A Shining Star for Christ
May 22nd, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
A SHINING STAR FOR CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-22-83 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message entitled: A Brilliant Star, A Shining Star For Christ. In the Book of Acts and beginning at the first verse in chapter 18, Acts, chapter 18 [Acts 18:1], we read:
After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;
And there he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus—
that was a Roman province facing the Black Sea in what we call Asia Minor—
lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius the Roman Caesar had commanded all of the Jews to depart from Rome:) and he came unto them.
Paul came to Aquila and Priscilla.
And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought, worked: (for by their occupation they were tentmakers.)
Now in verse 18 we are told that when Paul left Corinth to come toEphesus, he took with him Aquila and Priscilla, and he left them there in Ephesus [Acts 18:18-19]. Now beginning at verse 24 [Acts 18:24],:
And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus.
This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spoke and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.
And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.
Then this Apollos, “when he was disposed to pass into Achaia” [Acts 18:27]—the Romans divided Greece into two provinces, the northern one was Macedonia with a capital at Thessalonica, and the southern was called Achaia and the capital was at Corinth. So he came to Corinth, and they
. . . wrote to the brethren there, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace:
For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ.
[Acts 18:27, 28]
Just to capsulate in a sentence or two, on the second missionary journey, Paul came to Ephesus and then went down to Jerusalem. Then he promised to return to Ephesus, and did so on his third missionary journey. And between those two journeys in Ephesus, there came to the city a brilliant Alexandrian by the name of Apollos, and this man was eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures [Acts 18:24].
Of all of the prophets and of all of the apostles in the Bible, I had rather listen to two of them than any in the earth. I wish I could have listened to Isaiah the court preacher in Jerusalem: he speaks in poetry; he rises to hyperbolic perorations beyond any that is known in human literature; he is as far above Homer or Shakespeare or Milton as the sky is above the earth. I wish I could have listened to the great court preacher Isaiah.
The second: I wish I could have listened to this Alexandrian orator named Apollos. If he did not write the Book of Hebrews, whoever wrote it was a man exactly like Apollos. The Book of Hebrews is a homiletical sermon, marvelously arranged, rising from one great crescendo to another. It is much quoting the Alexandrian text of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. And its pauses and its perorations and its literature and its phraseology and its language is Alexandrian. I repeat: if Apollos did not write it, whoever wrote it was someone exactly like Apollos. And of course, I think Apollos wrote it.
Alexandria was established by the world conqueror Alexandria the Great, but he himself never realized the glory and the grandeur to which the city he founded would rise. When Athens decayed, Alexandria, for the centuries in the ancient Roman world, was the center of cultural and intellectual and academic achievement and advancement. It was the second city in the Roman Empire. It was first after Rome. The three great cities in size and in influence in the Roman Empire were first Rome itself, the Eternal City; the second was Alexandria, and the third was Antioch. There was hardly any city in all history like this vast, beautiful, glorious, intellectual, cultural, academic city of Alexandria. The greatest library the world has ever known was at Alexandria.
There has never been a loss to the human race like the loss of the burning of the library at Alexandria by Caliph Omar in the seventh century. Like those Shiite fanatical Mohammedans, the caliph said, “If it isn’t in the Koran then we don’t need it. If it is not in the Koran it is not true. So he burned it down; the greatest loss in human history, the burning of that vast ancient library at Alexandria.
The greatest version of the Bible that was ever made was made in Alexandria: the Greek Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language. And it was the Bible, the Septuagint was the Bible used by the first century Christian preachers. And it is the one that is quoted in our King James Version and in the Greek Testament, the Textus Receptus.
The greatest geometrician, geometrist that ever lived was a professor and a teacher of geometry in Alexandria; his name was Euclid. And to this day, after two thousand years, the text of Euclid is used in our colleges and in our universities. Typical of the city, one of the Seven Wonders of the World was at Alexandria. At the entrance of the harbor there was a great lighthouse which was a wonder. It was the Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Following after those ancient days, the greatest Greek fathers, the greatest church fathers were Alexandrians, Origen and Athanasius.
Beyond any doubt, one of the finest and most gifted of all philosophers was the Neoplatonist Plotinus; and his brilliant, though infidel and anti-Christian, disciple Porphyry. Neoplatonism had its birth and its course and its brilliant professors in Alexandria. And the greatest Jewish philosopher who ever lived, Philo, a contemporary of Christ’s, was an Alexandrian.
