The Pulpit and the Pew
February 25th, 1990 @ 8:15 AM
THE PULPIT AND THE PEW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 10, 11
2-25-90 8:15 a.m.
We welcome the throngs of you who share the hour on radio. You are now a part of our wonderful, God-blessed First Baptist Church in , he expounds the tenth and the eleventh chapters of the Book of Acts. The sermon is entitled The Pulpit and the Pew, or Preaching the Word of God.
The story is told in minute detail as though the Holy Spirit were saying, "Look at these people. Watch this development." They are gathered together here not by accident or by long familiar custom, but the arm of the Lord has brought forth this audience and this preacher and this message. The story is told by the Holy Spirit in a strong, clear, eternal light.
So it begins in verse 1 of chapter 10, "There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band." He was an officer in the Roman army. Now verse 2: "He was a devout man, one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always" [Acts 10:1-2], but he was lost. And that is one of the most amazing revelations of the Word of God. A devout man, he was a proselyte of the gate. Not a proselyte of the temple such as in the previous chapter, the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch; he had come from Ethiopia all the way to Jerusalem for to worship God. He was a proselyte of the temple: he had become a Jew. He was circumcised, and he obeyed all the Jewish laws and rituals. This man is a proselyte of the gate. He was a Roman officer, but he had accepted all of the moral precepts of the law of Moses. But he was not circumcised; he was still a Gentile. "A devout man, one that feared God with all of his house, and was generous, in keeping with the word of the Lord, and prayed to God always," but he was lost.
The Bible presupposes, the Book of God, the revelation of the Lord presupposes that it is a lost world [Romans 5:12] into which Jesus came and that all of us need to be saved. When I was a youth, I heard L. R. Scarborough, president of our seminary in Fort Worth and a great man of God, I heard L. R. Scarborough tell a story in his evangelistic life. He was a marvelous evangelist. In the great throng that came forward that Sunday morning, there was a little boy; and he sat down helping those people who’d come forward, and spoke to the little boy who had made a confession of faith. So when the preacher, Dr. Scarborough, sat down with the little boy, why, he said to the lad, "Son, do you realize you are a sinner and that you are lost, and that you need to be saved?" And the teacher who sat on the other side of the boy turned to Dr. Scarborough and said, "Dr. Scarborough, you don’t realize it, you’re a stranger here; but this is the best little boy in my class, and he comes of the finest home in our church." Well, the preacher paid no attention to the teacher, and he started again talking to the little boy: "Do you realize you are lost and that you need a Savior, you need to be saved, you need to be converted, your sins forgiven?" And she broke in again and said, "Dr. Scarborough, you’re a stranger here, and you don’t realize this is the finest boy in my class, and he comes out of our finest home." And Dr. Scarborough turned to the little lad and said, "Son, you sit on this side of me," and he put the boy on the other side of him, away from the teacher, and he again began to speak to him, "Son, do you realize you’re a sinner, that you are lost and Jesus came in the world to die for you?" And in no time at all he led the boy to a confession of faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior.
That is the gospel message for all mankind. The Book, the Bible presupposes all of us are sinners and are lost and need to be saved. Isaiah 53, "All of us like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way" [Isaiah 53:6]. Romans chapter 3, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" [Romans 3:23]. And again in that same chapter, "There is none righteous, no not one" [Romans 3:10]. The apostle Paul wrote, "Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief" [1 Timothy 1:15]. All of us are lost in sin, all of us; and that includes this man Cornelius.
The world would say, "He doesn’t need to be saved. Look at this wonderful man." I would think that if he were to come down the aisle in any church a deacon would stand up and say, "I make a motion we take him in." But before God he needed to be born again; he needed to be saved, this righteous, wonderful, God-fearing, praying man, Cornelius.
Now I want you to look at the audience to which the apostle Peter is sent, gathered by this wonderful Roman officer Cornelius. It was a numerous audience – and I want you to remember this because of something we’re going to look at in the Bible at the conclusion of this sermon – it was a large audience. It is identified as such in Holy Scripture. It is composed of his kinsmen, and of his many friends; and several times the Word "many" and "all" are used to describe that audience gathered together. Now, not only was it diverse, numerous, but also the purpose was, "We are all present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God" [Acts 10:33]. That’s why they were gathered together. I repeat that verse: "To hear all things that are commanded thee of God."
