In Defense of the Faith
June 3rd, 1989
IN DEFENSE OF THE FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Liberty University Commencement
For a few minutes, let me speak In Defense of the Faith. There has never been a time in the history of Christianity when the gospel of Christ is so assailed and so confronted as it is today. And these contemptuous enemies speak of us blatantly, crudely, brutally. They say, “If you have tractors to move mountains, you don’t need faith. And if you have penicillin, you don’t need prayer. And if you have positive thinking, you don’t need salvation. And if you have psychiatrists, you don’t need a preacher. And if you have the state, you don’t need the church. And if you have manuals of science, you don’t need the Bible. And if you have an Einstein or an Edison, you don’t need Jesus Christ.” Their confrontation is universal.
For the first time in the history of the human race, there are nations that are blatantly and statedly atheistic; they own no god and bow at no altar. A country like Albania prides itself and boasts that it is an atheistic, godless nation. No ancient Greek would make a decision without first conferring at the oracle of Delphi. No Roman general would ever go to war without first propitiating gods. But these bow before no god and call on the name of no deity; and they are covering this earth!
Again, we are witnessing an incredible advance in paganism, humanism. Look: a hundred years ago twenty-five percent of this world was evangelical Christian; today it is four percent. At the turn of this century it will be two percent. A good example of what I am saying, you could find if you attended the great St. Paul’s Cathedral in our mother country of England. I was there at their stated service on a Sunday morning. And the canon of the cathedral brought the message. I counted the numbers who were present: there were one hundred twenty-five, including all of the visitors that had come to London.
We are beginning to bow at the altar of the god of the trappings of a modern affluent society. There in Texas, one of our tycoons died; and his closing final request was that he be buried in his gold-plated Cadillac. So the day came, dug out that big hole, the crane lifted up that gold-plated Cadillac, swung it over the hole, and as it was lowered into the ground a man was heard to say, “Man, ain’t that living! Ain’t that living!”
One of the Dallas dowagers died and went to heaven. And St. Peter met her at the gate, asked for her credentials to enter in, and she opened her purse, and placed before him a charger plate from Neiman “Markup,” placed before him a season ticket to the Dallas Opera, placed before him a membership card in the Dallas Country Club, placed before him a season ticket to the Cowboy football games. St. Peter looked at them all very carefully, raised his face, and said to her, “Well, madam, come on in. But I’m telling you, you ain’t going to like it here.”
It’s another world in which we live. And as though that were not enough, we face a constant challenge of intellectual vapidity. The student comes back from our great state universities and announces to the pastor and to his family and to the church, “I have renounced the faith!” And we ask him, “Why?” And he says, “My professor of biology, and my professor of anthropology, and the professors in my university have convinced me that I came from a green scum. I once was an amoeba, then I was a paramecium, and then I was a tadpole, and then I was a frog. Then I was a fish, and a fowl, then a marsupial, then a monkey, and an ape, and now I’m a man.” And I say to him, “You mean your professors teach you that in the university?”
Once I was a tadpole beginning to begin,
Then I was a frog with my tail tucked in,
Then I was a monkey in a banyan tree,
And now I’m a professor with a Ph.D.
[Author and Work Unknown]
Did you know our Texas legislature, which is now in session, has passed a law demanding that evolution be taught to all of our children who attend public schools? And by that same law they are interdicting the teaching of Dr. Morris’s creationism, that God made us. For the first time in my life, I’m ashamed to be a Texan! There where every molehill is a mountain, and every dry creek is a river, and every hole in the ground is an oil well, and every man is a liar! That’s Texas today.
Not only that, but the pervasive heresy and doctrine of universalism: we’re all going to be saved, you don’t need Christ, you don’t need the church. Dear God in heaven! That theologian who said, “If the doctrine of perdition and damnation and hell were written on every page of every leaf of all of the Bibles of the world, I would not believe it”; fine, and well, and good—but I do not know of a greater truth in human life and experience and existence than this: whether you say it philosophically, or theologically, or sociologically, or humanitarianly, the world is lost without God and without Christ. It’s the old-time doctrine of total depravity: not that we are as vile and evil as we can be, but that sin has entered every area of human life. The greatest fact we face is that men are lost without God and without Christ.