It is interesting to compare the education of Saul of Tarsus and of Apollos of Alexandria. Saul of Tarsus, later Paul the apostle [Acts 13:9], was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3], one of the great rabbis of all of the Talmud; one of the seven rabbins of Jewish history. This man Saul of Tarsus as a youth was brought up at the feet in the school of Gamaliel. And he was learned in all of the casuistry as between the schools of Hillel and Shammai. He was a strident Pharisee [Acts 23:6]. And he was instructed and learned in all of the tradition of the elders in what we call the Talmud. He spoke Hebrew and Aramaic, and his education was in the Talmud lore of the Jewish people.
This man Apollos grew up in an altogether different intellectual and academic environment. He grew up in the Greek teaching, and philosophy, and rhetoric. He doubtless was taught in the school of Philo. And he read the Greek classics and spoke the Greek language. And as an eminent, learned rhetorician he was eloquent, the Bible says, and mighty in his speech [Acts 18:24]. Apollos was this kind of a man. He’d walk into any assembly and every eye would turn toward him. When he spoke, it was with stentorian tones of eloquence and literature. This was Apollos.
But the gospel that he preached was that of an ethical Christ. The Scriptures say that he didn’t know, he had not been introduced to, the gospel of the atoning death of our Lord, of His triumphant resurrection, of His return, His ascension into glory, of His session at the right hand of God and of the outpouring of the pentecostal Holy Spirit [Acts 18:24-26].
What he had been taught was the discipleship of John [Acts 18:25]; Jesus, a disciple of John. That is, he taught an ethical Christ. He taught the Christ of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29]. He taught the Christ of those beautiful, marvelous discourses of Jesus in the valley by the seaside [Mark 4:1-36]. He taught a Christ of tremendous ethical quality, but nothing of what Paul calls the gospel.
Paul defines the gospel in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, the first 11 verses [1 Corinthians 15:1-11]. Paul says: “Brethren, I make known unto you, I define unto you, the gospel wherein you are saved. Namely, to wit, this is it: How that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures: that He was buried, and the third day He was raised again according to the Scriptures” [1 Corithians 15:1-4]. When a man preaches the gospel, that’s what he preaches: the atoning death for our sins, and His resurrection for our justification [Romans 4:25]. To preach an ethical Christ is not to preach the gospel.
Today we refer to the preaching of an ethical Christ as liberalism. Discounting the atoning blood, the greatest liberal America ever produced said there is no more efficacy in the blood of Christ than there is in that of a pig or a chicken. They discount the blood of Christ, and they certainly don’t believe in the bodily resurrection. And they look upon the promised return of our Lord as an enigmatic fanaticism on the part of the blind provincials, who don’t know any better in the church, and who don’t know more than to just believe the Bible. Now that’s liberalism. But they magnify the heroic portions of Christ. “He is a great leader. He is a great moral example.” Now that’s what Apollos was preaching. He didn’t know of the atoning death and resurrection of our Lord. He was preaching an ethical Christ, what we call liberal theology [Acts 18:24-26].
When I began my ministry out of the seminary, my first pastorate, there were two county seats in the Chickasha Association. I was pastor of the First Baptist Church in one of them, and Preacher Halleck, E. F. Halleck, was the pastor in the other one. Where he was, was at First Baptist Church of Norman, Oklahoma, where the University of Oklahoma is located. He was pastor there for forty-eight years. Preacher Halleck was the pastor of the First Baptist Church at Pittsburgh, Kansas, an American Baptist church, and he was a modernist, he was a liberal. I call them half-infidels. He was preaching this kind of a gospel; a liberal gospel, an ethical Christ.
And in the grace of God, the Spirit of the Lord convicted this young pastor of the church in Pittsburgh. And upon a Sunday, after he delivered his message, he left the pulpit, he went down into the congregation, he came down the aisle; he confessed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior of his soul, and in His atoning blood for his sins, and asked to be baptized upon that confession of faith in the Lord. That’s Preacher Halleck, and a mighty man of God, a believer in the Scriptures, God bless his memory.
Well, that’s the kind of a gospel that Apollos was preaching [Acts 18:24-25]. He was preaching an ethical Christ, the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29]. Now he did it so marvelously, and I am not gainsaying the eloquent ability of some of these liberal preachers. They are suave. They are attractive. They are polished. They have personality. They occupy some of the great pulpits of the world, and have. Apollos was like that. He was brilliant. He was educated. He was eloquent. And he was mighty as he presented his understanding of the Christ [Acts 18:24].
