CENTENNIAL SANCTUARY SERMON: THE BIBLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-3-90 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who share this hour on radio. You are now a part of our glorious First Baptist Church in Dallas, helping us celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the erection of this sanctuary. And in keeping with that I am following the thought of the man who was invited to come here to deliver the dedicatory address: Dr. Franklin Howard Kerfoot, born in Virginia, August 27, 1817, a Confederate soldier honored for his courage and endurance. He was a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, my alma mater, after other degrees in other institutions; and at once was chosen professor of pastoral ministries.
Then he was chosen by Pastor A. M. Sims of the First Baptist Church in Dallas to deliver the dedicatory address upon the building of this new sanctuary. The newspaper reports that, and I quote, “People were present who have never been seen in church.” We need to build another one, don’t we? “The day was balmy, the breezes cool, the weather delightful, and such a collection of lovely spring bonnets, they made up a sea of bewildering beauty.”
The sermon, the text, you just read it, Psalm 11:3: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” It was a message on the Bible. And this is part of what he said:
When we talk about the real foundation of the Christian faith, that upon which all Christianity is built, upon which all civilization is built, it may be summed up in one single word: the Bible. Take that Book away, and what warrant have we for all this? The one explanation and foundation for it all is the Book, the Bible. While stands the Bible, our Christian faith stands; when it falls, if fall it could, there is no other hope for man. If the Bible goes, the church goes. Preach the Bible. Amen.
Then in the message he said:
People sometimes get shaken up by infidels. Thousands of young men get their thinking from Bob Ingersoll; they are reflecting his thoughts. Ingersoll tests the Bible with a sneer, with blasphemy, with an array of superficial wit which could never reach the ears and the soul of truth. Infidels hate the Bible; they don’t want to believe it because it condemns them.
All of my life I have heard about Bob Ingersoll, the infidel Bob Ingersoll. So his having mentioned him so prominently, I just decided to follow through on it for a moment. Robert Green, (Bob) Ingersoll, was born in New York, in 1833; died in that state in 1899; lived most of his life in Illinois. He was the son of a Congregational pastor. He was a lawyer and an eloquent rhetorician. He was world famous for his public orations attacking the Bible. From one side of this nation to the other, he spoke to great throngs. Some of his orations were entitled “The Mistakes of Moses.” “The Gods,” plural, “of the Bible and Hell.” I one time ran across, in the life of Dwight L. Moody: there was a call porter going up and down the train selling the pamphlet, the oration of Ingersoll on hell; and he went up and down the train, holding it up, selling it, barking, “Ingersoll on hell, Ingersoll on hell.” It happened to be on this train Dwight L. Moody was seated, the great evangelist, and he had in his briefcase a whole bunch of his tracts on heaven. So he stopped the call porter, and said, “Son, let me give you these tracts on heaven, and you sell them.” Thereafter, the call porter, so I read, went up and down the train holding up those tracts, saying, “Ingersoll on hell, Moody on heaven.” Amen. I like that.
Well, Bob Ingersoll. T. DeWitt Talmage, the pastor of that great Brooklyn Tabernacle Church, was a phenomenal preacher. Each week his sermons were published in over three thousand newspapers. You can hardly believe such a thing. When T. DeWitt Talmage would deliver his sermon on Sunday, the next morning you’d find it on the front page of over three thousand newspapers. And it was read by over twenty million people throughout the world. He preached a series of sermons in Brooklyn Tabernacle on Bob Ingersoll, and he entitled it, “Mr. Ingersoll, the Champion Blasphemer of America.” Now I have copied the beginning of one of his sermons because it outlines what Ingersoll said about the Word of God. Quote from T. DeWitt Talmage:
We have recently heard that the Christian religion is a huge blunder; that the Mosaic account of the creation is an absurdity; that the ancient Flood and Noah’s ark were impossibilities; that there never was a miracle; that the Bible is the friend of cruelty, murder, polygamy, obscenity, and of all forms of base crimes; that it is from lid to lid a fable, a humbug, a sham and a lie; that the martyrs who died for its truth were miserable dupes; that the church is properly gazetted as a fool; that when Thomas Carlyle said, ‘The Bible is a noble book,’ he was dropping into imbecility; that it is something to bring a blush to every patriot. That John Adams declared, ‘The Bible is the best book in all the word’; that lion-hearted Andrew Jackson turned into a sniveling coward when he said, ‘The Bible is the rock upon which our republic rests’; that Daniel Webster abdicated his logic and turned into an idiot when he said, ‘The gospel of Jesus Christ is a divine reality’; that William H. Seward, who was a contemporary with them in the Civil War, that William H. Seward, the diplomat in the century only showed his puerility when he declared, ‘The hope of heaven and progress is suspended on the influence of the Bible’; that it is wisest for us to take the Book from the throne and to trample it under our feet with hatred and hissing contempt; and that your old father was hoodwinked, cheated and befooled when he leaned on this as his staff; and that your mother sat with a pack of lies on her lap while reading of that better country and of the reunion with her children she has buried with infinite heartache, so that she could read no more, until she took off her glasses and wiped from them the heavy tears of her eyes. Ingersoll’s teaching would fill all the penitentiaries and the gambling halls and the houses of shame on the planet. In twenty years we would have a hell on earth, eclipsing in abomination the hell that Mr. Ingersoll has so much laughed at. I want to persuade our young people to get aboard God’s train of salvation, instead of throwing themselves across Ingersoll’s track of damnation.
