GOD: THE FIRST UNIVERSAL FACT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-25-81 10:50 a.m.
In the long, long series of messages that are delivered at the morning hour on "The Great Doctrines of the Bible," we completed Sunday a week ago the series on bibliology; on the Bible itself. We are now in the series on theology proper, on God. Last Sunday, the beginning sermon was God and the Reasoning Mind. This coming Lord’s Day the message will be entitled What Is Wrong with Being an Atheist? And today the message is entitled God: the First Great Universal Fact; reality.
Our text is what you would think and suppose: the first verse in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, Genesis 1:1. "In the beginning God." In the beginning, what? In the beginning a cosmic egg made from the mud of the Nile River, said the sages of ancient Egypt. In the beginning, what? The flattened body of the monster Tiamat slain by Marduk, according to the ancient Chaldeans. In the beginning, what? The dissevered limbs of a monstrous giant, according to a hymn of the Rig-Veda, the sacred scriptures of the Hindus. In the beginning, what? Blind, impersonal accidental chance, according to the modern evolutionist. In the beginning, what? A ball of fire-mist, exploding and hurtling through space, according to the humanist and the secular physicist. In the beginning, what? In the beginning God, according to the Holy Scriptures.
The idea of God is innate, it is intuitive, it is congenital, it is universal to the human mind. In the first chapter of Romans, as Paul is laying the groundwork for his great theological treatise, he avows that the idea of God is universally revealed in every human heart [verses 17-20]. Experience dictates an affirmation of that scriptural truth.
Helen Keller, one of the sweetest characters who ever lived in modern American life, was blind. She was deaf, she was dumb. The only avenue of contact with her was through the sense of touch, and when finally, through that sense, they reached her, they told Helen Keller about God, and she replied, "I have known Him all the days of my life."
There are certain great truths that are ingrained and grounded in human personality, in the reasoning mind, and they cannot be obviated or discarded or denied. These common truths are self-evident; they belong to the recognition, to the recognitive faculties of our structural make up. For example, there is no effect without a cause. For example, a whole is greater than any one of its parts. For example, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. For example, the maxims of mathematics, geometry, two plus two equal four; these common truths are congenital with us. They are intuitive, they need no defense. Here is another one: the universe, the creation everywhere, and in all of its parts gives beautiful and eloquent evidence of law, of design, of intelligence. And the human personality is morally sensitive. These common truths cannot be denied. Then where did it come from, the law and the design and the intelligence in the marvelous world about us, and human personality, and our moral religious sensitivity, who created it? Where is its source?
There are those, world without number – the secularist, the evolutionist, the atheist, the humanist, the materialist – they avow that this common denominator of all mankind, grounded in the very personality of human life itself, they say that it is without cause, it is without reason, it is without reality, it is without fact, that it is a blind, accidental phenomenon. And for the most part, they persuade the academic world of their hypothetical theorizing persuasion.
But isn’t it strange, with all of their efforts they cannot discard the idea of God from the human race and the human mind? Sometimes, I think of their efforts like a man who takes a bob, a plumb line, and he pulls it horizontal. But you let the bob loose, let it go, and immediately it will assume its first up and down position. So with the human mind, it can be warped, and it can be twisted into all kinds of abnormalities and what I think are absurdities, but let it go, and immediately it will assume its former position and be straight up and down, pointing to God.
There are certain phenomenon, there are certain phenomena, there are certain truths that are all around us, each one of which demands an explanation. Here is one: all of us, all of us – all humanity – all of us have a sense of infinitude, of the infinite, of the glory and wonder of the chalice of the sky above us and the marvel of the verdant earth on which we live. There is in us a sense of the infinite. And that sense is empty and vague and void, unless it is filled with the reality and the presence of God.
Our sense of the infinite presupposes a great and omnipotent Creator God. It is as our eye; the eye presupposes light by which it sees. Our ear presupposes sound by which we hear. Our sense of touch presupposes tangible objects. Our affinities and affections for one another presupposes someone to love, a family, a community. Our thirst presupposes water to drink. Our hunger presupposes food to eat. So our aspirations, and our moral sensitivities, and our religious feelings presuppose something over, and above, and beyond the material substance of matter. Or could I say it this way? Matter calls for a creator. A creator calls for intelligence. Intelligence calls for personality. And personality calls for God.
