a church in the world that I know of but if that young fellow had come down the aisle and given his hand to the pastor and said, "Today I want to join this church," I do not know a church in the world that would have turned him down. Rich and noted and youthful, clean as the proverbial hound’s tooth, anybody would have loved to have accepted him in any organization, and especially in the moral atmosphere and life of the church. But the Lord, looking at him, said, "There is one thing that you lack"; and that one thing is like the sun lacking light, or the fire lacking heat, or an engine lacking power, or a rainbow lacking color.
The young fellow loved the world and the things of the world. And when the Lord asked him to give it up and follow Him, it precipitated a war in his soul [Mark 10:21-22]. Isn’t that a strange thing about God? Our Lord says that the way is too narrow, and the gate is too strait, for a man to enter through it with the world in his soul [Matthew 7:13-14]. You cannot love the things of the world and the things of God at the same time. Our Lord says they are mutually exclusive, and this young man had the world in his heart.
This word that describes the face of the young fellow when the Lord invited him to give it up and follow Him [Mark 10:22] – I think, had the young man done it, the Lord would have returned everything that he loved, only sanctified and purified and hallowed. There is not anything in the Bible against wealth, and affluence, and riches, and success. Some of the noblest characters in the Bible were affluent. Joseph of Arimathea was, in whose tomb the Lord was laid [Matthew 27:57-60]. Nicodemus was [John 3:1-2], who became a secret and then finally an open follower of Christ [John 19:38-39]. Zaccheus was the richest man in all of that part of Palestine, and the Lord blessed him when he gave his fortune and his soul to Christ [Luke 19:2-10]. Apparently Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle, born a Roman citizen though a devout Pharisaical Jew [Acts 22:25-28], was a rich and well-to-do man. Even Felix kept him in prison thinking that Paul would buy, at a great ransom, his freedom [Acts 24:26].
There is not anything that I have been able to find in the Bible against success, riches, affluence; only it can’t take the place of God: "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" [Exodus 20:3].
You cannot place popularity first in your life and love God. You cannot place success or honor or advancement or achievement or money in this life first, and at the same time love God. "One thing thou lackest: you have the world in your heart. Get rid of it, and come follow Me" [Mark 10:21]. And then the description of the face of the young man when he heard that admonition and appeal of the Lord; it is translated here "he was sad at that saying" [Mark 10:22]. The Greek is stugnazō – and the word is used twice in the Bible, just twice. It is first used in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew to describe the lowering of the sky, when the Lord speaks of the signs of the times. "You can read the signs of the weather in the sky; but you cannot read the signs of the times: for you say when the sky is dark and lowering" [Matthew 16:2-3] – that is that word stugnazō, when it is boiling with clouds and storm; stugnazō. The other time that word is used is to describe this young man’s face – stugnazō. The war in his soul registered in his countenance, stugnazō, and he "went away grieved: for he had great possessions" [Mark 10:22]. Not bitter, not angry, he was willing in his heart to accept more than he was willing to obey and to do, but he went away. And the eternity that has followed after is a judgment upon the choice that he made.
Standing at the gate of the beautiful city of heaven and watching the pilgrims enter in, you will never see his face. Standing there at the beautiful gate that leads into heaven and the saints go marching in, you will never see his face. Mingling with the throngs on those golden streets, you will never meet that young man. When you hear the roll call in heaven, there will be no one to answer his name. And when you turn to the pages of the Book of Life [Revelation 20:15], you will never find him listed. Choosing the wrong world and the eternity since bears judgment upon the tragic choice that he made.
And could I add one other word? Oh, the infinite, immeasurable opportunity that he passed by in choosing the wrong world! The Scriptures said, as we have read, "And Jesus beholding him loved him" [Mark 10:21]. This man could have been another apostle Paul. He could have been another apostle John. He could have been one of the finest, noblest, most gifted exponents of the Christian faith the world has ever known. As it is, his name is lost in history, and the very person of the young fellow is hidden in oblivion. The great, illimitable, immeasurable opportunity that he had; and he chose the wrong world. Nor do I find in life an incident more commonly repeated than I find in this.
I was very moved one time in a newspaper reading the words of a judge as he sentenced a sixteen-year-old boy. And when the boy stood before the court and the judge began to deliver the sentence to the lad, to the youth – and a boy sixteen is so young to me – the paper quoted the judge as saying in the first sentence to the boy, "Young man, in the freedom of America, every man has the right to damn his own soul to hell." And then proceeded to sentence the boy. Oh, that stayed in my mind! "All of us have the freedom to damn our own souls to hell," choosing which way we shall turn and what direction we shall go.
