My Traumatic Perplexities

My Traumatic Perplexities

October 3rd, 1982 @ 10:50 AM

Psalm 102:6-7

I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Psalm 102:6-7

10-3-82    10:50 a.m.


n the fifty-four years that I have been a pastor, I have never preached my doubts or my hesitancies.  I have always felt that the first commitment of a preacher is to publish his convictions and his affirmations; but this one time in fifty-four years I would like to depart from that.  There are some things that have been turning over in my heart and in my mind for months and months, and I have just decided to express them.  The message is entitled My Traumatic Perplexities, things that give me great pause and consideration.  And as a background text, in the one hundred second Psalm, verses 6 and 7; 102, verses 6 and 7: “I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.  I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop” [Psalm 102:6-7].

There are three areas in which I think in terms of great trepidation and hesitancy and perplexity: one is theological, one is denominational, and one is ecclesiastical.  First, the theological perplexity: I cannot understand myself, nor my people, nor the Christian world standing before the plainly revealed revelation, the doctrine, the truth, the scriptural presentation of eternal damnation and punishment in hell for the soul that rejects Christ.  Why is it that I’m unmoved by that awesome revelation?  Why don’t I do something to warn people of the awesome judgment that awaits them outside of Christ?

If I saw a house burning and a man in it asleep, wouldn’t I seek to awaken him?  The house is on fire!  If I saw a man drowning and had a lifeline in my hand, wouldn’t I throw it to him?  If I saw a man walking toward a precipice, unaware of the abyss, wouldn’t I call to him?  Then how is it that I live among people by the thousands and the thousands who are not saved, who face an eternal judgment of damnation, and I do so little about it?

Maybe there isn’t any such thing as hell or judgment or soul damnation.  When I think of that, I raise the question in my mind, “Why did the Lord Jesus come from glory down into this world?”  Did He come to be one of a thousand moralists?  There has been no generation that I know of since the beginning of time that hasn’t produced its moralists.  Socrates, Plato, Zeno, Seneca, Aurelius, Confucius, Mahavira the Buddha, they are endless.  Did Jesus come down into this world to be just one of an endless succession teaching morality?  Is that why He came?  Did He come down into this world to be an heroic example?  Again, there is no nation without its great heroes: Beowulf, Siegfried, Hercules, Agamemnon, Achilles, thousands and thousands of them.  And did our Lord come down from heaven just to be one other of that endless succession of heroic examples?  Is that why He came?

Or is it because there is something so tragic awaiting the human soul that He came down from God’s glory into this earth, suffered, died in order that we might be delivered from an awesome judgment and an eternal punishment? [Hebrews 10:5-14]. Is that why He came?  I can never forget that it was He who took up in His arms little babies and blessed them [Mark 10:13-16].  It was He who spoke most and most solemnly about damnation and eternal hell.  There is a word in the New Testament used for hell: it is gehenna, gehenna.  It is used thirteen times; and out of those thirteen times, twelve times it is on the lips of our Lord.  Some of the things that He said bring terror to my heart.  He closes the twenty-fifth chapter, the great apocalyptic chapter in Matthew, “These shall go away into aionios punishment: and these into aionios life” [Matthew 25:46].  He uses the same word for both of them; these for damnation and these for heaven.  And if there’s not any damnation, there’s not any heaven.  And if damnation is a brief interval, so is heaven.  The same word aionios describes both of them; and it’s from the word of our Lord Jesus.

Out of a multitude of things, our Lord said in the sixteenth of Luke, “The rich man died and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments [Luke 16:22-23]. . . and prayed, saying, I have five brethren; send Lazarus that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment” [Luke 16:27-28].  And the tremendous twentieth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, closing the great white throne judgment, “And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” [Revelation 20:15].  These are awesome things.  And if I have any confidence in the coming of Christ, and any belief in this holy and sacred Word, than how is it that I am not burdened, why I do not tremble before the judgment that awaits those who say no to Christ, who reject our Lord and His grace [Ephesians 2:8], and mercy? [Titus 2:5].