And as though that were not enough to pulverize the Christian who defends the faith today, but there is almost an universal avowal that the Bible is not the inerrant and infallible Word of God. Again, they state it brutally and bluntly: “You’d might as well preach Jason and the golden fleece as Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden. You had as well preach Hercules and the twelve labors as Moses and the twelve tribes of Israel. You had as well preach Agamemnon and the Trojan War as to preach Joshua and the conquest of Canaan. And you had as well preach Aesop and his fables as to preach Jesus Christ and the marvelous miracles that characterized His incomparable ministry.”
How men turn away from the infallible Word of God is beyond my thinking and my imagination. No book in this God’s created world like this Book. In the Book of Job it says, “God hangeth the world upon nothing” [Job 26:7]. That was thousands of years before we learned of the orbit of the earth around the sun. In this same Book, in the Book of Isaiah, it says, “The circle of the earth” [Isaiah 40:22]; again, thousands of years before men came to believe that the earth was round. In this Book it says “the weight of the winds” [Job 28:25], thousands of years before Torricelli invented the barometer and found that wind had weight. The finest definition of the atomic theory is in Hebrews 11:3.
And this Book is precious to us as we face the end of the pilgrimage of our human life. When Sir Walter Scot lay dying, he said to his son-in-law Lockhart, “Son, bring me the Book!” And Lockhart said, “Father, what book?” And the dying sage replied, “There is just one Book!” And Lockhart brought Sir Walter Scot the Bible, and he died with this Book in his hand.
‘There’s just one Book!’ cried the dying sage,
‘Read me the old, old story.’
And the winged word that can never age
Wafted his soul to glory.
There’s just one Book.
[Author and Work Unknown]
And dear graduating class, and the university and all of its officials, this is our call from heaven: to deliver the message of redemption and hope and salvation in this incomparable and infallible Book. O God, how we need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit of the Lord upon His people, upon His churches, upon His preachers! God help us in this day of denial and atheism and repudiation.
I remember one time on the farm—we were next to the Panhandle borderline of Texas in a dry, dust, farming community—and I was standing as a little boy in the backdoor of our farmhouse, and my father began to shout to the top of his voice. My father was very reticent and unobtrusive, very quiet. And as I looked up and saw my father shouting to the top of his voice, I was overwhelmed! And I said to him, “Daddy, what you shouting for? What you shouting for?” And he put his hand on my head, and said, “Son, the rain, the rain, God hath sent us rain!” O Lord, how we pray for an outpouring of the Spirit of God upon our dry land!
Oh, for the floods on the thirsting land!
Oh, for a mighty revival!
Oh, for a fearless, sanctified band,
Ready to hail its arrival!
[“Under the Burdens of Guilt and Care”; W. Leslie]
The church is not a club; it is not a social communion, convocation; the church is the ekklesia, it’s the koinonia, it’s the family of God that holds the hope and salvation of the world. The church is not an ethic, though it is ethical; it’s not a theology, though it is theological; it’s not a reformation, though it’s reformational; it has overtones of social and political life and ministry, as exhibited by the wonderful president of this school, shaping the destiny of our nation. But the church is first and foremost and above all a custodian of the gracious gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.
This is seen in the symbol, in the aegis of the house of God. The symbol of the church is not a burning bush, it is not two tables of stone, it is not a seven-branched lampstand, it is not a halo around a submissive head, it is not even a golden crown; but the sign and symbol of the church is an old, bloody, rugged cross: a cross in all of its naked hideousness as the Roman would have it, the cross in all of its philosophical irrationality as the Greek would have it, but a cross in all of its saving grace and power as Paul preached it. And that’s what we need today: a visitation from God to deliver the saving message of the cross of Christ to this lost and dying world.
Let me close with a personal testimony. And I asked your illustrious president, Dr. Falwell, if I could give an invitation. And he said, “You do what the Spirit of God leads you to do.”