Now here is one of the finest things that you will ever see in human personality of anyone presented here in the Bible. When the humble tentmaker Aquila and his beautiful and precious wife Priscilla listened to Apollos as he preached this ethical Christ, they invited him to come home with them. And the mighty orator accepted their humble invitation. And there in the home of Aquila and Priscilla, they told him about the atonement of our Lord; of His death on the cross; of His blood, the crimson of His life poured out in expiation, in washing away of our sins; of His burial, of His resurrection from the dead, triumphant and of His coming again; and of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God upon the world [Acts 18:26].
One of the signs of a great man is this; that he is teachable, amenable, malleable, even in the presence of the humblest plowman. When you see a man who is too great in his own eyes, to stoop, pay attention to humble people, little people he called them, they’re beneath his dignity, they’re beneath his attention. He’s too great and mighty for these little ones. When you see a man like that he’s a Lilliputian pigmy himself. And this Apollos brilliant, learned Alexandrian, he listened to the tentmaker Aquila and his wife Priscilla.
And he came into the full-orbed realization of the coming of Christ into the world [Matthew 1:20-25]. Not just to teach us morality and goodness and ethics, but to die that we might be saved [John 3:16; Hebrews 10:5-14; Luke 19:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21], raised that we might be justified, that we might be declared righteous in the presence of God [Romans 4:25] and some day coming for His own [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. Then Apollos begin to preach the whole gospel of Christ and the favor and the blessing of the Lord was aboundingly and abundantly poured out upon him.
Now an inevitable thing happened. This is a part of our fallen nature of humanity. Apollos, after he had visited and preached the gospel in Ephesus, wanted to go to Achaia and to the capital city of Corinth. So he came to Corinth. And they wrote to the brethren in Corinth to receive him. And when he came, he helped them much [Acts 18:27]. He was a giant of a champion. He helped them much who had believed through grace. For he mightily convinced the unbelieving, showing publicly—that is, in great marvelous displays of oratory and argument and forensic presentation—by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior of the world [Acts 18:28].
Now the inevitable happened. You can’t keep it from happening. When those people in Corinth, who had been converted under Paul, and Silas, and Timothy, and Titus, and those mighty men of the first century, when they heard Apollos, they said to one another, “We never heard a man preach like that, beyond anything that our minds could have ever thought for or our hearts ever imagined; this man Apollos, none like him.”
So some of them in the church said, “Well, I am a disciple and a follower of Apollos.” And then others said, “No, you may follow and admire Apollos, but I was won to Christ by Paul, and I am a follower of Paul.” So they divided up in the church. Now, in 1 Corinthians chapter 1, Paul writes to the church at Corinth and he says:
It has been declared unto me, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
For some of you say, I am of Paul; and then others of you say, But I am of Apollos.
[1 Corinthians 1:11, 12]
Then he writes in the third chapter beginning at verse 3 [1 Corinthians 3:3]:
For are ye not carnal: whereas there is among you envying, and strife,
and divisions . . .
For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave every man?
I have planted, Apollos watered; but it is God that gave the increase.
[1 Corinthians 3:3-6]
Isn’t that human? This man Paul, whenever you hear anybody say, “You know, this guy is the greatest preacher since Paul,” they need to read the Bible. You know they are just talking. Their heads are empty and their hearts are sterile. You don’t have to wonder what kind of preacher Paul was. In 2 Corinthians 10:10, Paul quotes his enemies about what they said about him: “His bodily presence is weak, and his speech is contemptible.” That’s what they say about Paul.
Now whenever you say this is the greatest preacher since Paul, you just don’t know what you are talking about. Paul’s presence was very weak. For one thing, he apparently was cross-eyed, and couldn’t see out of either eye, and he was very small and very unprepossessing. That’s what tradition said about him. And he had no oratory, forensic, academically poetic ability in his speaking at all. He was very common in his speaking. That’s what—at least that’s what they said about him. “His bodily presence is weak, and his speech is contemptible” [2 Corinthians 10:10].
But this man Apollos is described in the Bible as eloquent and mighty [Acts 18:24]. Well, it was very apparent what happened, I say, in the church there in Corinth. This man Apollos was a preacher as they never heard in their lives. It was eloquence personified. It was glorious. It rose from one great climactic peroration to the other. Well, I repeat: if you want to see what kind of a preacher he was, read the Book of Hebrews. That’s a sermon, and incomparable. Its language is incomparable. Its imagery is incomparable. It is a glorious intervention from heaven that a man could even be that way.
