The Preacher As A Man of God
January 17th, 1985
2 Kings 4:8-9
THE PREACHER AS A MAN OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Kings 4:8-9
1-17-85 DTS 10:50 a.m.
Thank you, our illustrious academic dean, with a name that Lord only knows what it originally meant. And we are so happy to see our Chaplain Summy back with us. My, he is a glorious friend, and we praise God for him.
I can hardly believe the incomparable, immeasurable, extensive changes that I have seen here in our Dallas Theological Seminary. I came to the seminary to visit here in 1927. And I spent an afternoon with Louis Sperry Schaffer. And when this chapel was built, I came here to preach, as I have been invited to do today; and the students rattled around in this big building. Oh! how things have changed! I looked at Dr. Dwight Pentecost: I hardly recognize him with his white head.
Well, things do change, especially if you’ve been pastor of a church over forty years. I was seated with my little family at dinner, after the service at the church, the noonday service, and our little grandson, whom we reared, Cris, oh, he was a little fellow then, about four or five years old, and evidently they’d had a Sunday school lesson that day about Noah and the flood. So in all earnestness, he looked across the table at me, and he said, "Granddaddy, did you know Noah?" I had to confess that I am old, but I didn’t know he thought I was that old.
For a moment, we are going to speak and to look at The Preacher as a Man of God. In the Second Book of Kings, in chapter 4, verses 8 and 9, as a background text, 2 Kings 4:8-9:
And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread.
And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God, which passeth by us continually.
Now how did she know that? "Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God, which passeth by us continually" [2 Kings 4:9]. Do you suppose there was a sign from heaven announcing the prophetic stature of this wonderful prophet Elisha? Or do you suppose Gehazi his servant announced that he was a holy man of God? What do you think it was when this wonderful and gifted and affluent woman in Shunem said to her husband, "Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God, who passeth by us continually"?
Well the answer would be obvious: it was found in the man himself. There was an aura about him, there was a nimbus about him, there was an atmosphere about him, there was a general impression about him, that when he walked among people they sensed that this is a man of God. Now, I propose that that is inevitable and inescapable in any one of our lives. If you are a man of God, you can’t hide it: people who know you will sense it and see it.
I was reminded this week of something that I hadn’t thought about in fifty years. Long time ago, half a century ago, I was in the seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. And Paderewski, the great Polish prime minister and marvelous pianist, came to Louisville to the civic auditorium there to play a concert. So a friend of mine from the seminary and I went to hear him play. Well, when we sat down, the civic auditorium was crowded to capacity; it was jammed. Every seat was taken, except the one on the end right by me. Well, my friend and I, he was seated to my left, and this empty seat to my right, my friend and I began to speculate on who it was coming to sit in that empty chair. Well, as fate and fortune would have it, there came into the auditorium the most gorgeous creature that I ever looked at in my life, dressed in a beautiful expensive gown and a gorgeous fur, a young thing about, oh, sixteen or seventeen or eighteen years old; and she sat down right by me.
Well, I said in my heart, "Now if she knows I’m a preacher, she won’t say a word to me. So I’m not going to tell her I’m a preacher." When the first intermission came and Paderewski had played the first part of his concert, and he left for a drink of water – or whatever those concert pianists leave for – when the first part was over, why, I turned to that gorgeous creation, and I said, "I’m not going to tell her I’m a preacher." So I said to her, with a gesture of my hand, I said, "Look, isn’t this the biggest congregation you ever saw in your life?" Lo me, she looked back at and said, "You, you must be a preacher!" You can’t hide it. You can’t hide it.
And it’s remarkable the things that are providential in your life. The first time I ever went across the Atlantic, across the sea, in an airplane, was in the early forties; and it was one of these propellers. And it took us twenty-six hours to cross the Atlantic. They said we had a headwind. Anyway, while I was seated there with Betty, my wife, we were there, you know, just taking off, why, the steward, a male steward, came to me and said, "There is a woman on this flight who is mortally terrified at the thought of flying across the ocean." And he said, "I just wanted to know, would your wife mind being seated over here where she is, and this woman be seated by you?" Why, I said, "Whatever Betty wants to do." And my wife said, "Well, I’d be happy to acquiesce if that would calm her." So the steward changed places with them, and she sat there and brought that woman who was so afraid to sit down by me. And to my amazement, she never had any qualm or fear the rest of the journey. She was perfectly quiet, seated by me, whom she knew as a preacher and a pastor. Well, I have often thought about that. If this seat got there to London, why wouldn’t that seat also get to London over there? Just something about a man of God that brings quiet and assurance to the heart of someone who might be afraid.
