THE WAY TO THE CITY OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-23-92 10:50 a.m.
And God wonderfully bless the throngs and multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now a part of our worshiping at First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the senior pastor bringing the message entitled The Way to the City of God, a message on how to be saved, a message on how to go to heaven when you die.
This is the seventh sermon from the Book of Ecclesiastes, and the text in chapter 10, verse 8: “Whoever breaks through a wall will be bitten by a serpent…” [Ecclesiastes 10:8] And verse 14: “A fool multiplies words. No man knows what is to be; who can tell him what would be after him? The labor of fools wearies them, for they do not even know the way to go to the city” [Ecclesiastes 10:14-15].
“They do not even know how to go to the city” [Ecclesiastes 10:15]. The text here speaking of the way into the city—apparently, in the heart and mind of Solomon, the way into the city of God. It is an unusual thing how predominantly dynamic is the life of any nation and any people expressed in the city, and especially so in the Bible.
In human life, and history, and experience, London is England, Paris is France, Moscow is Russia, Rome is Italy, Cairo is Egypt, Buenos Aires is Argentina, Sydney is Australia; and so throughout the whole vast, inhabited world; and especially is that scene in the Bible. The place of cities in the work and ministry of the kingdom of God; for example, in the Old Testament, there were six cities of refuge, three on the east side of the Jordan, three on the west side of the Jordan [Numbers 35:6-14]. And if a man committed murder by accident or unpremeditated, the family had the blood of that man on their hands and sought to murder him [Numbers 35:15-25]. But if he could find a way to the city of refuge, he was saved forever.
Or again, in the ninth chapter of the Book of Luke, the doctor writes: “Jesus steadfastly set his face to go to the city, to Jerusalem” [Luke 9:51]. There He was tried [Luke 23:1-25], crucified [Luke 23:26-46], buried [Luke 23:50-56], raised from the dead [Luke 24:1-12] and, on a mount overlooking that city, ascended up into heaven; in the city [Luke 24:49-51, Acts 1:9-10].
When we read the Book of Acts and follow the ministry of the apostle Paul, he brought his message to the great cities of the Roman Empire; he was in Antioch, or he was in Ephesus, or he was in Corinth, or he was in Athens, or he was in Rome.
And one of the most amazing things that I read in the Word of God concerns Abraham. Abraham lived in the mountains. He lived in the hill country. It was his nephew Lot who cast his tent toward the city [Genesis 13:12]. But you read in chapter 11:
Abraham obeyed God, called to go out into a place he should after to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he went.
He dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
For he waited for a city; a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
So far as I know, he never lived in a city in his life. But he looked forward to the great, beautiful city whose builder and maker is God [Hebrews 11:10].
Now as though that were not enough: “Truly, if these patriarchs had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have opportunity to return. But now they desire a better [country]: that is a heavenly: Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them that city” [Hebrews 11:15-16]. I say that’s one of the most unusual things you could read in the Bible. Living all of their lives in the hill country, in the mountain country, and yet their hearts were fixed on a heavenly city.
Now to climax it all, in the passage you just read, the great consummation of the Word of God and the providences of our Lord all lead to a great and beautiful city. That’s the way the Book closes; that’s the way the Revelation consummates:
I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a great voice from heaven saying, Look, behold, the dwelling place, the tabernacle of God is with men . . .
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,
Having the glory of God: and her light like a most precious stone, like a jasper, clear as crystal . . .
And all the other marvelous incomparable things that God hath revealed through John of that beautiful and glorious city [Revelation 21:1-22:5].
Now my text from Ecclesiastes. Solomon here writes: “Not knowing the way to the city” [Ecclesiastes 10:15]. And I presume he had in his mind and heart a city of refuge. Not knowing how to go or inquiring of the way, the one to whom he asks doesn’t know and possibly gives the wrong directions.
Now, I think of some crazy thing that I heard one time. It will illustrate the blessedness of knowing the way. Over there in Arkansas, there was a family driving this way and they were lost. And they asked one of those inhabitants over there in Arkansas, “How far is it to this town?” and named it.” And that rube said, “Well, mister, going that way it’s 2,495 miles. But if you’ll turn around and go this way, it’s just five miles over there.” The blessedness of knowing the way; but the tragedy of not knowing or given the wrong directions. Like the proverb says: “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death” [Proverbs 14:12].