My mother, godly woman, my mother was reared in the home of a doctor who was a physician in the Southern Confederacy. It’s hard for me to believe that even in that one generation between that doctor and me; all of these years have passed, particularly as they have concerned our people in the South. My mother had it in her heart that I was going to be a doctor, like her father. Sweet people, I can’t explain this, long time before I was converted when I was ten years old, back yonder as far as I can remember I felt God’s call for me to be a preacher. And even as a little boy in an elementary school, I was studying to be a preacher. But my mother and my father had it in their minds I was going to be a physician.
I remember over-hearing my father say to my mother, “W. A. will outgrow that. That’s a childish fancy, his going to be a preacher.” I not only did not outgrow it, but I became more committed to it as I grew older as a child. Finally, when I was graduated from the high school at seventeen years of age, my mother took me to Baylor University; and stayed with me the first year. And I started the scholastic pilgrimage toward being a physician, a doctor. I took those pre-med courses in Baylor. I have a good memory, and I made a hundred on every examination and A+ in every one of those courses. But at the same time that I was taking those pre-med courses, in keeping with my mother and father, I was preaching on the streets, I was preaching in the jail, I was preaching in the poor farm, I was preaching in little country churches, and was called as the pastor and undershepherd of one of those little country churches.
You heard Dr. Falwell speak of that call to the church in Dallas. My mother was brokenhearted when I persisted in being a preacher. It was the greatest disappointment of her life. But when George W. Truett died, after forty-seven years pastor of the church there in Dallas, I was thirty-four years of age, they called me. Nobody ever heard of me. They called me. And in one of those strange providences, in a little group there was a man who spoke of the fact that the First Church in Dallas had just called an unknown by the name of W. A. Criswell. And the man expressed doubt that this unknown young man would be able to follow in the footsteps of so great a giant as George W. Truett, forty-two years older than I. And my father was there in that little group. And when that man said that, “We doubt whether he’d be able to fill the shoes of that great preacher and carry on that work,” my father stood up, and came before them, and said, “Gentleman, that young man is my boy. He’s my son. And the hand of God is upon him, and we’re praying for him, and we’re holding him up, and we are believing that the same Spirit of God that rested in power upon the great pastor George Truett will rest upon him.”
Sweet people, that was forty-five years ago. And last Sunday we had one of the greatest services I have ever been in in my life—the power of God upon that ministry.
Now my invitation: I have it threefold. Number one, you young men and young women who are being graduated, and the other of you who are students in Liberty University, if you will give your life to the call of God, “No matter what, this is God’s will for me, this is God’s purpose for me, and I’m giving my life for it, so God help me,” if you will give your life to the will and purpose of God for you, I want you to stand to your feet, stand to your feet, stand to your feet. “I will give myself to the will and purpose of God, the Lord helping me.” Remain standing, you wonderful young men and women. As Dr. Wimp says, you are to change the world.
My second invitation: if you parents have a youngster standing up before God, “No matter what that choice may be, I will stand by that boy of mine, I’ll stand by that girl of mine, and I will help that child of mine achieve God’s purpose in his or her life,” if you will stand by that youngster in the choice to which God has called him or her, would you stand to your feet? “This is my dedication to God: I will help my boy, I’ll help my girl, achieve God’s purpose in his/her life.”
One other: are you a friend of the family? Are you a neighbor? Do you love this graduating group, and you love the family that invited you here? If you will join them in praying for that youngster, that the purpose of God will be wrought and achieved in his life, would you also stand with us? God love and the Lord bless you.
Now, I want to pray. Let’s bow our heads.
Our Lord, what this means in the kingdom of Christ is known but to Thee. But O Lord, what a glory and what a triumph to see these young men and women, and their fathers and mothers and friends standing by them: “This is God’s purpose and God’s will for me, and I’m giving my life to it in this earth.” God bless the university that confers upon them this degree. And the Lord bless them as they turn to face the providences and the vicissitudes and the exigencies of life. See them through, Lord, gloriously. In Thy love and grace, and in Thy marvelous and saving name, amen.