The Pulpit and the Pew
February 25th, 1990 @ 10:50 AM
THE PULPIT AND THE PEW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-25-90 10:50 a.m.
The title of the sermon is The Pulpit and the Pew. As I walked in the door, one of our devout members said to me, "If there is no fire in the pulpit, there is ice in the pew." That is the Lord’s truth. The message is an exposition, it is an expositional sermon. It is a message from the tenth and the eleventh chapters of the Book of Acts.
The story is told in great detail. It is as though the Holy Spirit wrote, saying, "Watch this congregation, watch this audience. They are gathered, not by accident or by familiar custom, but the arm of the Lord has brought them together, the people, the preacher, and his message." And the story is presented in the Bible in a clear, lucid, eternal, strong light. So it begins, chapter 10, "There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion, the finest officer of the band called the Italian band." And then in verse 2 he was described as "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].
He was a proselyte of the gate. Just before was presented a proselyte of the temple, an Ethiopian eunuch who had come all the way to Jerusalem for to worship [Acts 8:27]. He had become a Jew. He was circumcised, and kept the Law of Moses. This officer of the battalian band in the Roman army was a proselyte of the gate [Acts 10:1]. He was not circumcised. He had not become a Jew, but he had accepted the moral principles of the Mosaic legislation and was a worshiper of the true God. Now he is described beautifully: a devout man, feared God with all of his family, and prayed to God always [Acts 10:2]. But he was lost; a good man, but not good enough. Standing before God in His holiness and purity, the Lord God looked upon him and he was a lost man.
The Bible presupposes the entire world to be lost in sin, all of us [Romans 5:12]. I remember L. R. Scarborough, the president of our seminary in Fort Worth, describing a great outpouring of the Spirit in a revival meeting. And as many, many came, he came down to the front and began to speak to a little boy. And he said to the little lad, "Son, do you realize you’re a sinner, do you realize you’re lost and you need to be saved?" And the Sunday school teacher who had sat down on the other side, said, "Dr. Scarborough, you are a stranger here and don’t realize it, but this is one of the best boys in my class, and he comes out of one of the finest families in our church." And disregarding her, the preacher said to the little fellow, "Do you realize you’re lost? Do you realize you need a Savior?" And the Sunday school teacher interrupted again and said, "Dr. Scarborough, I repeat, you are a stranger, you don’t know the people here. This is one of the finest little boys in our congregation and he comes of a noble family." And the preacher stood up and asked the little lad to sit on the other side of him, away from the teacher, and then he turned to the little boy and said, "Do you realize you’re lost and you need a Savior?" And in no time at all, the little boy was born into the Kingdom of God. All of us are lost, no matter how fine and noble may be our worldly presentation. The Bible says that. In the Book of Isaiah chapter 53:6, "All of us like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way." In the third chapter of the Book of Romans, "All of us have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" [Romans 3:23]. "There is none righteous, no, not one" [Romans 3:10]. And Paul said of himself, "The Lord came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" [1 Timothy 1:15].
Before the world, he is noble and acceptable. Most any church, had he come down the aisle, a member would have stood up and said, "I make a motion we take him in." But God said he needed to be born again. All of us need that experience of confession of sin, and weakness, and dereliction, and lostness, and asking Jesus to come into our hearts, and to write our names in this Lamb’s Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 21:27].
Now, will you notice this audience, gathered together in this great Roman city of Caesarea, the capital of Roman province of Judea? They are numerous, and as numerous as they are diverse, and as diverse as they are numerous. They are listed here. There is the family of Cornelius, they are the kinspeople of Cornelius, there are the many friends, and the story repeats and reiterates that word "many" and "all"; a very diverse group there in the Roman centurion’s household and headquarters in Caesarea [Acts 10:24, 33].
Then we are told the occasion of their coming together, "We are here before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God" [Acts 10:33]. "We are here to hear the gospel, the presentation of the Word of the Lord." There is an universal tendency to change all of that today.