Nor am I alone in that.  I wonder at our church and at our people.  Mrs. Pritchett chooses these who are seated each Sunday in each service in the pulpit.  As Dr. Melzoni announced, nine nights we’re having revival.  Instead of the nights being together, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, they are nine Sunday nights.  So she called one of the prominent members of our church and said, “For the revival tonight, would you come and pray for us?”  And he replied, “No, it’s not in my program to attend church on Sunday night.”  Just what kind of reception and conviction and belief do we have regarding that awesome revelation in the Book of God that the soul that rejects Christ spends eternity in damnation and in hell? [Matthew 25:41].  That’s my first traumatic perplexity, a theological one.  I don’t know what to think and I hardly know what to do.  Lord, Lord, how we need to realize the deep, everlasting seriousness and responsibility of our great calling and hope in Christ Jesus.

My second traumatic perplexity: it is denominational; it concerns the leadership of our Baptist communion.  All of us know that all of the great universities of the world—if they are old—all of them have been established by the church, and they were established for religious purposes, to train the ministry and later on to train a godly laypeople to work for Jesus: the Sorbonne in Paris, Cambridge and Oxford in England, all of them.  And it is no less absolutely and certainly and without exception true in America.  All of the great old universities were established for the faith, for the propagation of the gospel, to train preachers and laymen.  All of us equally know that all of those great old schools are now completely secular, in nowise are they Christian.  Harvard, Yale, Columbia, all of them are lost to the faith.  They are secular institutions, infidel institutions.

That same pattern that I see in the Christian institutions of the whole world, I see no less in our great Baptist institutions.  I was in Ontario when McMasters Baptist University was given away to a secular people.  Liberalism, the denial of the Word of God, had taken it out of the faith.  Years and years ago, Brown University, our great Baptist school in New England, was lost to the faith.  Liberalism, the denial of the Word of God, swept it away; has no pretense of being a Christian school.   All of our great institutions of the North, Baptist, have followed the same pattern: they are all secular and infidel.

In the early part of this century, in the American Baptist churches, in the Baptist churches of the North, little Sunday school children brought nickels and dimes in order to build a great school for the evangelization of the Midwest.  After they had taken up those collections from children in Sunday school classes, the American Baptist churches, then the American Baptist Convention, took the Morgan Park Baptist Theological Seminary and made it the center of the school, and built the school around that seminary, in order to train preachers to preach the gospel to the great heartland of America.  John D. Rockefeller, who was a Sunday school superintendent and a godly deacon, seeing that, endowed the school—which they called Chicago University—with millions and millions of dollars.  No sooner was the school endowed than that theological seminary, called Chicago Divinity School, turned infidel.  Liberals seized it, mocked at the infallibility [Psalm 119:89, 160], and the inspiration of the Bible [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21].

I had a friend who went to Chicago University to win his doctor’s degree in pedagogy, in education.  And while he was there, he made the friendship of a theologue in Chicago Divinity School.  The day came when the young theologue was graduated from the university, from the divinity school.  So the young minister came to my friend who was there at Chicago University winning a doctor of education degree, and he said to my friend, who was a devout Christian and a Baptist, he said to him, “I’m in a great quandary. I don’t know what to do.  I have been called to a Presbyterian church in the Midwest; but it’s one of those old fashioned, old-timey Presbyterian churches that believe in the Bible.  And I don’t believe in the Bible.  And I don’t know what to do.”  And my friend said to him, “Well, I can tell you exactly what you ought to do.”  And the young fellow brightened up and said, “What?”  And my friend said, “I think you ought to quit the ministry.”

These schools have been lost to the faith and lost to the evangelization of the world because of their denial of the Word of God [Psalm 119:89, 160].  That is not a peculiar leprosy that has taken away the life of our great institutions in the North.  It is doing the same thing now in the South where we are.  Our great senior Baptist University in Virginia has been lost to the Baptist faith.  They have their five preacher boys, five ministerial students.  Our little Bible College here which has just begun has over three hundred; they have five.  And in the state just south of them, in North Carolina, the great senior university Baptist college of North Carolina has disassociated itself from the Baptist faith, and from the Baptist convention, and from the Baptist people; it has gone secular.

So I look to see our Baptist leaders as they speak about the loss of these great institutions to liberalism, and infidelity, and secularism, and humanism.  I look to see their great speaking about those things.  Instead of that, in every denominational magazine published in America, this is what they say, these great leaders: “Baptists straying from purpose—over-emphasis on biblical authority is a heresy among Southern Baptists which is creating confusion and causing the denomination to stray from its missionary purpose.”  That man who is the leader of the great section of our Baptist denomination, lives in the city where one of our great universities has been lost to secularism and infidelity.  Why doesn’t he say anything about the liberals who are destroying the institution?  You never hear a peep, you never hear a squeak, you never hear a word.  But he has a castigating caustic, scalding word to say about those who are holding up the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God [Psalm 119:89, 160].

Here’s another one out of a thousand: SBC said, “Stampeded the swamp of creedalism”: Southern Baptists are in danger of being stampeded from their goals of missions and evangelism into a swamp of creedalism.  What creedalism?  Because of insistence upon the institution and the teacher and the professor believing in the Word of God; that’s the new swamp of creedalism.  “Biblical authority question causes blurring of purpose”; and it goes on world without end.  Whenever we begin denying the Word of God and turning aside from the Holy Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21], we begin that much dying as a Christian faith, dying as a denomination, dying as a missionary witness in the world, dying as followers of Jesus Christ.  There’s no exception to that; none in the world.

This last August, as some of you know, we made a trip to Spain.  While we were there in Spain we went to Toledo; wanted to see those marvelous paintings of El Greco, who was born about four hundred years ago.  And while we were there in one of those chapels, those beautiful El Greco paintings, there was a Spaniard there with his easel, with his brush, and he was painting some of those beautiful masterpieces, some of the works of art; he was copying them.  And through the interpreter I got acquainted with him and told him I was so interested in what he was doing, I’d like to have one of them. And he invited us to his home.  And we went through his home, and there room after room, the copies of those great masters hanging on the wall there.  And as I went from room to room, I found a painting, and I said, “Is this a copy of a great master?”  He said, “No, this is mine.  This is mine.”  I never saw such a painting.  I bought it from him, and brought it home.  It’s called La Biblica Crucifixida, The Crucifixion of the Bible.  Here is a Bible open and face down.  Here is a hammer, and there are four nails that nailed the Bible down.  And by the side is a candle burning down, and the light has just gone out.  And you see the smoke flickering from the wick.  And I asked him, “What do you mean by that, the crucifixion of the Bible?”  He said, “That’s my impression of what is happening to the Christian world.  They are turning aside from and denying the saving Word of God.  And the Bible is being nailed to a cross, and the light of the world is going out.”

I don’t understand why our denominational leadership seeks to cut down in every way that it can these who stand up for an infallible [Psalm 119:89, 160], inerrant, inspired Word of God [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21], and at the same time the liberals are taking our institutions away one by one by one.  I don’t understand that.  I’m just saying I don’t understand it.  It is my denominational traumatic perplexity.  I don’t understand.

My ecclesiastical perplexity, traumatic: are we building a servant church, a Savior church, a caring congregation, a helping, loving, lighthouse for Christ?  Are we?  Do we really care about the masses of humanity?  Whoever they are, whatever they are, wherever they are, do we really care?  Do we?  How many times do I see the church like a country club, gathering our garments around us, would be offended by the soil and the dirt and the filth of the fallen masses around us?  “Don’t touch me.  Get away from me.”  Are we really a caring congregation?  Are we really a helping people?  Is it a care to us how they are, the thousands of those masses of humanity?  Do we really care, really?

May I remind you of that story that came out of Vietnam?  In the conflict of America there, a soldier boy from Iowa, gone through that entire conflict, was wounded, and now was coming home.  Came to San Francisco, called his mother and father in Iowa, “Mom and Dad, I am home.  I’m home.”

“Oh,” mom and dad said, “how wonderful a day!  Welcome, son, welcome.”

“Mom and Dad,” said the boy in San Francisco, “Mom and Dad, I have a buddy, I have a friend, and he’s been with me all through the war.  And I thought maybe I could bring him home with me.  Would you mind?”