In a revival meeting that I was conducting in a church in Memphis, Tennessee, I was entertained in the home of the godly pastor and his wife. They had been in the church for many years and their children had grown and married and gone away. And in Memphis, there was a girl, an older teenage girl, who was picked up by the police for prostitution. She was diseased. She was filthy. She was ragged. She was dirty. And that godly couple, hearing that, went down to the police station and to the jail and took that child and said, "We will make her our daughter." And the police gave that filthy, diseased prostitute to that godly pastor and his wife. She came to live there in the home where I was. And they gave her that beautiful room right there. And they bought her the most beautiful clothes. And they gave her every opportunity for schooling, for education, for growth in the finest things of life. They cured her, through the genius of the physician, of the disease that was destroying her life, and in the home accepted her as a daughter, precious and beloved. And in the passing of the days, and in the middle of the night, that girl stole out her bedroom window and went back into the life of filth and dirt and prostitution, to the sorrowing heart and the weeping soul of that pastor and his wife. Isn’t that remarkable? You can take the prostitute out of the bawdy house, but how do you get the bawdy house out of the prostitute?
I was interested in listening to the testimony of a plumber concerning the social programs of the United States government housing authority here in Dallas. And he was talking about a certain part of the city that was filthy and dirty. You call them slums, the ghetto. And he said, "I was a plumber and went down there regularly and I worked in that filth and dirt. And the government came and bulldozed all of that filth and dirt out and built beautiful apartment complexes there. And," he says, "now I am the plumber that goes into those apartment complexes. And," he says, "they are as filthy and as dirty as they were before the government bulldozed the ghetto away." You can take people out of the ghetto, but how do you get the ghetto out of the people? You can take people out of the dirt, but how do you get the dirt out of the people? You can take the prostitute out of her bawdy house, but how do you get the bawdy house out of the prostitute? That’s God. That’s choice; and each one of us has the privilege of choosing. And I can damn my own soul in hell if that is my volitional response. I have the choice. God help us; choosing the wrong world.
I, in reviewing this, I can hardly believe the thing that happened before my eyes. In these days passed, there was an illustrious pastor of the First Baptist Church of Shreveport, Louisiana, called Dr. M. E. Dodd. He was president of our Southern Baptist Convention, a great spiritual leader of our Baptist Zion. He wrote me a letter and he said, "There is a brilliant young star that has appeared on the horizon by the name of Bron Clifford, and I have never seen in any young man such ableness in presenting the gospel message. And I am telling you so that you can have him in the First Baptist Church of Dallas." At that time I was president of the Sunday School Board in Nashville, Tennessee, and my dear and close friend, Dr. W. F. Powell, who was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, said to me, "I haven’t seen in my life any brilliant star rise as this young man. His name is Bron Clifford. We have had him here in our First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and you must have him there in Dallas." So I sent for him and he came to visit me. And in every outward appearance, what those two great giants of the Baptist faith had said to me was half what it could have been. I was never more impressed – never more impressed than by that young fellow. He was about six feet-four inches tall. He was one of the handsomest young men I ever looked upon. He was like young Saul, and he had a resonant and beautiful voice. And in my visiting with him, I arranged the date for his coming here to the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Because of the rising popularity of the young star, everybody seemed to want him, and it was some time in the future that I was able to set a time for his coming to be here in our dear First Baptist Church. When he came, it was at an eleven o’clock service. And in those days, I used to stand at that door and shake hands with the people as they went their homeward way. And after I had spoken to all the people and this great auditorium was empty, there was a tramp, a bum that had remained behind – I suppose as every day that I am here, if I remain that long, asking me for money. So that tramp, filthy, dirty, came to me and shook my hand and said, "I guess you know who I am."
I said, "No. I have never seen you before."
"Surely," he says, "you remember me. I am Bron Clifford."
I said, "You, you are that brilliant, handsome young minister for whom I was arranging these services in the church?"
Al Badger owned the Golden Pheasant on Commerce Street. He called me on the telephone and he said, he said, "Pastor, I have a bum here that I am feeding out of the back door of my kitchen, and his name is Bron Clifford. And he tells me that he was a Baptist preacher, and I thought maybe you might could help." I learned of a friend in St. Louis, and called the friend, and he came. And just a few days after, the young fellow died. Had I not seen that and followed it with my own eyes; I couldn’t believe it, choosing the wrong world; an addict, drugs, and drunkenness and compromise – destroying the very image of God.
How many times as I think of him have I thought of those brick that are baked under the hot sun of the Mesopotamian Valley that went into the building of the great city of Babylon? And the king, in his pride, in those days, when the brick were cast, would put a figure of his image and his name on the brick. And when it was baked, the image of the king was there on the brick. And this particular brick they put in the British Museum because, while it was soft and amiable and pliable, a dog’s paw had – had stepped on the image of the king. And there that brick is forever with the image of the king and a dog’s foot on the face. I thought of that, and think of that, when I think of that young man brilliant, beautiful, handsome, strong, in the image of God, and a dog’s foot has been pressed on the countenance of what once was the glory of God; choosing the wrong world.