A second fact, one of the phenomena that demands an explanation: when we look at the infinitude around us, the glory above, and beyond, and in, and through, and beneath us, whoever did it, whatever did it, was a master workman. There is no such thing as a masterpiece without intelligence and a master workman. It took a master workman to write Homer’s Iliad, or Virgil’s Aeneid, or Dante’s Divine Comedy, or Shakespeare’s Hamlet, or John Milton’s Paradise Lost. It took a mastermind to draw Raphael’s Sistine Madonna or Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment. It took a master workman to compose and write Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It took a master workman to create the great, marvelous pieces of statuary that we see adorning these glorious museums. It took a master workman to create Alexander the Great’s Greek empire. Shall I, therefore, deny the fact that it also took a master workman to create the glories of the world that we see above us and around us?
A third fact that demands an explanation: in this world of creation, we see intelligence everywhere; everywhere, universally – intelligence, mind, choice, will, purpose. A little boy was seated at a dinner table and their illustrious guest was a professor of physics. And as they talked and the little fellow tried to enter into the conversation the best he could, the conversation finally revolved around the world and the things that are in it – naturally conversant with a physicist! So the little boy made the observation that there were millions of things in the world, as a little boy would.
And the professor said, "No, no, son. In the whole world, there are only one hundred three different things."
"Oh," said the boy, "I know millions of them myself."
And the professor said, "Well, name some of them, son."
And the lad looked at the table and said, "Salt."
And the professor said, "Son, salt is made of two things. It’s not one thing; it’s two things. It has a little piece of white metal called sodium, and it has a little piece of gas called chlorine, chloride gas, chlorine gas. Put them together and they make salt."
The little boy said, "Well, water."
And the professor said, "Water is two things, two little tiny pieces of hydrogen and one tiny piece of oxygen. Put them together and that makes water." And the lad tried again, "Air." And the professor said, "Air is made of two things, seventy-nine tiny pieces of nitrogen, twenty-one tiny pieces of oxygen, and one little trace of carbonic acid, carbon dioxide. Put it together and all over the world it’s made of the same thing. That’s air." And that’s God – the whole world and all that is in it is composed of one hundred three different things, plus intelligence.
It’s like mathematics. Mathematics has ten elements, ten factors. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, plus a zero. And out of those ten factors an intelligent mind can solve problems in algebra, in geometry, in trigonometry, in calculus. Intelligence!
The world of literature; it contains in our language twenty-six factors or letters of the alphabet. An intelligence can take those twenty-six factors and create a twenty-third Psalm, a Gettysburg address, the beautiful poetry and literature of the world. Intelligence!
Or music. This morning, I verified – to be sure I was correct – over there on that organ; in an octave there are one, two, three, four, five, six, seven notes, and then it starts over again. And then in the cracks, there are two and three black pieces, and when you count them all, there are twelve. And those twelve factors, those twelve notes, with intelligence, can create the beautiful music that we hear in the world.
So it is that God took one hundred three factors – we call them elements – and He created, in His infinite design and intelligence, the marvelous world that we see all around us. But the atheist, and the infidel, and the secularist, and the humanist, they say all of this was wrought; it came to pass by sheer, impersonal accident, blind chance. And they are deeply persuaded of that, and they teach that in all the schools of the land. I would believe that hypothetical theory when I see the ten factors of mathematics thrown up into the air, and they accidentally come down a solution to a problem in algebra, or trigonometry, or calculus. I would believe that hypothetical persuasion when I can see someone take the twenty-six factors of the alphabet and throw them up into the air, and they come down, accidentally, one of the great masterpieces of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I will believe that hypothetical theory when I see them take twelve notes and throw them up into the air, and they come down Richard Wagner’s Bridal Chorus, that I heard yesterday. I will believe that when I see an explosion in a factory, a printing plant, and it comes out, accidentally, an unabridged dictionary. Blind chance; purposeless, accidental providences create nothing.
There is a law in thermodynamics called entropy, and the law of entropy is this: if anything begins to disarray it has a tendency to become more and more disarrayed. If you have an engine, your automobile, and it starts missing and having trouble, unless there is a correction in it, it will increasingly have more trouble, more trouble. All things in the universe are like that. If a thing has a tendency to fall into disarray, it will continue in that tendency unless there is intelligence to intervene in it.
So it is in everything that we see. There is no such thing as taking, say, Alfred Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar, and you take the type and throw it up into the air, and when it comes down there may be one or two little lines still intact. Then you throw it up again, and those one or two little lines will be coming disarrayed. And keep throwing [it] up, and it will lose all of its semblance to the beautiful poetry the author wrote.