The man of God in the pulpit: as our dean said, I am a Bible preacher. I think every pastor and every man of God in the pulpit ought to be a Bible preacher. I think that’s what he is called to do. And when people come and sit in the congregation and listen to him, all of those people have read the newspapers, they know what the editorial writers have to say; and they’ve read the magazines, they know what the magazines have to say; and they’ve listened to the commentators on radio and TV, they know what the commentators have to say. What I would be persuaded of is, that when people come to the church and sit there and look at a preacher, what they’d like to know is, "Does God say anything? And if God says anything, preacher, what does God say?" As Zedekiah cried to Jeremiah, "Is there any word from the Lord?" [Jeremiah 37:17]. "Does God say anything? If He does, preacher, you tell us what God has to say." And if you will do that, it will surprise you how the people will listen to an authority who knows God’s Book.
When I announced to the church that I was going to preach through the Bible, you never heard such lugubrious prognostications in all of your life! My predecessor, who was a marvelous preacher, greatest one we ever produced here in America, my predecessor was a topical preacher. He never preached a sermon in his life – and he was pastor of the church forty-seven years – he never preached a sermon in his life that was not topical; all of it was topical. Well, when I announced to the people when I came there that I was going to preach through the Bible, you could not know the discouragement and despair that covered that congregation. Why, they said, "We don’t even know where Habakkuk or Nahum is in the Bible. And you’re going to preach through the Bible. It will kill the congregation. It will decimate the attendance." That’s what they said. Well, I had a problem, and there’s no doubt about it; I had a real problem. My problem was what to do with the people who were coming there to church: they began coming in such numbers they couldn’t get in. And that’s why we started two services every Sunday morning: it was because the people began to come to listen to the Word of the Lord. And it was always interesting to me to be in a group of them, and they’d ask one another, "When did you join the church?" And this guy would say, "Well, I joined in Deuteronomy." And this one over here, "Well, I joined in Isaiah." And this one over here, "Well, I joined in Galatians."
The time it took me was eighteen years. I preached through the Bible for eighteen years. And I got slower, and slower, and slower, and slower. And if I had preached at the beginning as slowly as I preached at the end, I would have been there for a good hundred years, easily so – preaching the Word of the Lord.
I am, beginning Sunday week, I am beginning a long series on Ezekiel. I’ve been studying it intensely for the last, oh, three months, day and night; every moment that I could find I’ve been studying, preparing for the long series on Ezekiel. Beginning Sunday week, the first sermon will be on Why Study Prophecy; then the next one will be on Ezekiel, The Man Himself; then the next one will be on Ezekiel and Jeremiah, one prophesying in Jerusalem and the other to the exiles in Babylon; then the next one will be on Ezekiel the Book; and then we will begin with the vision itself, entitled I Saw the Heavens Open, and we will start through the Book of Ezekiel.
Pat Zondervan was at church last Sunday, and he found out I was doing that. Now I don’t know whether he’s exaggerating or not, but he said, "As you deliver those messages, send them to us at Zondervan, and let us publish them. For," he said, "there has not been a book published on Ezekiel for the last hundred years." Isn’t that unthinkable and unbelievable? And yet, it is one of the great sections of the Bible; it has forty-eight chapters in it, and it concerns us today. Some of those visions are about us in our generation; and we are seeing them fulfilled before our very eyes. Well, I like that: it gives a stability to my study, and to my ministry, and to my pulpit appearance and preaching that nothing else will do, preaching the Word of God.
Now I think we ought to do it in the pulpit: not academically, not intellectually, not theologically as such, as we learn in the classroom. When we stand up there in the church and in the pulpit, we have a different kind of a situation than, say, a lecture in a seminar. And that ought to be, I think, that ought to be realized and prayed over by the pastor as he delivers the message: "Lord, this is not just an exercise in intellectual appreciation or apperception; this is a message from God to move the souls and hearts of the people. And we pray God will use the exposition of the Word to change lives and to lift up hearts and to bring us hope and salvation from heaven."
Way back yonder in those 1940s, we went, my wife and I, went to Spurgeon’s tabernacle in London, England. It was burned out; it was bombed out. And it was just the front faÃ§ade of the metropolitan building that was there, and the people were meeting among the debris in the basement of the tabernacle. Well, we got there early, and we were seated just about on the second row. And right back of us, immediately back of us were two old, old men. One was an old man, and the other one was an old, old, old man; they were seated right back of us. So while we were waiting there, why, the old man turned to the ancient man, and he said to him, "Did you know Spurgeon?" And the ancient man said, "Huh? What’d you say?" And the old man said to him, "I said, did you know Spurgeon?" And the ancient man replied, "Yes, I knew him. He was my pastor." And the old man said to him, "Well that means you heard him preach."