There is an everlasting universal tendency to change all that. Instead of coming together to listen to the Word of God, the preaching of the message of Christ, practically all Christendom comes together in order to avow their sanctity and their holiness, and they have tokens of culture and refinement and holiness, and they have candles, and tables, and incense, and crosses of gold and silver. And the preaching of the Word is put to one side; the pulpit is up there or over there, any way to get rid of it, to get it out of the way. Even our Baptist people in Glorietta, our assembly ground in the West, even at Glorietta they had there a model worship service, and left out a sermon, did not include a sermon. But what was central here must always be central: "We are gathered here before thee to hear all things that are commanded thee of God. We are gathered to hear the preaching of the Word of the Lord" [Acts 10:33]. And this is worship brought to its highest usefulness and sensitivity and blessing.
For example, in Romans 10:17, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of God." Bible doesn’t say, "Faith cometh by genuflection, or by candle lighting, or by incense burning." When you lose the power you light up the candles, isn’t that right? "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing,the word of God" [Romans 10:17]. Or take again, 1 Corinthians 1:21, "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." Or again, 2 Timothy 4, verses 1 and 2, "I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His coming and His appearing and His kingdom; Preach the Word!" This is the true worship of the Lord: the expounding of the infallible Word of the living God, the preaching of the cross of Christ.
Now next let’s look at the preacher; let’s look at the messenger. "Then [Peter] opened his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons" [Acts 10:34]. Then he preaches the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and our salvation in Him. Let’s look at that preacher. He opened his mouth. We glibly pass over that word, no one pays any attention to it, but that’s one of the most magnificent characterizations of the true preacher of Christ that you could ever think for: he stood up there and opened his mouth boldly, with great conviction and persuasion and dedication.
I remember in history Hugh Latimer, that incomparable preacher of England, standing before Henry XIII, and he began his story like this: "Now Hugh Latimer remember, you are preaching in the presence of the King of England, Henry XIII, and if you offend him, remember he can take away your life." Then he added, "But also remember, Hugh Latimer, your standing in the presence of God to deliver the message of the Lord God; and He will judge you in an eternal judgment according to whether you are true to the message you deliver or not." Then he proceeded to deliver a burning castigation of the sins of Henry XIII. As you know, Hugh Latimer was burned at the stake in Oxford by Henry XIII’s daughter, Bloody Queen Mary. Man, that’s great! Standing before that audience, opened his mouth with boldness and conviction.
That same characterization, those same words are referred to Jesus: "Jesus opened His mouth and said," Same thing about the apostle Paul: in that fourteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, at Lystra, here is a man who is lame in his feet, never walked from his mother’s womb, the Bible says, and Paul "cried with a loud voice." Isn’t that strange? Just to that man, "cried with a loud voice, Stand on your feet and walk" [Acts 14:10]. Do you remember how the gospel begins in Matthew chapter 3, the verse 1? "In those days came John the Baptist kerusson, kerusson, preaching, delivering the message of God" [Matthew 3:1], and you could hear him clear to Jerusalem; the preaching of the word of the Lord boldly, loudly!
Now that again is looked upon with disdain and contempt. For a man to stand up and preach the gospel vigorously and loudly with conviction is to be vulgar and to lack refinement, sensitivity. I have heard a preacher described as a "mild-mannered man preaching to a mild-mannered congregation on how to be more mild-mannered." World without end have I seen the preacher effeminate and sissy, standing up there with little soft words. And when I hear a fellow like that I want to run up behind him and say, "Boo!" and scare the living daylights out of him. Oh dear, an effeminate and sissy preacher!
A fellow shook hands with one as he went out the door, and asked him what was his maiden name? So many preachers I have heard have no conviction: they are indecisive; they don’t know what they believe , and they don’t know what’s the truth of God. They remind me of that feller who swallowed an egg: he was afraid to bend, afraid it would break, he was afraid to sit still, afraid it would hatch, so he just stood there. Oh dear! And how many of them have I known who are pseudo-intellectual, and they covet false degrees.
I heard about one of those preachers that came to the Southern Baptist Convention out of the hills of Tennessee – and this was a long time ago – and they put in front of him a register for the hotel, and he looked at that register and pulled his glasses down on the end of his nose, and read there, "Reverend so-and-so, D.D." and "Reverend so-and-so Ph.D." and "Reverend so-and-so, L.I.T.D.D.". Well he took out his pencil, and wet it, and he wrote his name there: "The Reverend so-and-so, R.F.D. No.1." Oh dear! How God means for the preacher to stand in the sacred place and lift up his voice and cry aloud for repentance, and confession of faith, and the devotion of life to the blessed Lord Jesus Christ!
I think of the prophet in Isaiah 40, verse 9: "O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; and say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God" – preaching boldly and fearlessly, with great conviction and dedication.