Well, that is Apollos. So they had these parties there in the church. Now, what kind of a man is Apollos? And what kind of a man is Paul personally? When I turn to the last chapter of the 1 Corinthians letter, chapter 16 in verse 12 [1 Corinthians 16:12], this is what I read: “As touching our brother Apollos”—“our brother”—“as touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come to you there at Corinth, but his will was not at all to come” [1 Corinthians 16:12].
You know, when you read that as Paul wrote it in that Greek, it is just about ten times that impressive, that full of feeling. “As touching Brother Apollos,” the “our” there is in italics. “As touching Brother Apollos, my brother Apollos, I greatly desired him.” It says here polla, much; parakaleō, exhorted him, persuaded him, entreated him. “I greatly entreated him and exhorted him to come to you, but his will was not pantos,” translated here not at all; wholly and entirely and in every way completely [1 Corinthians 16:12].
Apollos said, “If I go I will be a party to that division, to that envying, to that jealousy. And I am not going.” And Paul, great-hearted man of God, says, “Oh, forget it, Apollos. I am not hurt by their marvelous accolades laid at your feet, the plaudits they give to you. I am not at all! You go on, Apollos, you go back to the church.” But Apollos said, “My brother Paul, not ever, pantos, under any conditions will I be a party to any such division as between you and me. We are brothers in the faith, and I love and honor you as you love and honor me.” Now that’s great. One of the tragedies of life is the jealously and the envy among God’s people.
When Spurgeon came to London, oh, he was seventeen years old. When Spurgeon came to London it was like a star. It was like a sun. It was like a glory in the heavens. No matter where he went, there was no building, there was no hall big enough to hold the throngs and the crowds that pressed the area. When they finally took him to the Crystal Palace that would seat twenty thousand, they still couldn’t get in; Charles Haddon Spurgeon of the last century.
This lad, Gaukroger? Goeffrey Hammond, each year, we have a British minister here from Spurgeon’s college in London; great, mighty preacher of the gospel of Christ; Spurgeon. I read him all of the time. He is my hero. He is my paragon; Spurgeon. When he came to London and those vast crowds attended his ministry, every preacher in London was filled with envy and jealousy.
Spurgeon one time said, “There’s not a preacher in London who rejoices in the blessing of God upon the Metropolitan Tabernacle,” his church. And what they said about him–unthinkable, almost unprintable. A lot of it is printed, and you can read it if you study the life, intimately, of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Well, anyway Spurgeon was a champion of the truth of God. He believed in an infallible Bible [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. He believed in the atoning grace of Jesus [Ephesians 2:7-8]. He believed in the bodily resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7]. He preached the coming again of our Lord [Acts 1:11]. He was a mighty champion of the faith.
And in this last century, there came into the Baptist Union of Great Britain, there came into the pulpits, there came into the ministry higher criticism, German higher criticism. We call it liberalism today. It was a teaching that denied the inspiration of the Bible [2 Timothy 3:16: 2 Peter 1:20-21]; denied the bodily resurrection of Christ [Matthew 28:1-7]; denied the efficacy, the saving grace His atoning blood [Ephesians 1:7], and certainly denied His coming again [Acts 1:11]. And Spurgeon, a champion of Christ, a mighty man in the defense of the faith; Spurgeon decried and discounted the tragic inroads of liberalism into the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
So upon a day, the twenty-third day of April in 1888, a climax of what is known as the “down-grade controversy”; on that day the Baptist Union of Great Britain gathered together to censure Spurgeon. There was an eyewitness who has written an account of that censure. His name is Henry Oakley, and this is what he writes:
I was present at City Temple when the motion to censure Spurgeon was moved, second and carried. The City Temple was as full as it could be. I was there very early but found only a standing seat in the aisle of the back gallery.
I listened to the speeches. The only one of which I have any distinct remembrance was that of Mr. Charles Williams. He quoted Tennyson in favor of a liberal theology and justification of doubt.
The moment of voting came. Only those in the area of London were qualified to vote as members of the assembly. When the motion of censure was put, a forest of hands went up.
“Against,” called the chairman, Dr. John Clifford—
the first president of the Baptist World Alliance, and a man who was so envious of Spurgeon that he disliked him profoundly.