Without intelligence, the whole spectrum of creation would fall into chaos and disarray; it is intelligence that brings it to order, and to symmetry, and to purpose, and to design. And without that, it is darkness and chaos. As the Scriptures say, "The Spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep. And God said" [Genesis 1:2-3a], and by fiat He created the wonderful world in which we live [Genesis 1:3-31].
I am quite ready to be a secular atheist, and an evolutionary physicist, and anatomist whenever I see one hundred three elements assemble themselves out of nothing and create, without design, a jet airplane take off and fly into the wild blue yonder. I will be an evolutionist and believe in accidental blind chance, when I see a bridge cross a great chasm without an engineer, or when I hear a beautiful piece of music without a composer, or when I read a marvelous poem without an author, or when I see a plain, simple dress made without a designer. It is the intelligent purpose that lies back of the creation, of the use of these factors that makes our world possible.
Now not as though we’re speaking of things far out or far beyond, or philosophical, metaphysical, speculative, let us look at the marvelous hand of the intervening God all around us in our everyday life. Let us look first at the world around us. There is a law of physics, and the law of physics says, when anything is heated it expands, it expands, it expands. And when anything is cooled, it contracts – the little molecules all huddle together. We experience that all the time. When we get hot, we expand. We take off our clothes; we do everything we can. And when it gets cold, we contract. All creation is like that. When a thing is heated, it expands – anything, everything, a piece of steel.
I remember when they were building the bridge across the Mississippi River at Memphis; they did it in the hot summertime, and the steel had so expanded that when they tried to set down that central span, it was about eighteen inches too long. And what did they do? They brought in tons and tons of ice and cooled it down! They set it down just perfectly; it had contracted. That’s universal, that is, until the intervention of God.
Water, when it cools and cools and cools, it contracts and contracts, until it gets to thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit, then, an intervention of God, suddenly, and without reason or explanation, it expands. Purpose of God; for if it [water] did not expand at thirty-two degrees, if it kept on contracting, it would turn to solid ice, and sink like a stone, to the bottom of the ocean. You’d have great, great seas of ice at the poles, and all of the life-giving currents of the oceans and of the seas would stop, and the world would die. That’s God.
Or take again, the world of biology. The law of biology is this: that in every flesh there are a certain number of chromosomes, and in every cell in that flesh there are the same number of chromosomes. Chicken, monkey, cow, dog, every cell in each one of them, has a certain set number of chromosomes. I remember drosophila – that they have been experimenting with for a hundred years – has two chromosomes. The American male, and all human males and females, in every cell of their body they have forty-six chromosomes, all of us. Trillions of cells that make up you; in every trillion one of them you’ve got forty-six chromosomes.
Then the intervention of God, the miracle of God: in the male spermatozoa there are twenty-three; one half. And in the female ovum there are twenty-three; just one half. And when they come together, you have again the forty-six: the creation of God. That’s why when a baby is dedicated here before the Lord, I cannot but always pray, "Lord, Lord, we are grateful for the miraculous hand that shaped this little life and gave it breath and soul, and left the little thing to us"; the intervention of God!
Take again, the world beneath us. It is a law of pathology, of disease, that disease multiplies; it just extends itself. It goes on a rampage; it becomes epidemic – germs multiply! The world is a vast cemetery; it’s a burying place. And think of the germs of diphtheria, poliomyelitis, typhoid, scarlet fever, tetanus. Think of the diseases that are buried in the earth, in death, dead rats, and dead cats, and dead dogs, and dead everything! You would think, after thousands and thousands of millions and millions of years that the earth beneath us would be filled with germs of death and disease! The intervention of God: God put something down there in that ground, and we just now have discovered it, it’s called penicillin. And when you bury dead rats, and dead dogs, and dead cats, and dead everything else, penicillin immediately destroys all the disease, in order that we might have a beautiful and healthful world on which to walk and to live. That’s God!
Or look again at the world within us, inside of us. There is a law of psychology and sociology that says, out of these slums, and out of these ghettos, and out of this vile environment, become the flotsam and the jetsam of human life, these sleazy characters, unkempt, unclean, dirty, and evil, that scare us to death. Now, that’s what the psychologist and the sociologist says. It’s that kind of a breeding ground that creates characters like that, that’s what the law of psychology and sociology says.