Well let’s look at the message, at the message: "Here he is. To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins" [Acts 10:43]. Now what a message for a man like this, a devout man and one that feared God with all his house, and prayed to God always [Acts 10:2]. To that man this preacher is preaching the remission of sins, the Lord Jesus Christ in His blood and in His atoning cross and in the gift of His life for the saving of our souls. Dear me! You mean to a man like that you take him to the cross?
What the world says is, "That’s fine, take him to Jesus. Take him to the Lord Jesus. But don’t take him to the Jesus of the blood and the Jesus of the cross and the Jesus who forgives our sins. Take him to the Lord Jesus, but take him to the Jesus of the great ideal, Jesus the great incarnation and embodiment of all that is pure, and holy, and noble, and upright. But don’t take him to the Jesus whose blood washes our sins away." But that’s exactly what this preacher Simon Peter does to this good man, and devout man, and just man, and this praying man; he brings him to the Jesus of the cross and the forgiveness of sins.
Do you notice another thing here? "To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him, receives Him, shall receive remission of sins; to Him give all the prophets witness" [Acts 10:43]. We stand in a noble succession of the prophets, and of the apostles, when we preach Jesus and His cross, and the forgiveness of sins in the gift of His blood for our souls. We don’t stand in a great succession by episcopal orders, or by the laying on of hands, or by priestly investiture; we stand in a great noble apostolic succession when we preach the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you been to Jesus for the saving power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
["Are You Washed in the Blood"; Elisha A. Hoffman]
That’s the great succession in which the true preacher stands: preaching the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you notice the content of the message: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with Holy Ghost [Acts 10:28], and how He delivered us from the oppression of the devil, and how He called us to be witnesses, Jesus whom they slew and hanged on a tree, and whom God raised up the third day, and commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that it is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge of the quick and the dead – the gospel message of Christ. There are many things that would entertain for the hour, consume the moment: current events, all the things that happen in the world; book reviews, these latest books that come out; travelogues; the latest sophistries of the day; many things to occupy the hour. "But preacher, what we need is to be told what can save our souls from hell, and what can deliver our children from damnation, and what shall save our homes from destruction and fire; preacher, does God say anything?"
I think of Zedekiah the king of Israel, of Judah, to the prophet Jeremiah, "Is there any word from the Lord?" [Jeremiah 37:17] We know what the world thinks and what the world says; go to any newspaper counter and buy it for a dime or fifty cents; see it and hear it on television and radio. "But does God say anything, preacher? What can save our souls?"
The drivel that so many preachers preach is astonishing to me! I think of Henry Thoreau, that wonderful New England essayist and poet and literary giant, Henry Thoreau. Henry Thoreau said, "I had rather sit on a pumpkin listening to the chicka-dee-dees than to sit on a cushioned pew in Boston listening to the D.D.’s." Oh! that’s exactly true of so much of what is preached from the pulpit in the house of God.
I attended one summer a service in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. And the dean of the cathedral – the head of the cathedral – to all of that group there from the ends of the earth, he preached about the possibility of the extinction of the whales in the North Atlantic. That was his sermon. I sat there and listened and could not believe my ears.
There was a feller here in this pulpit, right here where I stand, and he said, "You know, I had rather listen to a man who says, ‘I seen,’ if he’s seen something, rather than listening to a man who says, ‘I have seen,’ if he ain’t seen anything." Well, I’m exactly like him. O God, for a man who stands in the pulpit and delivers in power, conviction, boldness the whole inspired Word of God! That’s Jesus who died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
I have to close. Listen how this wonderful meeting of a preacher God called and that audience gathered together by the Lord, listen:
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on them which heard.
And they of the Jewish circumcision who believed were astonished, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then Peter answered,
Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized –
baptized, the Greek is baptizo, "immerse" –
That these should not be immersed, who have received the Holy Spirit as we?
And he commanded them to be immersed, baptizo, baptized in the name of the Lord.
Now I want you to look at that. "The Holy Spirit poured out, for they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God." And in the eleventh chapter, Simon Peter says in defense of what he had done in preaching the gospel to those Gentiles, he says, "God gave them the like gift as He did unto us, who believed the Lord Jesus Christ; and who was I that I could withstand God Himself?" [Acts 11:17] Well what is this tongues? They heard them "speak with tongues and magnify the Lord." Simon Peter says, "It is the same gift on the Gentiles as on us." Well, I go back to that second chapter of Acts [verse 3] and read, "And there appeared unto them cloven tongues," glossa, that’s the word for "langauges", glossa; can be translated "tongues", it is the word for "languages."
There appeared unto them cloven tongues like as a fire.
They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with other glossa, other languages.