"Yea," he said, "I heard him preach for years." And the old man turned to the ancient man, and said, "Well, how was it? How did he preach?" And the old ancient man said, "Huh? What’d you say?" And the old man said, "I said, how did he preach? How was he?" Well, there was a pause back there, and finally the ancient man replied, he said, "Well, it’s hard for me to say." He said, "I love my pastor now, and I don’t like to think that I criticize him now. But," he says, "it seems to me, when I listen to my pastor now, he just talks. He just lectures. And it seems to me, that all of these preachers today, they just talk, they just lecture. But," he said, "When Spurgeon preached, there was fire in it!"
Now that’s what I think every preacher of the gospel ought to have in his sermon: he ought to use his head, he ought to use every instrument that he can command, he ought to study, he ought to prepare; but when he preaches, there ought to be fire in it! It ought to be baptized with the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit from heaven [Acts 2:1-3]. And I think the preacher ought to pray for it: "Now Lord, bless my study, and bless my mind, and bless my preparation." Then when he stands up to preach, "God bless him as he turns into a furor with the Word of God."
Am I mistaken in that? Doesn’t Jeremiah 23, isn’t it , says, "Is not My word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" Isn’t that right? And that’s the way I think the man of God ought to preach: with a furor, with a great baptism of God’s Pentecostal presence in his soul, in his heart, in his message, and drive it home the utmost by which God will give him ability to make appeal for the Lord.
Well, as I look back over the years and the years of my life, and as I look forward to whatever God shall allow me to share with those dear people in the years that lie ahead, I humbly pray that I will grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, and in the wisdom of Christ, as I pray that they grow.
The old forester one time said to me, out West, he said, "You see that tall, tall pine tree?" He said, "You know, as long as that little green twig stays alive up there in the top of that tree, that tree will grow, and it will increase, and it will expand. But," he said, "if ever that little twig way up there in the top of that tree, if it ever dies," he says, "finally the whole tree will gradually die." Now I think we are like that. We, I mean the professors; we, I mean the administrators of the school; we, I mean who are in the pulpit; and we who are out there studying in the school; as long as we stay green: "I don’t know it all, I haven’t arrived yet, I haven’t done yet what God called me to do, haven’t done it yet. But I’m on the way. I’m still studying." Man, I pore over those Greek Scriptures, I pore over those Hebrew Scriptures. Whenever I stand up there and preach in the pulpit, I always see what that thing was in the original language, always. Then when I stand, it’s like standing on a rock: my feet may tremble, but the rock doesn’t change. And I have an assurance that is almost indescribable, standing up there preaching the Word of God.
That fellow out there who is in the medical profession, he may know all about his medicinal ministries; but he doesn’t know the Word of God as I do. And that lawyer out there, he may know all the legal ramifications of the Supreme Court appeals; but he doesn’t know the Word of God as I do. The only way he would know the Word of God as I do would be if he’d quit his lawyering and he’d quit his doctoring and he’d quit all of his merchandising or whatever he’s doing, and give his life to the study of the Word of God as I have. And that’s why I think the preacher can stand up there before any audience in the world, any audience in the world, and do it with great assurance. The Word of the Lord is in my soul, it lives in my heart; and this is God’s message from His sacred Scriptures, revealed Word, and inerrant – as we say, some of us in our Southern Baptist Convention – inerrant and infallible, inspired Word of the Lord.
Well, I want to commend you to the blessedness of our Savior and to the wonderful ministry that lies ahead of you. I am so grateful for you. Dear me! When the academic dean here, when he said, "His theological perspective is exactly like ours," he could not have emphasized that too much. I wish I had time to tell you, for example, how I became a premillennialist. I never had a premillennial teacher in my life. Every teacher I ever had in my life was amillennial, every one of them. I call them now "half-infidels." They spiritualize the Word of God away. And whenever you start spiritualizing, you can make the Word of the Lord mean anything in the world. Don’t do that. You stand up there and you find out the best you can, you find out what that Word means, what is it God has said. And then when you stand up there, tell them, "Thus saith the Lord"; not what I think, or what Rabbi Smell-fungus thinks, or Rabbi Sounding-brass thinks, this is what God says. And you deliver it to the Word of the Lord.
Oh, young men and women, God be good to you, and the Lord be praised for these wonderful, gifted teachers that you have! I couldn’t frame the word to say it or put the sentence together to pronounce it how thankful I am for you and this glorious seminary, and the theological commitment you’ve made to the truth of the revealed Scriptures.
And Chaplain Summy, God be good to you. He wrote me two of the sweetest, dearest letters I have ever received. I have them on my desk, and reread them this morning. He says, "I am retiring, not able to continue anymore. And before I retire," he said, "I want you to come and speak at our chapel while I am still the chaplain." Well, it’ll just be tomorrow for me; I passed my seventy-fifth birthday a month ago. It will come. It will come. I just pray that I can do it as beautifully and as graciously and as lovingly and tenderly as Chaplain Summy.