Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-24-81 7:30 p.m.
And God bless all of the thousands of you that are sharing this hour on the two radio stations that carry it. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, delivering a message to the graduating class of our First Baptist Academy. They are here in presence in this sanctuary with their fathers and mothers and families and a great host of worshipping, God-fearing, born-again Christian people who love them, pray for them, and commend them to the grace of God as they commence their marvelous life that enfolds before them.
As a background for the message tonight on Christian education, will you turn to the Book of Proverbs? The Book of Proverbs and we shall read together the first nine verses. And our background text will be: “For the fear of the Lord,” the awesome reverence of God, “is the beginning of wisdom” [Proverbs 1:7]. It is a verse much repeated in the Bible. It is said in Proverbs 9:10. It is said in Proverbs 15:33. It is said in Psalm 111:10. It’s a recurring theme in the Bible, and you will find it in the passage that we read out loud together.
In the pew in front of you may be a pew Bible. Share your Bible with your neighbor, and all of us read it out loud together, Proverbs chapter 1, the first nine verses. Now out loud together, Proverbs chapter 1, the first nine verses, all of us, together,
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:
To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
To give subtility to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels;
To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother:
For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.
The fear, the awesome reverence of God, is the beginning of wisdom, the increase of a life of understanding and instruction and knowledge [Proverbs 9:10].
This is a story that comes out of the annals of the state of Illinois. There was a tragic cave-in among the coal fields and the coal mines of the state of Illinois. And in the tremendous cave-in that trapped 60 men 600 feet underground, there was a crevice. But one hardly dared breathe or move lest it also be closed and the men suffocate to death.
It was a crevice large enough through which a small boy might crawl. Working as an urchin on the docks of the coal mine field was a small lad, picking up little pieces of coal to support him and his widowed mother.
The men who ran the mine said to the little boy, “Could you take this pipe and drag it down through the crevice and to those sixty men below? Then we’ll dig down for the rescue of them, and you, if you can make it.”
The boy, with his dirty face and his grimy hands, said, “Sir, I’ll try.”
And with the pipe, and in the crevice, the little boy went down and down. As he crawled through the opening aperture, sometimes the pipe would stop, and the people who waited breathlessly thought “This is the end.”
Then the pipe would move again. And finally the lad made it to the 60 men 600 feet below. And through that pipe, they forced air and milk, while the week passed in which they furiously dug to the bottom of the mine shaft, 600 feet below. And the 60 men were rescued, including that little boy, named Fred Evans.
The governor of the state of Illinois called for the lad. And he stood before the big man, frightened, with his nervous fingers moving his cap around and around in his hand. And the governor of the state of Illinois said, “Son, the whole world is proud of you. Anything you ask, we’ll try to supply. What would you like?”
And the lad replied to the big, kindly man who stood in front of him, he said, “Sir, I would like to learn how to read.”
And the governor replied, “The state of Illinois will pay for your education.”
They did, and the man became a fine farmer in the state and an intelligent and worthy citizen of the commonwealth.
“Sir, I would like to learn to read.”
And the finest reading and the finest understanding is to read and to understand and to open one’s heart to the Word and revelation and will of God: the Christian education.
What is a Christian education? Christian education is education in an environment of the mind and heart and will of our blessed Lord. It is an institution, it’s a school where the faculty, and the administration, and the trustees, and the classes, and the environment, and most of the student body all are Christian. It is a school where all of the activities move in a Christian direction. There is chapel. There is prayer. There is Bible reading. There are revival services. There is the moral life that is Christian among the students and in the school itself. All of it reflects the mind of God in Christ Jesus.
What is Christian education? It is education that seeks to interpret all of the phenomena of life in Christian terms and in Christian meaning. Everything God has made, and all of the development of history, is taught in the mind and meaning of our blessed Lord.
Is there a glory above us and around us? Then it reflects the marvelous handiwork of God [Psalm 19:1]. Is there history that moves across the pages of the volumes of the Book? Then it is His-story. In geology, He is the Rock of Ages [1 Corinthians 10:4]. In astronomy, He is the Bright and the Morning Star [Revelation 22:16]. In anthropology, He is the God-Man [John 1:1, 14]. In zoology, He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah [Revelation 5:5]. In botany, He is the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley [Song of Solomon 2:1]. In jurisprudence, He is the great and final Judge [Hebrews 12:23]. In eschatology, He is the reigning and coming King [Revelation 11:15]. It is knowledge, all the phenomena of life taught in the meaning and mind of our Lord.
I spoke two or three Sundays ago of a youngster in my study. Speaking to the child, I was amazed at the spiritual response of the youngster.
And I said, “Where did you learn that?”
And the child replied, “Sir, I am a student in the First Baptist Church Academy.” It is knowledge taught in the mind of Christ. The awesome reverence of God is the beginning of wisdom [Proverbs 9:10].
What is Christian education? It is education that reaches toward the development of Christian leadership. All education was once that. Every one, without exception, of the old universities of the world were begun by the church. And they were founded by the church for the purpose of training a Christian ministry, and then finally opening to the creation of a great Christian leadership.
And the public school system, at first, was in the church. It met on Sunday, then finally, in the days of the week. Religion and knowledge, education and the church, are contemporaneous. They are congruent. They fit each other. They belong together. They always have. They always will. And when you separate them they bleed themselves to death. The church needs a trained leadership. An education apart from the mind of Christ becomes secular humanism and leads to the disintegration and despair and disaster of the nation.
And that leads to my next discussion: why Christian education? Why the school? Number one: it is the foundation of our democratic government. Apart from it, the democracy, the republic, cannot exist.
It was for twenty-five years at least that I worked toward having a school, a Christian school in our church and failed miserably every year. It was only in the coming to the city of Dallas of a tremendously learned and able and capable schoolman, Dr. Nolan Estes, head of the public school system of the city of Dallas, that I finally succeeded in starting our First Baptist Academy.
Never shall I forget, as he pled for the founding of the school, a sentence that he said to our fellowship of deacons. The sentence is this: “If education ever becomes the sole prerogative of the government, totalitarianism is just around the corner.” If education ever becomes the sole responsibility and prerogative of the government, we have lost our freedom. Totalitarianism is just around the corner.
Have you been in a communist state? Have you seen their school systems? They dare not allow a Sunday school. They dare not allow a Christian school. They dare not allow a seminary. Why? Because if there is freedom to teach, they have immediately lost the totalitarian vise that they hold upon their people.
The freedom to have a school and to teach the Word and the mind of God is the freedom that is basic to our democratic and republican institutions.
Let Caesar’s dues be paid
To Caesar and His throne;
But heart and soul and conscience were made
To serve the Lord God alone.
[from Hymn CXLIX in Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Isaac Watts]
The foundation of our democratic institutions is our Christian school. If they ever possess it, we shall lose our destiny and our freedom, just as they have lost it in a totalitarian government.
Number two: why the Christian school? It is the foundation of all of our moral values, all of them. Roger Babson, the late Roger Babson, was the greatest statistician that America has ever produced. And from his headquarters in Massachusetts, for a generation and more, he spoke of the great trends in America like these Gallup polls, Roger Babson.
A sentence from him burned itself in my heart: “The great need of the nation and of the hour is not more factories and more industries and more railroads and more steamships. The great need of the hour,” he said, “is not more armies and greater navies and a more powerful air force. But, the great need of the hour,” Roger Babson said, “is this, education based upon the plain teaching of Jesus Christ.” What a sentence: “Education upon the plain teachings of Jesus Christ!”
Education in itself doesn’t deliver us. It doesn’t save us. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all we need to do to bring in the millennium is just to educate the people? There never was a nation more educated, more cultured, than Nazi Germany. Nor was there ever a nation that gave itself to terror and secularism as much as the learned and brilliant university, Nazi Germany! Education separated from God is a damnation. It’s a judgment. It’s a curse! It leads to the disintegration of the nation and of the world.
That’s a strange thing, the educated man apart from Christ. Here is a bum who breaks into a railway car to steal a can of tomatoes because he’s hungry. Dress him up, send him to Harvard Business School and he’ll steal the entire railway system and get away with it. It doesn’t change the heart or the soul.
I was amazed to read in some of these latest statistics; by percentage, there is more crime and more indictments in the Congress of the United States than there is in the lowest ghettos in Detroit, Michigan. Educated men, affluent men, successful men, but crooks; some of them in jail; many of them indicted! Education apart from Christ can be a curse to the nation, to the family, and to the soul.
And that leads to my last avowal. The need for Christian education: the very existence of our future depends upon it. It is one or the other. We will not survive in godlessness and atheism and materialism and secularism. We’ll not survive. With dope and addiction to take our minds away, with pornography and promiscuity to take our morals away, with venereal disease and abortion to take our bodies away, with secular humanism to take our hope in God away, we stand at the very crossroads of humanity, at the very watershed of civilization.
And where shall we turn? There are changes sweeping over this earth that are violent in the extreme. The French Revolution concerned a political change. The Renaissance concerned a cultural and intellectual change. The Reformation concerned a religious change. But there is not any change that is not sweeping our world today, and most of it is found in the flood tides of secularism, and humanism, and atheism, and godlessness.