And when this was noised abroad, they heard every man at Pentecost, the gospel, in his own language.
And they said, How that we hear in our own tongue the marvelous message of Christ, and wherein we were born? Are not these Galileans?
Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptian, Libyans, Romans, Jews,
Cretes, Arabians, we do hear them speak in our glossa, our tongues, our languages the wonderful works of God.
And Peter says it’s a like phenomenon that happened here: speaking in tongues, speaking in languages.
Some of them were Romans, and they were praising God in Latin. Some of them were Greeks, and they were praising God in Greek. Some of then were Aramaeans, and they were praising God in Aramaic. Some of them were Pamphylians, they were praising God in Pamphylian. It was a large, diverse audience there in that Roman city by the sea named Caesarea, and in the household of this Roman soldier who’d gathered his men from the ends of the earth. They were praising God in their own tongue, in their own glossa. And any psychologist will tell you this: when a man, when a somebody is excited and they are emotionally elevated, they will inevitably speak, they will revert to the language of their birth. That’s human nature. And that’s what happened here: being marvelously visited from heaven with the power of God in the saving of the soul, and the forgiving of their sins, they began to magnify God in the language in which they were born. They reverted back to the days when they first began to speak.
Well, does a thing like that happen today? Listen, this is repeated again and again and again; the power of God, O Lord. I was preaching at the Cain Road Baptist Church in Hong Kong, on the other side of the sea, and while I was preaching, the power of the Lord was there; and in the middle of my sermon, while I was preaching, there was a Chinese who came and stood there in front of me. And I just kept on preaching; and there was another one standing there in front of me. There was another one standing there in front of me. Finally there were seventeen of them standing there in front of me while I was preaching. And I turned to the pastor and I said, "Pastor, what is happening here? What is this?" And the pastor said to me, "Pastor, praise God! Praise God! These are Chinese who’ve been listening to you preach the gospel this morning, and they cannot wait until you are done with your sermon. And they are standing there bowed before God in token, in confession that they have received the Lord Jesus as their Savior and the forgiver of their sins," while I’m preaching.
In another time, while I was preaching to a throng, hundreds and hundreds of preachers, I paid no attention to it; it was a Nazarene assembly ground. And there was a mourner’s bench from one side of that large, large auditorium to the other. And while I was preaching on a Thursday night, preaching for a week, while I was preaching on a Thursday night, right in the middle of my sermon stood up a man and came down and fell at that mourner’s bench and began to cry aloud unto God. I paid no attention, just kept on preaching. Soon another one came and fell down at that mourner’s bench, and crying unto God. And I just kept on preaching, until finally I was drowned out. There were hundreds of those men down there at the mourner’s bench, crying aloud before God. I never heard a sound like that in my life. Did you ever hear the sound of hundreds of men crying aloud before God? I never heard a sound like that in my life. The power of God falling upon a congregation; it is just like heaven itself.
And that’s what happened here. And that’s what we could pray would happen with us. Lord, that the Holy Spirit might fall upon us, that the lost be saved, and that the saved magnify the God of their salvation, and that every one of us follow the Lord in believer’s baptism. Amen.
Now, Fred, let’s sing us a song. And while we sing the song, somebody you to give your heart to the Lord, a family you to come into the fellowship of our dear church, a couple you answering the call of God, as the Spirit shall speak and open the way, will you answer with your life? Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE PULPIT AND THE PEW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 10, 11
I. The audience
A. Cornelius – a proselyte of the gate from Caesarea(Acts 10:1-2)
1. Devout, feared God, charitable, prayed always
2. But he was lost(Acts 11:14, 18)
a. Christianity presupposes a lost world(Isaiah 53:6, Romans 3:10, 23, 1 Timothy 1:15)
B. Numerous, diverse audience gathered together
II. The occasion of their coming together
A. Hear the gospel, the presentation of the Word of God(Acts 10:33)
1. Tendency today to come to exhibit our sanctity and our holiness
B. Worship raised to its highest usefulness and sensitivity(Romans 10:17, 1 Corinthians 1:21, 2 Timothy 4:1-2)
III. The preacher
A. Open his mouth and boldly began speaking the Word(Acts 10:34)
B. Kerusson – proclaiming the gospel(Matthew 3:1)
C. How the God-called man ought to preach(Isaiah 40:9)
IV. The message
A. Remission of sins(Acts 10:43)
B. What does God say?(Jeremiah 37:17)
V. The result
A. Holy Spirit fell on them(Acts 10:44-48, 11:17)
1. Cain Road Baptist Church, Hong Kong
2. Preaching at Beulah Park, Nazarene assembly hall