Over there in West Dallas, which at that time was a breeding ground of the most unthinkable characters, over there in West Dallas lived a Hamilton family with two boys, one named Floyd, one named Raymond. Over there in West Dallas, in that same little group, lived Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Raymond Hamilton was executed in the electric chair in Huntsville penitentiary. Clyde Barrow was shot down in an ambush and his girl, Bonnie Parker, was slain with him. But Floyd Hamilton was sent to Alcatraz, in the center of San Francisco Bay. In our dear church, Hattie Rankin Moore, whom I baptized – loving those dear people, giving us the money to build Truett Chapel right in the center of it – she came to me and said, "Would you write to Floyd Hamilton?" And I did. And she said, "Would you go out there to see him?" And I did. And behind, I don’t know how many steel walls and steel doors, and iron bars, I knelt with that man, Floyd Hamilton, in the middle of the Alcatraz prison and extended my hand. "If you’ll give your life to God, would you take my hand?" He did warmly, and he said, "If God ever lets me live to get out of this prison, the first thing I’ll do, I’ll walk down that aisle in your church. I’ll confess my faith in the Lord Jesus, and I’ll be baptized." When he was finally, after years, freed, down the aisle he came, committed his life to God in this dear place. I baptized him, and from that day unto this, he’s been going over all the world, telling the people what great things God has done for him. That is the Lord! That’s the miracle of God’s intervention; the same way with the world beyond us and above us, the intervention of God.
The law of history says nations rise to affluence, go corrupt, finally fall back into slavery, and into the death that litters nations along the shores of history. That’s the law of history: all nations so rise and fall, all of them. I never saw a Girgashite, I never saw a Hittite, I never saw a Jebusite, I never saw a Moabite, but God said to Israel, "You see that valley of dry bones?" And His breath breathes over that valley of very dry bones, and they arose, a great army for God [Ezekiel 37:9-10]. And the Lord said through Jeremiah His prophet, "As long as there is a sun to shine in the sky, and as long as there is a moon to shine by night, just so long shall Israel, as a people, live before Me" [Jeremiah 31:35-36]. That’s God!
It is the law of organizations that they flourish for a moment, then you never hear of them again – the uncounted thousands of organizations that have resolved and dissolved before our eyes, except one. Jesus said, "On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" [Matthew 16:18]. And at the consummation of the age, the angel says to the sainted apostle John, "Come, come. Let me show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife," His church [Revelation 21:9]. "And He showed me a city" of pure gold [Revelation 21:18]. The walls were jasper diamond and the mansions where God’s people lived, and in the midst of it, the throne of our Lord; and out of the throne a river of life, and by the side of the river, a tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the people. And they shall serve Him, forever and ever [Revelation 22:1-5]. Hallelujah, amen; that’s God!
As God put His s-u-n to shine in the sky, as God revealed His S-o-n, Son, to speak to us out of the Holy Scriptures, so He gave us both for the light of the world and the salvation of our souls. The first great, mighty, omnipotent, universal fact is the reality of our God! Now may we stand together?
Our Lord, in awe and in wonder, we bow our hearts and our heads in Thy presence. How great Thou art; beyond poem to describe it, or song read from, to sing it; are the feelings of worship that well up in our deepest souls, honoring and glorifying Thy matchless name. If the heavens declare the glory of God [Psalm 19:1], no less do our hearts, and our souls, and our lips.
While our people pray, while we wait, in a moment when our choir sings, a family you, or a couple you, or just one somebody you, out of that balcony, if you are on the last floor of the top balcony, there is time and to spare. Or the throng on this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front, "Pastor, we’ve decided for God and we’re coming." We’re on radio. We’re on television. If you have listened to the message today wherever you are, listening to the radio, driving a car, pull to the side of the road, bow your head over that steering wheel and say, "Lord, today, I open my heart to Thee," or if you are watching on television, kneel by the side of the chair and say, "Lord God, today, today, I give my life in trust and faith to Thee." Once again the great throng in this sanctuary, "This is my day of decision, and I am answering with my life."
And our Lord, whether by baptism, or by letter, or by promise of letter, or by consecration of life, or by confession of faith, dear God, thank Thee for the harvest You bestow upon us, in Thy wonderful saving name, amen.
While we sing our song, our deacons, our ministers are here. Our people, the angels of God are here to rejoice in your coming. Make it now, while we wait and pray and while we sing.