How do you like that? God bless him!
Now, about that Bible and that sermon and Ingersoll: the violent attacks against the Word of God have continued unabated through the unending centuries. The last tremendous thrust of Greek philosophy was called Neoplatonism. It was dated about in the 200s AD. It was headed by Plotinus, whose brilliant student, scholar, was named Porphyry. And Plotinus encouraged Porphyry to study the Christian faith and viscously to attack it. And Porphyry wrote fifteen books over Kata Christianon; and they were viciously against the Bible.
Well, can I believe this Book, and can I trust it? Well, let’s look at it for just this moment. As a book of history, through the years, scoffers have laughed at what the Bible has said, and yet, after hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, after centuries, and after digging in every archaeological area known to man, there has never been yet one spade of earth turned that contradicted any fact in the Bible. It’s a miracle.
Let me give you some examples. They said in these days past, “When the Bible speaks of Moses writing, it’s foolishness. They hadn’t invented writing in that day, when Moses lived.” That’s what the critics said. Then they began digging in Ugarit, in Ebla, in Ras Shamra, in Tel El Amarna, in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, and we have discovered that writing was known and used thousands of years before Moses. Take again, the Bible speaks of the Hittites; and the critics laughed and scoffed, “Hittites, there never was any such thing as a Hittite.” A few years ago, I read in Life magazine, the whole magazine was filled from cover to cover with the great Hittite Empire, buried out of sight, but at one time covered the face of the civilized world, the Hittites. Again, laughing and scoffing at Belshazzar, the Babylonian king who presided over the destruction of the empire, “Belshazzar? [Daniel 5:1-31]. No one ever heard of Belshazzar; that’s a figment of the biblical imagination. Herodotus, the first historian, was in Babylon seventy years after Belshazzar, and he never had heard of him.” And the critics scoffed and laughed at such a character as Belshazzar. Then they began digging in the ruins of ancient Babylon; and I could write you a biography today about Belshazzar!
Or take just once again, the Gospel of John, the critics said it would take at least two hundred years for the theology of the Gospel of John to develop; and for the book to be attributed to that apostle is unthinkable! And while they were saying that and writing that, they discovered papyri in Egypt, in which the Gospel of John is quoted; and it must have been written in 98 AD, in the life of the apostle. And I could go on by the hour and the hour and the hour how everything that we discover about ancient civilization confirms the Word of God, no exception to it.
Let me speak now about the Bible as a book of wonder. It was written by about forty men, over a period of fifteen hundred years, against the background of the most amazing cultures you could ever think for; but none of the weird and monstrous things in those civilizations is even found in the Word of God. For example, the ancient Egyptians had a cosmogony, and they had an anthropology; and in their cosmogony they said the earth was born, the earth was created, a flying egg went around and around and around and around, and as the mitotic process came to consummation, the earth was hatched out of that flying egg. Now that was the cosmogony of Egypt. And it says in the Bible that Moses was learned in all of the science and wisdom of the Egyptians [Acts 7:22]. And today we have the texts that Moses studied. So we open the Bible to read about that flying ovoid out of which the world was hatched, according to the finest and latest scientific knowledge of the Egyptians: and instead of reading about such a hatching of the world out of that egg, I read the ten most marvelous meaningful words in human language: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” [Genesis 1:1]. That’s the Bible.
They had an anthropology; and their idea—they were naïve evolutionists, and their idea of the springing up of the race was, in the annual overflowing of the Nile, out of the slime there were white worms; and out of those white worms came the human race. That’s according to the latest scientific knowledge of the Egyptians. So I open my Bible and seek about reading about those white worms and the slime of the inundation of Egypt by the Nile River. But instead I read these glorious words from God: “The Lord created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” [Genesis 1:27]. That’s God; that’s the Lord God. That’s the Bible.
Take again just one other instance out of a thousand: they had a cosmogony and they had an anthropology in ancient Babylon. And in ancient Babylon, according to their latest, finest scientific advancement, according to Babylonia, why, there was a violent conflict between the good god Marduk and the evil god Tiamat; and they fought, and Marduk was victorious. And Marduk took the body of Tiamat and flattened it out; that is the earth. Then Marduk spit; and where he spat men came up. And then men spat; and where they spit women came up. And the women spit; and where they spat, animals came up. Now that’s the latest Babylonian scientific philosophy. And when I read that, I thought of that crazy sign a guy put underneath a sign in a big warehouse, “Don’t smoke—remember the Chicago fire,” and he wrote underneath it, “Don’t spit—remember the Johnstown flood.”