Now I’m not going to speak this morning about those who pass by the mercies of God. They’re unmoved. They’re uninterested. They have nothing in their hearts that is responsive to the revelation of God. They live like animals and they die like dogs. That’s the way they are in their minds and in their hearts, and I have no reference to them. They’re like Abner in [2 Samuel 3:33]. They said of him: “He died as a fool dies.”
And if you look at all the translation of that Hebrew word; some of them say he died like a wretch. He died like an ignominious fool. Now I’m not talking about them; these who have no interest in God and are unmoved by the appeal of the Spirit of the Lord, who die, I say, like animals and are buried like dogs. But my address this morning is made to those who are seeking a way to the city of God. How do I go to heaven when I die? And how do I make that journey in assurance that someday I’ll be saved? All right, here’s one: the legalized lane, keeping the commandments. If I obey the commandments, if I strive in this boulevard of righteousness, if I work at it, if I am diligently faithful in trying to do all of the things I ought to do and keep all the commandments I’m supposed to keep, and if I am strong inwardly and outwardly, morally upright, I will find my way to the kingdom of God. I get there by my good works. The only thing about that is from the Word of the Lord. In Galatians, Paul says: “For by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” [Galatians 2:16]. And he writes again: “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law. But no one is justified by the law in the sight of God” [Galatians 3:10-11].
You can never be good enough, God says, to enter the bastion of heaven in your good works. Try as you may, you never ever obtain perfection. James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, wrote: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, all of it, every commandment, and yet fail in one point, he is guilty of all of it” [James 2:10]. That’s an amazing avowal. The righteousness of a man is never enough to form a passport into the holy city of God.
If I could illustrate, if you offend in one point, you are guilty of the whole group of commandments: it’s like a chain; it’s like a chain. You don’t have to break everyone of those chains to fail, to fall; just break one link and you will fail, you will fall. That’s the way it is with the commandments of God. We are never perfect. He writes it here in the Book of Ecclesiastes in a most unusual way: “Who ever breaks through a wall will be bitten by a serpent” [Ecclesiastes 10:8]. When you seek to enter heaven by that lane of righteousness, of keeping the commandments, why, if you just stumble and touch the wall, a deadly adder will pour out of the crevice and bite you. You will never enter heaven by your own righteousnesses—never! We all fall too short [Romans 3:23]. We stumble and fail.
Then let us see if we can find the road to heaven by liturgical loyalties. “Well, what do you mean by that, preacher?” I see it all over creation: going to heaven—the road to the city of God—by observing all kinds of liturgical practices. For example, “Are you a Christian?”
“Yes, since a baby.”
“When were you born again?”
“When I was eight days old, I was sprinkled, I was baptized.”
“How were you converted?”
“When I was confirmed as a child.”
“Well, how are you in your worship of the Lord?”
“Every Sunday I am present and I eat a wafer dipped in alcohol.”
“And how is it that you grow in grace?”
“I do it by all the days and hours of assignment; days of fasting, days of abstinence. I observe all of those liturgical practices.”
I heard the beatenness thing the other day that I think I ever heard of in my life. There were two men who robbed a bank. And in robbing the bank, they murdered the banker. And they were fleeing away in a car and stopped at a joint to get a little something to eat. And there, while they were in that joint eating, one of those robbers and murderers put his hand over there to his friend and said, “Stop! Stop! You’re eating meat and this is Friday and we never eat meat on Friday!” Murder, bank robbery, liturgical loyalties!
I don’t have time to follow the life of Luther. In those days, in the beginning years of Martin Luther, he flayed himself, he beat himself, he starved, he abused himself; and crawling upon his knees, the Scala Santa. Haven’t you seen that place? It’s supposed to be where Jesus went up to appear before Pilate. While Martin Luther was climbing those steps of Scala Santa, it came to his heart like the blowing of the Spirit you spoke of at this morning hour: “The just shall live by faith” [Galatians 3:11], not by liturgical loyalties; by faith! And he stood up and walked down those steps and back to Germany; and the Reformation was on.