“Oh no,” said the mom.  “Oh no,” said the dad, “bring the boy with you.  We’ll be happy to have him.”

“But Mom and Dad,” said the boy in San Francisco, “maybe you don’t understand quite.  You see Mom, you see Dad, this boy, my friend who has been with me all through the years of the war, he’s been hurt, he’s been wounded, and he has one eye gone, and one arm gone, and one leg gone.”

And the dad said to his son, “Well, son, that’s different.  Maybe you’d better not bring him, son.  You know, we wouldn’t know quite how to care for him.  I tell you what we’ll do, son,” said the father.  “We’ll make it possible for the boy to go to the finest veteran’s hospital, and we’ll write our congressman, and we’ll care for that boy in the veteran’s administration.  But better not bring him home, son, it’d be too big a burden for us.”

“Fine,” said the boy in San Francisco, “fine.  And bless you, Mom and Dad.  And I love you, Mom and Dad.  And goodbye, Mom and Dad.”

About two days later, the director of a morgue in San Francisco called that home in Iowa, and said to the man and the woman there in the home, “There’s been a soldier boy who’s committed suicide.  And looking at his effects, this is his name, and this is his address, and this is the name of his father and mother.  Is that you?”

“Yes,” they said, “we have a boy that name, and this is our name and our address.”

“Well,” said the man that runs the morgue, “would you come and see if this is your boy?”  They made their way to San Francisco, rushed to the morgue, and immediately recognized their boy as they looked on his face.  Then they looked more closely.  He had one eye gone, one arm gone, and one leg gone.

Do we really care?  Or is the burden to us, the flotsam and the jetsam and the masses of lost humanity, the poor and the outcast, the lost, the unsought, the unsaved?  “Don’t bother me.  Don’t get close to me.  Don’t dirty my hands with you.”  Do we really care?

America was peopled with the masses of lost humanity.  That’s where we came from.  Emma Lazarus, the Jewish poetess, wrote a sonnet; and if you’ve ever been to the Statue of Liberty, her sonnet is on the Statue of Liberty.  And it closes with these words—remember them?

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

[“The New Colossus”]

That’s where we came from!

And heaven is peopled with souls like that: God’s poor, wretched, outcast.  Our Lord said:

When thou makest a dinner or a supper, do not call your friends or your brethren, or your rich neighbors, lest they bid thee again and recompense thee.

But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:

And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: but thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.

[Luke 14:12-14]

These are the citizens of heaven: the poor, the lost, the outcast, the great masses of humanity for whom our Lord died [Matthew 22:9-10; Romans 5:6-8].

I don’t know of a more dynamic poem in the English language than this one by Vachel Lindsay, an American poet, who lived among those poor, wretched masses.  It is entitled “General William Booth Enters Heaven.”  General William Booth founded the Salvation Army.  And here is Vachel Lindsay’s description of General William Booth as he entered heaven:

Booth led boldly with his big bass drum—

(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

The saints smiled gravely and they said: “He’s come.”

(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

Walking lepers followed, rank on rank,

Lurching bravoes from the ditches dank,

Drabs from the alleyways and drunk friends pale—

Minds still passion-ridden, soul-powers frail:—

Vermin-eaten saints with moldy breath,

Unwashed legions with the ways of Death—

(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

Every slum had sent its half-a-score

The round world over.  (And Booth had prayed for more.)

Every banner that the wild world flies

Bloomed with glory and transcendent dyes.

Big-voiced lasses made their banjos bang,

Tranced, newborn they shouted and sang:—

“Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?”

Hallelujah!  It was queer to see

Bull-necked convicts in that land made free.

Loons with trumpets blowing blare, blare, blare

On, on upward thro’ the golden air!

(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

Booth died blind, but by faith he trod,

Eyes still dazzled by the ways of God.

Booth led boldly, and he looked a chief

Eagle countenance in sharp relief,

Beard a-flying, air of high command

Unabated in that holy land.

Jesus came out from the courthouse door,

Stretched His hands above the passing poor…

The lame were straightened, withered limbs uncurled

And blind eyes opened on a sweet, new world.