I remember the day
She said with smiling confidence,
"One thing I am sure of –
I’ll never have a drinking problem.
I always drink responsibly.
And then it began,
The long, desolate walk
Through a suffocating tunnel
With nothing but despair
Hugging her anguished heart.
She did everything she could
To disguise the problem.
She denied it.
She pretended to laugh it off.
At times she blamed herself.
In moments of utter darkness,
She blamed God.
One day her distraught daughter said,
"Mother, you are embarrassing us.
Where is your will power?
Why don’t you stop?"
A week later, her angry husband said,
"I thought you had will power.
Why don’t you just stop?"
Then, in a very dramatic way,
She accepted the challenge.
I have never seen so many flowers
At a funeral service in my life.
O dear God, how tragic,
How utterly tragic to think
That will power is enough.
Why didn’t someone, somewhere,
Somehow direct her to God?
["The Tragedy," Bill Rice]
There is only One power able to deliver us in the might, and strength, and glory, and beauty of the Lord, and that is the Spirit of God; choosing the wrong world.
The pastor of the church at Jerusalem, James, the Lord’s brother, wrote". . .the friendship of the world is enmity with God. . .whosoever therefore will be a friend to the world is the enemy of God" [James 4:4]. And his cousin, the sainted and beloved apostle John, wrote in his First Epistle:
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
[1 John 2:15-17]
That is the passage that is incised on the sarcophagus on the tomb of Dwight L. Moody: "He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." Won to the Lord when he was seventeen years of age by a Sunday school teacher named Kimball; and as a youth, began to gather boys and girls, bring them to his Sunday school class. He was never ordained. He was never a preacher as such. He was Mr. Moody all the days of his life; and began with his Sunday school class, teaching them the Word of God as a seventeen-year-old youth. And then, gathering the youngsters in Chicago until he filled a great church with them, then their parents and their fathers and mothers; and finally took hold of the continent of America with one hand and the continent of Europe with the other, and moved both of them toward heaven – Mr. Moody. "He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" [1 John 2:17]; choosing the right world. May we stand?
Our Lord in heaven, there is no young woman and there is no young man in divine presence tonight but that knows that war in her soul and in her heart. There is no young man but who faces the agony of that decision. Two worlds: and one of them leads to such despair and darkness, and the other can lead to such glory and light. Dear God, just a humble petition from the deepest of our soul: that the young man and the young woman may choose the right world: "I choose God; the way of the Lord. He is a friend that will see me through. Bless my life in school, in date, in marriage, in home, in family." How many sorrows would we obviate if we just did what we did in the will of God! To walk in the way of the Lord, to date in the Spirit of Christ, to choose a life’s companion according to what God says, and to build a Christian home? O Master, in the youth time of life, stand by us, Lord. And may we make the decision right; choosing the right world.
And while our people stand in silence and in prayer and intercession before God, praying for you; a family you, coming to the Lord, putting your life with us in the church; a couple you, together deciding for Christ; or just one somebody you tonight, "This night I give my life to the Lord. I accept Him as my Savior. I want to follow the Lord in baptism according to the obedient command of His Word [Matthew 28:19], and I want to be with these people in the family of God." How ever the Holy Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision. And in a moment, when we sing, answer with your life. In the balcony round, there is time and to spare; if you are on the topmost balcony; down one of these stairways, "Here I am, pastor." Or, in the press of people on this lower floor; into this aisle, and down to the front, "Here I come, pastor. I want God in my life." We will pray together. "I want to give my heart to the Lord." We will welcome you. As the Spirit shall open the door and make appeal; God love you, as you answer with your life. And our Lord, thank You before it comes to pass for the precious harvest in Thy saving and keeping name, amen. While we sing, will you come?
CHOOSING THE WRONG WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. His station
A. Rich – to that culture a sign of favor of God
B. Young – appealing to any generation in any social or cultural life
C. Ruler – had influence, recognition, power
II. His courage
A. He knelt before the rejected Nazarene when all could see him (Mark 10:17)
B. Contrast with Nicodemus
III. His moral obedience, dedication
A. He kept the commandments all his life
B. Jesus beholding him, loved him
IV. His one lack
A. He loved his riches and place in the world more than he loved God
B. Nothing against riches, only it can’t take place of God (Exodus 20:3)
V. His tragic choice
A. Stugnazo – war in his soul registered on his countenance (Matthew 16:3, Mark 10:22)
B. He turned away
VI. His life of lost opportunity (Mark 10:21)
A. He could have been one of the finest, most gifted exponents of the faith
B. Commonly repeated in life
1. Girl returning to prostitution
2. Government housing
3. Young preacher ends up in the gutter
4. "I will always drink responsibly"