Jesus preached to the throng the Word of God [Mark 10:1], Paul preached [Acts 15:36], Stephen preached [Acts 7], Philip preached [Acts 8:5], the apostles preached. But today, when we come together into the house of the Lord, we come to exhibit our sanctity and our holiness. And we have tokens of our culture and our refinement and our sophistry. And there are tables and there are altars and there are candles and there are incense burners. And there are crosses of gold and silver. And the pulpit is put away, put aside. It is stuck over here or put over there or put up somewhere high, any way to get rid of it. When you lose the power, you burn up the candle, you light up the candle.
I remember one time, in our assembly at Glorieta, our Baptist Assembly in Glorieta, they put on a model worship service, and had all of the accouterments of what you call worship, but they left out the sermon. There was no exposition of the Word of God. What was central here, must always be central; namely, the preaching of the gospel of Christ, the exposition of God’s infallible Word.
This is worship, raised to its highest usefulness, its highest sensitivity: listening to the Word of the Lord. Romans, chapter 10, verse 17, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the Word of God." He never wrote faith cometh by genuflection, or faith cometh by candle lighting, or faith cometh by incense burning, or faith cometh by liturgy. What the apostle wrote by divine inspiration, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of the Lord" [Romans 10:17].
Or take again 1 Corinthians 1:21, "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." Or take again 2 Timothy chapter 4, verses 1 and 2, "I charge thee," my young preacher says the older apostle Paul facing execution in a Roman Mamartine dungeon, "I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and dead at His coming, and His kingdom; Preach the word," Preach the word [2 Timothy 4:1-2]: this is the purpose of God in the assembling of His people, and it is the highest form of worship. That is why I feel we are right in pouring our strength and our support and our treasure into building this preacher’s school and teaching them to expound the infallible and inerrant Word of the Lord.
Now, will you notice the preacher? It says here, when he was told by Cornelius that they were all assembled to hear the word of the Lord, then Peter opened his mouth and said, "Of a truth I perceive that God is not the respecter of persons: but" [Acts 10:34-35], and then he went on preaching the gospel of the saving grace of the Son of God [Acts 10:35-43]. He looked into their hungry hearts and boldly and courageously began speaking the Word of God aloud. He opened his mouth.
I think in history of Hugh Latimer standing before the king of England, Henry the VIII. And Hugh Latimer, as he stood there in the presence of the king to preach the gospel, he began like this, "Now, Hugh Latimer, remember, you are standing in the presence of the king. And if you offend him, remember he can take away your life." Then he added, "But, also remember, Hugh Latimer, you are standing in the presence of the Lord God, and you will be judged according to the truth of the message you deliver before God in heaven. Therefore, be true to the faith." And he proceeded to deliver an excoriating sermon concerning the sins of the King, Henry the VIII. As you know, he was later burned at the stake in Oxford by Henry the VIII’s daughter, Bloody Queen Mary. But that’s what the man is called of God to do boldly, courageously to declare the whole counsel of God, to preach the gospel of the Son of God [Acts 20:27]. Oh God, to be true to that faith. "Peter opened his mouth and said," [Acts 10:34]; those are the exact words that described Jesus when He delivered the message on the mount, "Jesus opened His mouth and said," [Matthew 5:1-2].
In the fourteenth chapter of this Book of Acts, in Lystra, the apostle Paul sees a man who is lame from his mother’s womb, and he cried with a loud voice. Isn’t that amazing, this one man? He cried with a loud voice, saying, "Stand on your feet and walk" [Acts 14:8-10]. A miraculous of God. That’s the way the Gospel begins in the third chapter of Matthew, the first verse, it says, "In those days came John the Baptist, kērussōn, proclaiming, preaching in the wilderness of Judea" [Matthew 3:1], and you could hear him clear to Jerusalem. That’s God!
Funny thing how our preachers are, in our crooning soft and quiet and easy ways. And if a man were to lift up his voice and if he were to cry out loud, why, we would think he was vulgar and lacked refinement and sophistry. I have heard preaching defined as a mild-mannered man preaching to a mild-mannered congregation how to be more mild-mannered. And a preacher, for the most part, you go listen to him, he is soft, and effeminate and sissy. And when I watch him and hear him, I feel like I want to run up behind him and say, "Boo!" and scare the living daylights out of him. There was a soft, sissy preacher, and after he was done, why, a man shook hands with him as he went out the door and asked him what was his maiden name.
And so many of the preachers are indecisive. They don’t know whether to believe in Genesis or not. They don’t know whether Jesus was raised from the dead or not. And they are not knowing, standing there in the pulpit. They remind me of a man who swallowed an egg. He was afraid to bend, afraid it would break; he was afraid to sit still, afraid it would hatch. He didn’t know what to do.
And so many preachers are sensitive to being pseudo-intellectual, coveting degrees of some kind conferred. Ah, dear. I think of that fellow, that preacher who came out of the hills of Tennessee to one of our Baptist Conventions over there in the East. And it was in a long ago day when you signed the register in a hotel. So when he came to the hotel they stuck that registry in front of him and he looked at it, those names that had preceded him in registering there there was Rev. So-and-So, D.D. There was the Rev. So-and-So, Ph.D. And there was the Rev. So-and-So, Litt.D. Well, he put his glasses on the end of his nose and wet his pencil and wrote his name, "The Rev. So-and-So, RFD number 1."
Ah, dear, how the God-called man ought to stand up and proclaim the message of God. As Isaiah writes in chapter 40 and 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, cry out loud and be not afraid. And say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
That’s the way a man ought to preach, just like Simon Peter opened his mouth boldly and courageously proclaiming the truth of the gospel of Christ [Acts 10:34].
Now, let’s look at what he preached, the content of his message delivered here: "To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins" [Acts 10:43]. Dear me! First thing, take this man, this man, described as a devout man and a godly man and one that prayed to the Lord always [Acts 10:1-2], preaching to him about the cross and the remission of sins [Acts 10:34-43]. "Well, let’s take him to Jesus," the world says. "But let’s don’t take him to Jesus, who died on the cross and whose blood washes our sins away. Let’s take him to Jesus, that’s right, but let’s take him to Jesus the great exemplar and the great ideal. Let’s take him to Jesus, the embodiment of purity and nobility, the example of charity, and love, and grace, and unselfishness. But let’s don’t take him to Jesus who died on the cross and who shed His blood for the remission of our sins" [Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 9:22].
But that’s the preaching of the gospel of Christ. We are lost in our sins and we have to be saved or we are eternally shut away and separated from God. Do you notice what he says here? "To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name we. . . shall receive remission of sins" [Acts 10:43].
The prophets and the apostles: O God, how we stand in their great tradition when we preach Jesus dying on the cross and raised for justification [1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 4:25]. We are not in the apostolic succession by the laying on of hands or by episcopal orders or by priestly vestments. We are standing in the great order of the apostles and the prophets when we preach Christ and His saving grace.
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?" by Elisha A. Hoffman, 1878]
And here is an outline of his sermon. He speaks how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth [Acts 10:38], and how they slew Him and hanged Him on a tree [Acts 10:39], and how they were commanded to preach the resurrection of the Lord Jesus [Acts 10:40], ordained of God to be the judge of the quick and the dead [Acts 10:42]; preaching the gospel of the saving grace of the Son of God [Acts 10:43].
O Lord, how many things might interestingly consume the hour? Current events, book reviews, travelogues, the sophistries of the day; but honestly, can’t we go to any newsstand and buy all of that for ten or fifteen or twenty-five cents? Can’t we stand or sit before a television or radio and listen to it endlessly? "But preacher, what can save our souls from hell? And what can save our children from damnation? And what can deliver our homes from disintegration and disaster? What can present me before God with everlasting life?" I think of Zedekiah, who sent word to the prophet, Jeremiah. The king said, "Is there any word from the Lord? Does God say anything?" [Jeremiah 37:17]. We know what the commentator says. We know what the anchorman on the television says. We know what the editor of the newspaper says. But does God say anything? "Preacher, if God says anything, what does God say?" That’s what the preacher is called to do; to deliver the message, the infallible word of the inspired Word of God.
The drivel some men preach is overwhelming to me. I think of the great essayist and literary author, Henry Thoreau. Henry Thoreau said, "I’d rather sit on a pumpkin listening to the chickadeedees than to sit on a cushioned pew in Boston and listening to those D.D.s." I can understand it.
I was in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and listened to the dean, the head of the great cathedral, and his sermon concerned the possibility of the extinction of the great whales in the North Atlantic. That was his message. I could hardly believe my ears as I sat there and listened to that supposed preacher, and called man of God, preaching about the whales in the North Atlantic. Here in this pulpit, right here, a fellow stood up and he said, "I had rather listen to a man who says, ‘I see,’ if he sees something, than to listen to a man who says, ‘I have seen,’ if he ain’t seen anything." And I am exactly like that. O God, for the man who delivers the message of the grace of the saving love of Jesus our Lord.
I have to conclude. Do you notice how the evening closes?
While Peter spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on them which heard,
And they of the Jewish communion who believed were amazed because on the Gentiles was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For they heard them speak with glōssa, languages, tongues, and magnify God. Then Peter said,
Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptizō, immersed, that they should not be immersed, who received the Holy Spirit as well as we?
And he commanded them to be immersed, baptized, in the name of the Lord.
That’s an unusual thing. Peter, in chapter 11, says, when he is defending the right of the Gentile to come into the kingdom of God, he says, "God gave them the like gift as He did unto us" [Acts 11:17], referring to Pentecost. They were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other glōssa, other languages [Acts 2:1-4]. And they were amazed: "How hear we every man in our own language, glōssa?" Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Cyreneans, Romans, Arameans, Cretes, Arabians: "We do hear them speak in our glōssa, our languages"; the wonderful works of God [Acts 2:5-11].
That’s what happened there. In the household of Cornelius, there were Greeks and they were praising God in Greek. And there were Latin, Romans, and they were praising God in Latin. And there were Arameans there and they were praising God in Aramaic. There were Cappadocians and they were praising God in Cappadocian [Acts 10:33-46].
Let me tell you, every psychologist that lives will say to you, affirm to you, that whenever anyone is emotionally roused, when they are excited, they will revert to their mother tongue in speaking, they will automatically do it; that’s what happened there. They were marvelously converted, saved, the Holy Spirit came into their souls, and they magnified the grace of God in the languages in which they were born. O God, what a glorious visitation from heaven. And that can be repeated over and over and over again.
I was preaching in the Cain Road Baptist Church in Hong Kong, China. And right in the middle of my sermon, one of those Chinese came down and stood before me, stood before me, stood before me. And as I kept on preaching another one came and stood before me. And another one came and stood before me. And finally, there were more than seventeen of them down there. And I quit preaching and I turned to the pastor and I asked, "What are these people doing here?" And he replied, "Preacher, praise God, they can’t abide until you are done with your sermon. And they are standing there in token of the fact that the Holy Spirit has brought Jesus in saving grace to their souls and their hearts and their lives." That’s marvelous, marvelous.
One of the most unusual experiences I have ever had in all the sixty-three years that I have been a pastor: I was preaching at the Beulah Park in the redwoods of California. And it was an enormous Nazarene assembly hall. And it had a mourners’ bench from one side of it to the other. I was preaching for a week, just encouraging the pastors. And one Thursday night while I was preaching, one of those men stood up and came down and fell at that mourners’ bench and cried aloud unto God.
Well, I just kept on preaching. And while I kept on preaching the Word of the Lord, another one came down, fell on his face at that mourners’ bench and cried aloud to the Lord. And I just kept on preaching. Finally, there were several hundred of those men down there on their faces, crying aloud to the Lord. I never heard a sound like that in my life. Did you ever hear several hundred men crying aloud, unto the Lord, pouring out their souls before God? I never heard a sound like that in my life; those men, down there, crying aloud, unto God.
Well, I had to quit preaching. That’s the Holy Spirit. O Lord, how I wish here we would have the experience of just the Spirit taking charge of the service and the preacher would have to quit.
Ah, Lord, how wonderful it is, how great it is to be moved by the Spirit of Jesus coming into our hearts, coming into our homes, coming into our lives, making us happy and unspeakably glad, ecstatic in the goodness and grace of the Lord Jesus. "Died for our sins according to the Scriptures; buried, and the third day, raised again according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. And that is the meaning of this baptizō, to be buried and raised with our Lord [Romans 6:3-5]. O God, what a glory to be touched by the Spirit of the saving grace of the blessed Jesus.
And to the great throng in the sanctuary who have listened to the Word of the Lord, in the balcony around, down a stairway, in the throngs on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, today the Lord has spoken to me, and I am answering with my life." On the first note of the first stanza, come, and angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.