Drabs and vixens in a flash made whole!

Gone was weasel-head, the snout, the jowl!

Sages and sibyls now, and athletes clean,

Rulers of empires, and of forests green!

The hosts were sandaled, and their wings were fire!

(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

And their noise made havoc with the angel-choir.

(Are you washed in the blood of thee Lamb?)

O shout Salvation!  It was good to see

Kings and Princes by the Lamb set free.

The banjos rattled and the tambourines

Jing-jing-jingled in the hands of Queens.

And when Booth halted by the curb for prayer

He saw his Master thro’ the flag-filled air.

Christ came gently with a robe and a crown

For Booth the soldier, while the throng knelt down.

He saw King Jesus.  They were face to face,

And he knelt a-weeping in that holy place.

Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

[“General William Booth Enters Heaven,” Vashel Lindsay]

That is the faith!  Not a supercilious, contumacious, better-than-thou, “Don’t touch me!”  But wherever there is need, wherever there is somebody lost, wherever there is a heart broken, wherever people are crying and weeping, wherever there is hurt and sorrow, there Jesus is, and we are, with our hands outstretched to help.

Really, do we care?

I cannot say how greatly, blessedly, everlastingly I am thankful for the outreach ministries of this dear church.  I thank God for our cushioned pews and our carpeted aisles and for all of the things that go to make up this dear place.  But I thank God mostly for the extended hand of our people to those who so desperately need us.

In this budget program that we adopted last week, there is almost two million dollars in that budget given for these mission ministries outside of this congregation.  Among them there are fifteen chapels, fifteen of them, ministering to people who need God and who need us.  Every time I put a dime in the collection plate, part of it goes to help those poor, forlorn, lost, needy people.

You don’t see it, but just one of them.  One of these missions you’ll see down here each Sunday morning at the ten-fifty service.  Washed in the blood of the Lamb.  Poor, bedraggled, outcast, from the gutter.

Saved by the blood of the Crucified One!

All praise to the Father, all praise to the Son

All praise to the Spirit, the great Three-in-One!

Saved by the blood of the Crucified One!

[“Saved By the Blood,” S. J. Henderson]

Lord, Lord, isn’t that what it’s about?  God help me as I get out and away from all of the better-than-thou and the exclusiveness and the judgmental spirit of these who feel themselves superior.  And help me, Lord, to be where You are.  Help us.  Praying, extending my hands in loving invitation, God bless, God save, and God help.  He will.  That’s why He came down from heaven to this earth [Luke 19:10].  May we stand together?

Wonderful, wonderful Savior, remembering Thy precious Word,

He did not come to condemn the world,

He did not come to blame,

It was for us who were lost

And to save us that He came.

And when we call Him Iesous, Jesus, Savior,

We call Him by His name.

[author and work unknown]

Lord, Lord, that we who call upon Thy name and love Thee and have found refuge in Thee, Lord, that we might be like Thee: loving, caring, praying, reaching, helping.  God make us a people like Thee.

And in this moment when our people pray and wait, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, “Today, pastor, we’re answering God’s call with our lives, and we’re on the way.”  Make that decision now in your heart [Romans 10:9-10], and in this moment when we sing, answer with your life.  That first step will be the most meaningful you’ll ever make.  In the balcony round, down a stairway; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles.  “Here I am, pastor, and here I stand.”  Do it now, and may angels attend you as you come.  And thank You Holy Spirit of God for the sweet harvest You bestow, in Thy saving name, amen.  Welcome, come.


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Psalm 102:6-7


Three areas of great trepidation, hesitancy and perplexity

A.   Theological

B.   Denominational

C.   Ecclesiastical

Theological: damnation of the unbelieving, Christ rejecting soul in hell

A.   Do I believe that?  Do
we?  Do you?

B.   What brought Jesus
down to earth?

Denominational: loss of our institutions

A.   The Christian schools
of the north

B.   Our Baptist schools of
the SBL

Ecclesiastical: Do we have a servant church? A Savior church?

A.   Do we really care
about the masses of humanity?

B.   Jesus and the poor

C.   The blessing of God

Budget issues