We’re not going to enter the kingdom of God, and we’re not going to find a place in the city of the New Jerusalem, by observing all kinds of liturgical practices. You will not arrive.
“Well then, pastor, surely, surely, this road of moral motivation will take us to heaven. I am morally correct, erect, pure, and I eschew”—now you listen to what these moralists can eschew—“I eschew homosexuality.” Reading in Leviticus: “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death” [Leviticus 20:13]. As though that were not plain enough, listen to the apostle Paul:
For this reason God gave them up: even the women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature:
The men also, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in lust for one another; men with men committing what is shameful and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error—talking about AIDS and venereal disease, good God in heaven!
And even as they did not like to retain [God] in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind…
Being filled with unrighteousness and sexual immorality.
Isn’t that a sight? “I’m going to heaven because, according to the Word of God, I eschew such abominable practices.” And not only that, but over here in the Book of Psalms, “I am not an abortionist!” He says:
You form my inward parts. You covered me in my mother’s womb. You did it, God.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and marvelously, wonderfully made . . .
My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in secret, skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eye saw my substance while it was unformed, and in Your book were all my members written; the days fashioned for me when as yet there was none of them.
“And I am not an abortionist, a murderer. So Lord, these things that I see in the lives of others, I am morally pure and ethically correct. When God says, ‘Thou shall not steal’ [Exodus 20:15], I am honest in all of my practices.”
Wonderful, glorious! And when you come to stand before the great God in heaven, and you present yourself as being pure and holy and righteous, having eschewed all of these things that are abominable in the sight of the Lord, what are you going to do when the Lord says: “But there is none righteous, no, not one” [Romans 3:10]. “But all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]. How ever you may be morally correct and ethically pure, you are not sinless or stainless, and you cannot find your way into heaven because of your purity.
Let me take time to just choose one other: going into the city of God, presenting yourself there, having been scientifically sufficient. “I am a scholar. I am a scientist. And as I journey toward the city of God, I bow down at the signpost of knowledge and the discovery of truth. I don’t believe in God, and I don’t believe in religion. I am a scientist. And these who have to use religion for a crutch, I look upon them with contempt. They’re feebleminded; and I worship truth.”
Wonderful! And time comes to die, and you say on your death bed—this scientist, “Bring me my laboratory and my test-tubes and my chemical formulae. I’m facing eternity. Bring me my mathematical formulas and computations; and bring me my geometrical designs. I’m facing forever, and bring me my scientific discoveries, and especially the treatise I wrote on natural law.” As though natural law and scientific understanding of mathematics could present us faultless in the great day of the judgment of death. O God, these roads to the city that are misdirected, and wrong, and fail in despair and darkness and death!
“Well, preacher, in the few minutes that remain, tell us the way to the city of God. I want to spend an eternity in heaven. How do I get there?”
That’s why the Book—Paul wrote in Ephesians: “There is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism” [Ephesians 4:5]. There are not two ways, three, four—there is one way to the city of God, just one! And that way—and I want us to have a little Greek lesson here. It will be simple. John 14:6: “Ego eimi hē hodos kai hē alētheia kai hē zoē.” Just a simple thing: Ego, I, eimi, am, he, the, hodos, way, kai, and, he, the, alētheia, truth, kai, and, hē, the, zoē; life.” And do you notice the emphasis upon that “the”? “I am THE way, and THE truth, and THE life” [John 14:6]. And then His added word: “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” [John 14:6]. There is one way to be saved and only one. And that way is in our Lord Jesus Christ.
When I look at that Book, I am overwhelmed by the different kinds of people that were introduced in saving grace to our blessed Lord Jesus. It’s overwhelming to me. There will be a Pharisee who is a professional religionist and correct in all of his religious rituals, and his name is Nicodemus. And yet the Lord will say to him: “You must be born again” [John 3:7]. You!
“Well, how am I born again?”
John 3:14: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness [Numbers 21:8-9], even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” [John 3:14-15]. You are born again by believing in the Lord Jesus.