What shall we do? And where shall we turn? We have no other choice but to find our hope in the mind of Christ, created in the hearts and lives of the young people, into whose hands we place this torch and upon whose shoulders we lay this mantle.
If there is a turning in America, we must turn. If there is a revival in America, we must be revived. If there is a trusting in Christ, we must trust. If there is a baptism, we must be baptized. The nation cannot turn if I do not turn. The nation cannot trust if I do not trust. The nation cannot repent if I do not repent. The nation cannot be baptized if I am not baptized. The nation cannot come to God if I do not come to God. It must begin in a personal commitment in me. It must start in me. And in the commencement of life, and in the unfolding years, the destiny of the nation, of the democracy, of the republic, of the church, of the kingdom of Christ lies in the hands of these young men and young women.
Alexander the Great was a teenager when he began his conquest of the world. He was in his twenties when he had reached that unbelievable goal: the great Greek, cultural empire of Alexander the Great.
And he was asked, “How did you conquer the world?”
And he replied, “By never wavering.”
And when, in a tragic page on history, he died, a youth to me, so very young, his generals gathered around him, and asked him, “Alexander, whose is the kingdom?”
And he replied, “It is for him who can take it.” Leaving no heir, having no son, “It’s for him who can take it.”
And in my review of our life today, I think of the future of our government, and of our people, and of our republic, and of our churches, and of the whole kingdom of God in this earth. It is they or we. And God will give it to him who has faith, and devotion, and commitment to reach out and to seize it and to take it.
God is not dead. The Holy Spirit has not been withdrawn from the earth. Revival is always possible. A great turning to God is always possible. The building up of the faith of Christ is always possible. The finest songs are yet to be written. The greatest devoted life to Christ is yet to be lived. And the noblest, most marvelous achievements in the name of our Savior are yet to be offered unto Him. It is for us to seize it and to take it. And we’re praying that God will lead you to do just that.
When you are the leaders of the church, may the church rise to the greatest heights it’s ever known. When you are in command of government, however unlikely you think those things are, they belong to him who can take it. And in your hands, may our people be blessed, our democracy prosper. May our families know God in peace, in prayer, in commitment, in loving Jesus and one another. Our hearts and prayers, our souls and lives, the destiny of every tomorrow is in your hands.
May it be, Lord, when I look down from heaven, I see you doing wonderfully, and nobly, and marvelously, and greatly, and blessedly for our Savior: Sunday school teachers, deacons, preachers, pastors, leaders in women’s work, missionaries, wherever God shall open the door in His elective purpose for you, may it be a beautiful life, a wonderful life, you offer unto God. It is in your hands.
May we stand together? Our Lord in heaven, sometimes we tremble for the ark of God. When the Philistines make inroads into the nation, and when the armies of the Lord flee in fear, who could but tremble in the house of our Lord? We need a David. We need a Hezekiah. We need a Samuel. We need prophets and apostles. We need dedicated men and women. And our Lord, where does God find them but among His people, in His church?
And we’re praying that tonight might be a night of decision and commitment: “This night, God has spoken to my heart, and I’m answering with my life.” And while our people pray and we wait before the great God and our Savior, the Lord Jesus, in this night, to give your heart in faith to Christ, come and stand by me [Romans 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:8]. A family you, to put your life with us in the church, come, and welcome, a couple you, making a decision for the Lord, come, and welcome.
Is there someone you tonight that God has called to be a special servant of His, a vocational servant, a full-time servant? “God’s called me to be a staff member in a church, or a missionary, or a preacher.” Or, “God has called me to be a Christian nurse, or a Christian teacher, or a Christian businessman, and I’m giving my life tonight in answer to God’s call for me. And if He will help me I’ll be the best servant of Christ I can, being a missionary, or a pastor, or a Christian nurse, or a Christian teacher, or Christian businessman, or a Christian housewife.”
As the Spirit of the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, and in a moment when we sing, that first step will be one of the most meaningful and one of the most precious you’ve ever made in your life, come. Out of the balcony round, there’s time and to spare, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front: “Pastor, tonight, I’m accepting Christ as my Savior” [Romans 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:8], or “I’m putting my life in the fellowship of the church,” or “I’m answering God’s call,” a family, a couple, or just one somebody you.
And our Lord, as we pray and wait and as we sing our song, bless the company that comes. And we shall praise Thee for the tremendous dedication that the evening brings to Thee and to us, in Thy wonderful name, amen.
While we sing, while we wait, while we pray, come, and welcome.