“Against,” called the chairman, Dr. John Clifford. I did not see any hands, but history records there were seven. There were over two thousand who voted for the censure.
Without any announcement of numbers, the vast assembly broke into cheering and cheering and cheering. From some of the older men, their pent-up hostility found vent. For many of the younger men, wild resistance of “any obscurantist trammels,” as they said, broke loose.
It was a strange scene. I viewed it with tears. I stood near a Spurgeon man whom I knew well. Mr. Spurgeon had welcomed him from a very lowly position. He went wild with delight at this censure of his great and generous master. I say it was a strange scene, that that vast assembly should be so outrageously delighted at the condemnation of the greatest, noblest, and grandest leader of their faith.
The fallen nature of humanity is one of the tragic sorrows of human life, human story and human history.
Contrariwise, there came to London in those days, a marvelous Baptist preacher, F. B. Meyer, a glorious man of God, I have many of his wonderful books. He came as pastor of the Regents Park Baptist Church. He said that when he came to London and looked upon those vast crowds attending the ministry of Spurgeon, that he was filled with envy and his soul was eaten up with jealousy.
F. B. Meyer was a mighty man of God. And F. B. Meyer said, “I got down on my face before the Lord. And I said, ‘Lord, God, this isn’t right. This isn’t right for me to be envious and jealous of this great mighty preacher and the throngs that attend his ministry. Lord, take it away.’” And F. B. Myer says, “God answered that prayer. And I began to pray for Spurgeon and to ask God’s double portion of the Spirit of fire and heaven upon him.” And he said, “The day soon came when I looked upon every victory of Spurgeon as though I had won it myself.”
If the wide world stood row on row
And stones at you began to throw
I would boldly out with them to fight
Saying they were wrong and you were right.
If every bird on every tree
With note as loud as loud could be.
Sang endlessly in your dispraise
One graceless thought it would not raise.
If all the great and wise and good
Upon your sins and judgment stood
They’d simply waste their valued breath
For I’m your friend through life and death.
If I were wrong and they were right.
I’d not believe for all their might
Not even if all they said were true.
For you love and honor me and I love and honor you.
[“The Hills of Hell,” D. Mountjoy]
That is the spirit of the child of God. “I rejoice at your success. I praise God for His heavenly favor upon you. It is as though I had received them myself when something good comes to you,” and the spirit of love and gratitude and humility in honor, preferring one another. That is the spirit of our dear Lord, and to have a church like that is like heaven, like a colony of glory. And for us to be like that, is to live full and free, abounding gloriously in the presence of our dear Lord. And He can make us that way, opening our hearts heavenward and God-ward and Christ-ward. It is a marvelous way to be. It is a glorious way to live. And it reflects the image of God in the face of Jesus our Lord [2 Corinthians 4:16]. May we stand together?
Our wonderful, wonderful Savior, how like You to disrobe, take off Your clothes; not anything more humbling to a man than when he is naked; take off Your clothes, gird Yourself with a towel and wash the disciples’ feet [John 13:3-5]. That is our Lord. How much like our Lord to receive into His bosom, into His arms little children, little babes and bless them [Mark 10:13-16]; how like our Lord to listen to the plaintive plea of a leper [Mark 1:40-42], or of a women outcast [Matthew 9:20-22]. How like our Lord to love us when we are unlovely, to lift us up when we are down. And how like our Lord it is for us to love each other, to prefer each other in honor, in advancement. O Lord, that we might literally die to ourselves, that we might live unto Thee [Galatians 2:20]. Bless our dear church with the sweetest, heavenliest spirit we have ever known. And may we reflect the image of Christ in our own lives.
And while our people pray, and while we sing this appeal, in a moment, in the balcony round, a family you; there is time and to spare, coming down one of these stairways. And in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, we have decided for God today and here we stand.” Family, come; we want you. We love you. We invite you. Sweet couple, this is God’s day for you. Somebody you, a one you, “I accept Christ as my Savior [Romans 10:8-13]; I want to be baptized according to the Word, the Holy Scripture [Matthew 28:19]. I want to be a member of this precious fellowship” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Make the decision now in your heart, and when we sing this appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, take that first step. It will be the sweetest decision, the most meaningful, and the happiest you will ever make in your life. And thank Thee, Lord, for the precious harvest You give us, in Thy saving name, amen. Come, while we sing. Welcome, while we sing.