All right, the murderers of Christ in the second chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 2:23], as Simon Peter stands facing the men and brethren, and they ask: “What shall I do? What shall we do?” [Acts 2:37] Then he preaches to them that same gospel; it’s in faith in Jesus, it’s in repentance, it’s in turning, and it’s in loving and accepting the Lord Jesus that we’re saved [Acts 2:38-41].
Then I turn the page, and here is a proselyte from Ethiopia, an African proselyte, and he is reading the Book of Isaiah. And Philip the evangelist shows him, though he made the journey from Africa to Jerusalem to worship, yet he had to be taught the way of life. And on that confession of faith, he was baptized [Acts 8:26-39].
I turn the page, and the next chapter, chapter 9, there is the marvelous conversion of the arch-persecutor of the Christian people and the Christian faith. And how is he saved? In that same way! Ananias tells him about the Lord Jesus, whom he met on the road, and how he needs to repent and to accept the faith and to be baptized [Acts 9:1-18].
Then I turn the page, and here is a pagan, a religiously-minded pagan, by the name of Cornelius, and he is taught that same thing. You’re saved by trusting in the Lord Jesus [Acts 10:34-48]. Then I turn the page, and here is a down-right heathen; he’s a Philippian jailer, and how is he saved? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” [Acts 16:30-31].
And I turn to the page to Romans, and there it is for the whole world, in the tenth chapter of the Book of Romans, beginning at 9 through 13:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
With the heart—with inside of you—you confess your faith, and with the mouth, it is made unto salvation…
There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek, he says, for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon His name.
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
There is no exception to it. Nobody, anybody, everywhere, all alike—they’re brought to the foot of the cross!
Now I have a moment for one other thing. I want to speak about the preciousness of this thing of loving the Lord Jesus, and giving your life to the Lord Jesus, and finding the way to the city of God in Him. A car came by a country railroad station and dumped out a poor little woman, dressed in black. Glad to get rid of her, and put in her hand a pass to the poor farm where she was to remain until she died. The agent forgot to set the signals to stop the train, and the train sped by and left that poor helpless little frail woman dressed in black. In a little while he noticed her and came into the waiting room and apologized, and apologized, and apologized; mostly because, he said to her, “The next train is not until two o’clock in the morning.”
The sweet, precious little woman smiled graciously, “It’s all right. I’ll just sit here and wait.”
And he left at the end of the day, and she was there; she, and the clock on the wall. And in the wee hour of the morning, the clock saw that precious little woman, dressed in black, kneel down with her Bible, and bowing her head, through tears of forgottenness and forelornness and helplessness, cried and prayed to the Lord Jesus. And the clock said, “As she knelt and prayed through her tears I saw heaven open and behold, a beautiful city. And from the light of that glorious city,” the clock said, “I saw a beam and a stream of glory fill the room with celestial presence. And looking, I saw an angel leave the gate of the city and come down on that beam of light and stand before that poor little woman. He asked her,” the clock said, “’Do you have a pass into the city?’ And she held up her Bible, and he read: ‘Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ [Matthew 11:28]. And the angel said to the woman: ‘It is enough.’” And the clock said, “I saw the angel pick her up, lift her up in his arms, and bear her through the gates into the city.”
There’s a holy and beautiful city
Whose builder and ruler is God;
John saw it descending from Heaven,
When Patmos, in exile, he trod;
Its high, massive walls are of jasper,
The city itself is pure gold;
And when my frail tent here is folded,
Mine eyes shall its glory behold.
In that bright city, pearly white city,
I have a mansion, a robe, and a crown.
Now I am watching, waiting, and longing,
For the white city that’s soon coming down.
[“The Pearly White City,” Arthur F. Ingler, 1902]
The way to the city of God.
THE WAY TO THE CITY OF GOD
Introduction – Seeking Cities
2. Life of the
nations are expressed in the cities
3. Solomon was
looking for a city but could not find the way. Men who do not seek God (His
city) are like fools
Seeking with legalities
1. Observe the law
1. Baptized as an
2. Following church
traditions – no meat on Friday,
1. Worship human
2. Religion is a
3. As if scientific
knowledge cures the sin problem and makes us faultless before God
Way to the city of God – via the cross of Christ
1. Only one way,
Ephesians 4:5, John 14:6
2. All travel that
one road John 3:7, 14
3. Preciousness of