You find any of that in the Bible? That was the latest advancement in scientific knowledge according to the ancient Babylonians. Not only that, but let’s speak of the Bible as a book of latest scientific discovery. Take the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Job. “God hangeth the world upon nothing” [Job 26:7]. “God hangeth the world upon nothing”: when Job wrote that, the Egyptians believed that the world was held up on a solid foundation of five big pillars. There was one in each corner of the earth, and there was one right in the middle underneath. Now you know, I can understand how you could crawl to the corner of the world and look at that pillar that held it up at the four corners; but I tell you that fifth one right there underneath in the middle was a sheer speculation. But that’s according to the latest scientific advancement of the Egyptians.
There’s not a kid that lives but that knows that the Greeks believed that the earth was held up on the back of a great giant named Atlas, Atlas. That was the Greek understanding of the earth. And the Hindus, they said the earth is balanced on the back of a great turtle that stands on the back of a great elephant that is wading in a cosmic sea. And when the turtle moves, why, that explains the earthquakes. Now that is the scientific knowledge of this vast earth. But when I read the Bible, what does God’s Book say? “God hangs the world upon nothing” [Job 26:7].
Just take once again, in the fortieth chapter of the Book of Isaiah, he speaks of “the circle of the earth” [Isaiah 40:22]. Why, my sweet people, that was written thousands of years before they discovered that the earth was round; the circle of the earth. And you will not find in all scientific literature as find a definition of the atomic theory as you will find in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, and the third verse [Hebrews 11:3]. According to our latest scientific discoveries, the Bible is the Word and revelation of God. I have to close.
I don’t think of the Bible in terms of scientific literature; it never occurs to me. And I don’t think of the Bible as being a course in human history. You see, the Bible is a book of salvation: it tells us how to know God and how to go to heaven when we die [John 14:1-6]. That’s the Bible.
When I was a pastor of a half-time church, Mound, White Mound in Coryell County, I went out there to the church, preaching there every other Sunday, I went out to the church for my Sunday, and was entertained in the home of Uncle Ed Davidson, a godly deacon. And he put a book in my hand, put a book in my hand, and he said to me, “This is the strangest book I ever saw. What is that?” And I said to him, “That is a Spanish Bible. It’s a Spanish Bible.”
“Oh,” he said, “well, I had no idea what it was. What shall I do with it? I can’t read a word of Spanish. What shall I do with it?” I said, “Brother deacon, you have a tenant farmer, and he’s got a house full of kids. You take that Spanish Bible and give it to him.”
“Oh,” he said, “I never thought of such a thing. I’ll do it.” So he took his Spanish Bible and gave it to that tenant farmer. Well, after the passing of a few months, I went out to my pastorate, and Uncle Ed Davidson said to me, he said to me, “My tenants have come, my Spanish tenants have come, and having read the Bible, they’ve been converted, they’ve been saved; and they want to be baptized according to the Word of God [Matthew 28:19-20]. And they want to join the church.” Well, that was my first confrontation with racial prejudice, first one. I remember the first Negro I ever saw—I never grew up where they lived. I remember the first Negro I ever saw. Just like the first Catholic: I remember the first Catholic I ever saw. That was my first confrontation with racial prejudice. And the deacon said to me, “But pastor, we don’t take Mexicans into our church. We don’t take them into our church. And this family has been saved reading the Spanish Bible, and they want to be baptized.” And I said to Uncle Ed Davidson, “Uncle Ed, praise God, praise God. We’ll receive them on their confession of faith, and I’ll baptize them.” Well, they were gracious enough to follow the pastor. They received that Spanish family, that father and the mother and all of those kids; received them all on a confession of faith, and I baptized them in the river.
Upon a day, I went to my pastorate to preach the gospel, and Uncle Ed Davidson said, “My tenant family wants you to come to see them. Their house is burned, and they’ve lost everything that they had. And I have placed them in a temporary tenant home, and they want to come to see you. So I got in the little T-model Ford, and we drove down to the temporary home. And when I got out of the car, it was a parade. Beat anything you ever saw. Out of that temporary home came first the father, and back of him his wife, and back of him in a procession all of those children; they came out to greet me and to meet me. And guess what he had in his hand when he came out? He was carrying in his hand a half-burned up Bible, like this. And he came to me, and he said, “Pastor, in the flaming fire I dashed inside the house and I recovered one thing: our Bible, our Bible, our Bible, the Word of God.”
I think of Sir Walter Scott: as he lay dying, he said to his son-in-law Lockhart, “Son, bring me the Book!” And Lockhart said, “My father, in this great library, what book?” Sir Walter Scott replied, “Son, there’s just one Book. Bring me the Book!” And Lockhart went to the library, and placed in the hands of the great poet the Bible.
“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 that’s what that Dr. Kerfoot preached about in the dedication of this sacred place. There is one Book: the Bible. Bless his name! And God be praised for those pioneers, who had the vision to build this great sanctuary for us. Amen.
Now Fred, let’s sing us a song. And while we sing the song, a family you to put your life with us in our dear church, a couple you to come down this aisle, “Pastor, we’re dedicating our heart, and lives, and home, and house to the Lord Jesus;” or a one somebody you to take the Lord as your personal Savior [Romans 10:9-10], make the decision in your heart, and on the first note of the first stanza, come. And a thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing.