WORKING IN THE WISDOM OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-12-90 10:50 a.m.
The title of the message is Working in the Wisdom of God. It is from the expository messages we read of our Lord in the second and third chapters of the Second Gospel, the Gospel of Mark. We begin with the reaction of our Lord to the antagonistic response He found among the people to whom He had been sent. And it progressed, that bitterness toward our Savior.
In chapter 2, verse 6, it begins first with a murmuring in their hearts [Mark 2:6-7]. Then in the sixteenth verse it became more open. They speak against our Lord to His disciples [Mark 2:16]. Then it continues in depth of bitterness in the eighteenth verse of the second chapter. They come to the Lord Himself and ask questions of Him concerning their dislike for what He was doing and saying [Mark 2:18].
Then in the third chapter, the second verse they lie in waiting for Him, and they watch Him, like a lion would a prey, to see how they might accuse Him [Mark 3:2]. Then in that same third chapter, in the twenty-second verse, they accost Him openly and bitterly, and denounce Him publicly and officially [Mark 3:22]. And that leads to our Lord’s discussion concerning the unpardonable sin. You can go just so far in your rejection and denial of the Lord beyond which there is no returning, there is no forgiveness, either in this world or in the world to come [Mark 3:28-30].
It is an awesome thing to continue denying the overtures of grace of our Lord. There is an end to it somewhere, someday, somehow, some way. And they came into that awesome damnation, bitterness and rejection of the Savior. Now that’s the background of how our Lord responded. He did so in organization.
In that third chapter of Mark, the fourteenth verse, after it says in the seventh verse that He withdrew Himself with His disciples [Mark 3:7], “He ordained the twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth” [Mark 3:14]. The word “apostles” is built around a Greek word that means “the sent ones.” He ordained twelve and sent them forth to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God.
Then, in Matthew 16:18, you remember, He says: “Upon this rock I will build My ekklēsia,” the called-out ones, these ordained ones. “I will build My ekklēsia, My church”—the assembling of God’s people.
Then, of course, you remember the Gospel closes, in Matthew 28, with the Great Commission, that we are to go into all the world and build those assemblies [Matthew 28:19-20]. And then the second chapter of the Book of Acts: Pentecost, the enduement with power from God to achieve that holy purpose of God in the earth [Acts 2:1-4]—to assemble these whom the Lord hath chosen, whom He has called and who have found refuge and salvation in Christ. All of that was done because of the darkness and the lostness of this present world. Our message is delivered in a world that has the tendency to reject it, and in many instances, vigorously oppose to it.
Do you remember in the twelfth chapter of the Revelation, it starts: “I saw a great wonder in heaven . . .a woman . . .travailing in pain giving birth to a child. Then I saw another wonder in heaven; a great red dragon . . . Standing, prepared to devour the Child that should be delivered” [Revelation 12:1-4]—a picture of Israel giving birth to our Christ, who founded the church, the assemblies of God [Matthew 16:18].
It’s that kind of a world into which the Lord hath sent His people. Like, in Titus 1:5: “For this cause,” Paul writes to Titus, “have I sent thee to Crete. . .to ordain elders in every city.” Or, like 2 Timothy 2:2, “The truth that thou”—the gospel message—“that you have heard from me, among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall deliver the message to others also.” It is the organized group that is God’s answer to a dark and antagonistic and unbelieving world.
Now why? Why the church? Why the assembly? Why the organization? Because a one finds himself drowned in a world of unbelief and cannot continue. He has to be joined to a group to survive.
I remember going through the Middle East. My companion was a missionary who for the years of his adult life had been over there, decades of years. And he said to me, “A one cannot survive. If you win somebody here,” there, “in that Middle Eastern country, that one will not survive. He has to be in a community. There has to be established a community, a fellowship, a group, a church. And if you can establish a fellowship, a group, that one who is converted, who comes to the Lord can survive. Otherwise, he will perish.”
Could I turn aside for just a moment and speak of the Middle East and what is happening there? If a prophecy is true it will be repeated; it is verified again and again and again. The Bible speaks, the Revelation speaks, of an antichrist. The truth of the prophecy is found—Satan always has his man. He always has his antichrist; always, over and over and over again, ready to the final and ultimate one at the consummation of the age.
It will be a Genghis Khan. It will be a Tamerlane. It will be a Hitler. It will be a Hussein. Always, Satan has his man, ready to be presented at the final and ultimate day. Always, he has his false prophet presiding over a harlot religion [Revelation 17:1-2]. Always, it is there, ready for the consummation of the age. Always, he has his capital city. Isn’t it strange that it should be called Babylon? [Revelation 17:5]. Always, he has that great capital city, ready for the consummation of the age.
And always, now remember what I said, if the prophecy is true, you will find it repeated again and again and again, in preparation for that final and ultimate consummation. And the Bible says that this ultimate war will be fought in Armageddon, in the Middle East [Revelation 16:13-16]. It is repeated over and over and over again. And however history may flow, and however wars on the planet may be fought, the ultimate and final one will always be there in the Middle East.
Now to continue my sermon: this great principle that I have mentioned in the life of our Lord, out of the second and third chapters of the Gospel of Mark [Mark 2:16-17, 3:14], is verified through the ages. A one perishes, but to survive, there has to be a community, there has to be a togetherness.
If you read church history, you will read of St. Francis Xavier, one of the most effective emissaries of Christ who was ever born. He was born about 1506, died in about 1552. And through India and through Ceylon and through Japan, he had so many thousands and thousands and thousands of converts that they were baptized according to the Roman Church, by sprinkling. They lined the banks of the river and they were sprinkled with branches from the trees, throngs and throngs. But they ceased to exist because they were not organized into a body, and became extinct.
Contrary to that is John Wesley and George Whitefield, about two centuries later. John Wesley never preached in a pulpit in the Church of England, they would not allow him. He preached in the streets, on the commons, out in the squares, and the hand of God was with him in England and in America. And he organized those groups. They belong to the families of Christ, and the Methodist church is in our midst and in our presence today. It was the organization, the coming together of the group, that made it viable and alive.
Let’s look again. I do not think that in history, there has ever been a more eloquent preacher than T. DeWitt Talmage. Every Monday, after he preached his sermon in Brooklyn on Sunday, that sermon was on the front page of thousands of newspapers around the world. It was phenomenal, phenomenal! I was preaching in one of the great churches in Brooklyn, and I said to the pastor and his men, I said, “I want you to show me where T. DeWitt Talmage preached. Where was his church?” He couldn’t find it. He couldn’t tell me. The great ministry of T. DeWitt Talmage died with him.
Contrariwise, Dwight L. Moody, who was nothing of the preacher that Talmage was, Dwight L. Moody founded those schools in Northfield, Massachusetts; founded that great, dynamic Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. It was the organization that carried it forward and made it viable in the earth.
May I take us for an example, the Primitive Baptist church; don’t believe in Sunday school, don’t believe in Training Union, don’t believe in WMU, doesn’t believe in organization, doesn’t believe in anything like that. The Primitive Baptist church, and it is almost ceasing to exist, but the Missionary Baptist church believes in Sunday school and organization—believe in people coming together in a great common determination. That Missionary Baptist church, a part of our own life, is the greatest protestant denomination in America. What a viable difference is made!
A one somebody will perish, but a great group has every opportunity to propagate its faith in the world. The group, the family, the church will hold the truth and shape it as a dipper will hold and shape the water, or as the pigment will hold the shape of a picture, or as the ordinances will present and hold and shape the gospel truth [Matthew 26:26-28, 28:19; Romans 6:3-5]. It is our being together that makes us dynamic, makes us effective and gives us converts.
Now may I speak of that with us? Our strength and our force lies in our oneness. It lies in our unanimity. It lies in our being together. It lies in our organization.
I read where a man was visiting in an insane asylum. And while he was there, he saw those inmates, a throng of them lined up for a march. And there was just a guard there, one way over there, and one over there. And the visitor said to one of the guards, “This is unthinkable. This is impossible. Look at all of these inmates; a throng of them, and a guard here and a guard there and a guard there. Why, if they got together, they could overwhelm you.” And the guard replied, “That’s why they are in the insane asylum, they can’t get together. They are not joined together. They are insane.” That’s true of all life. The difference between an army and a mob is its organization.
And that is the way God in His wisdom has given for us to do His work in the earth. It’s our togetherness. It’s our unanimity. It’s our being with one another. It’s in the family. It’s in the church that God’s mighty Spirit moves to do His work.
Do you remember how Rudyard Kipling began his Jungle Book?
This is the law of the jungle,
As true and as old as the sky.
The wolf that shall keep it may prosper,
But the wolf that shall break it shall die.
That’s with us. A child: do you remember Psalm 68:6? “God hath put the solitary in families.” The child, outside of the family group, will perish; but the child in the family group will prosper and live and be blessed. There is no such thing as that child being brought up in the knowledge of God, and in the glory and grace of Jesus, if the family is not a part of it. He has to be in that group. He has to belong. And the tragedy of life, to me, I see it universally, these children brought up away from the grace and goodness of God.
There is private worship. Take your Bible and you and the Lord read it. There is private worship. But there is also public worship. And it is as much in the will and purpose of God that we be together in the assembly, in the ekklesia, in the called-out people of the Lord, as that we privately read God’s Word.
I read one time of a man who has ceased going to church. And the pastor went to see him. It was in the wintertime, and there in his living room he had a big fire in the fireplace. And the pastor sat down by the man who had ceased attending public worship, ceased attending church. And the pastor took a poker and he pulled out one of the coals out of the burning fire, put it there on the threshold, and it flamed and burned, then turned to smoke, and then died. And the man said, “Pastor, I will be there next Sunday.”
We need each other and we die without the community, without the assembly. It is our worship. There is private prayer—getting down on your knees before you go to bed at night, or during the day. There is private prayer. There is also public prayer. Our Lord said to His disciples: “You stay in Jerusalem and you pray” [Acts 1:4, 14]. And they stayed for those ten days, with one mind, in one accord, in one place, and Pentecost came down [Acts 2:1-42]. There is private witnessing, but there is also a public commitment on the part of the household of the people of God. We all do it, we all sharing in it, a great service, a great appeal.
When I was in the university, my roommate took me to Travis Avenue Church. I experienced there what later I presided over when I held a revival meeting in that same congregation. Dear me! The service began at nine-thirty, continued until the early afternoon. The people had prayed, they had visited, they had poured their hearts into that appeal. And when it was made, there were throngs of them coming to Jesus, together, in one spirit, in one heart, belonging to the family of God.
I have to close. If you are ever converted, if you are ever converted, the first thing that will arise in your heart is this. “I want to belong to the people of the Lord. Where is the group? Where is the fellowship? Where is the family? Where is the household of faith? I want to belong to it. I want to attend it. I want to be in it.” That will be the first thing that you will feel in your heart. When you are converted, that’s what you feel in your soul.
I was preaching in the First Baptist Church of Caracas, the capital of the nation of Venezuela, in South America. And I asked those dear people there, “Where did this church come from?” It is in such a culture that is so different from ours and the background of the religion is so diverse from us. “Where did this church come from?” And the pastor and the brethren there said to me, “There was a man here in Caracas, and there came into his hand a tract. And that tract spoke of the Word of God, the Bible. And he sought a Bible and finally found one. He read that Holy Word and the Spirit of God convicted him in his heart, and he was converted.”
And he said, “That man sought in the city of Caracas; was there anybody else that had a Bible, had read it, had been converted? And he wants to be baptized and I want to be baptized. And in the city of Caracas he found a family that also had a Bible and had been converted. And they were baptized. And they sought other families who read the Bible and believed the message of salvation from its infallible pages. And they joined themselves together in an assembly of God’s faithful. And that,” said the pastor to me, “is where this church came from—out of the heart of that man who sought others who had accepted the Lord and given himself to the faith.”
I love being here. When time comes to attend church, that is the greatest moment of my day. I love being with you. I love to sing the songs, whether I can sing or not, I love to sing the songs. I love to share in the reading of the Word. I love to hear any man preach who is true to the infallible revelation of God.
I love to kneel in your presence. I love to get ready to be in heaven with you forever and forever.
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blessed Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God!
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall;
For her my pray’rs ascend;
To her my toils and cares be giv’n
Till toils and cares shall end.
[“I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” Timothy Dwight]
I love the assembling of the people of God. And that is what the Lord intended for His saints, that we be together in one common determination [Hebrews 10:25]; to love our Lord and to witness to His grace.
And to the great throng in the house of the Lord; in the balcony round, down one of those stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me and I am coming” [Ephesians 2:8]. Or one of you accepting the Lord [Romans 10:9-13], a couple you devoting your life to Christ, a family you coming into the fellowship of the church, on the first note of the first stanza, come. And God bless those whom the Lord hath called today to join heart and hand and life with us. Come, while we stand and while we sing.
IN THE WISDOM OF GOD
I. The unfolding of the program of Christ
A. Arose out of the
attack against Him (Mark 2:6-7, 16, 18, 3:2, 6,
B. The answer, reaction
of Jesus – organization
1. The apostles (Mark 3:7, 14, Matthew 16:18)
2. The Great
Commission (Matthew 28:18-20)
3. The divine,
Pentecostal infilling (Acts 2)
C. Set in a dark world (Revelation 12:1-4)
gathered, organized church – community groups (Titus
1:5, 2 Timothy 2:2)
Alone and isolated one cannot survive
a. Missionary to Middle
i. Middle East –
prophecy verified again and again
II. The verdict of the ages
A. Where banded
together, organized, there is growth and continued life
B. Where isolated, detached,
there is death
1. Francis Xavier
vs. John Wesley, George Whitefield
2. T. DeWitt
Talmage vs. Dwight L. Moody
Baptists vs. Missionary Baptists
III. The strength and effectiveness of our
witness lies in our oneness
A. The power of the
B. True in every realm
of life – families