The Year Past and Before Us

The Year Past and Before Us

December 27th, 1992 @ 10:50 AM

Philippians 3:13-14

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
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THE YEAR PAST AND BEFORE US

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Philippians 3:13-14

12-27-92    10:50 a.m.

 

 

This is the senior pastor, bringing the message entitled The Past Year and the Present.  We begin with a paean of praise from Psalm 69:

 

I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving.

The humble shall see this, and be glad; and your heart shall live that seek God.

[Psalm 69:30, 32]

 

And in Psalm 95:

 

Let us come before the Lord with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms.

The Lord is a great God, and a King above all gods.

O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.

For He is our God; and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.

[Psalm 95:2-3, 6-7]

 

And Psalm 107:

 

Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!

And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare His works with rejoicing.

[Psalm 107:21-22]

 

Thus, we close the old year and worship the Lord as we begin the new year.   We begin with a word of gratitude:

 

Lord of the new year, all is Thine!

The rains that fall, the suns that shine,

The seed once hidden in the ground,

The skill that makes our fruits abound!

 New, every year,

 Thy gifts appear.

 New praises from our lips shall [sound]!

[adapted from, "Lord of the harvest! Thee we hail," by John Hampden Gurney (1802-1862)]

 

Thanking God for His marvelous goodnesses to us: our lives, our health, our happiness; how many times do we not thank God for the sweet, precious amenities that glorify our lives?  My hands: when I see people who don’t have hands, I have hands.  My feet: I see people who do not have feet.  My eyes: I see people who do not have eyes.  My ears: we have a church in our congregation of First Baptist, they can’t hear.  The simple amenities of life are so precious, and each one is a gift of God: the food we eat; the clothing we wear; the shelter under which we abide.

Looking at those pictures in Somalia, those starving thousands – Lord God, how grateful I am for us, and the bounties we enjoy here in America, and the wonderful privilege of being with one another; to see you, to greet you, to love you, to pray for you.  And of course, thanking God for the new souls that have been born into our families this past year and the souls that have been born into the kingdom of our Lord; but above all and beyond all, praising the Lord God who created all things. 

The Christ of the New Testament is just that much; almost infinitesimal in the story of creation – just 6 BC to 27 AD – that’s the Christ of the New Testament.  But, oh, the Christ of all experience, and of all creation, and of all eternity, the Christ of all living!  Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus the same yesterday, and today, and forever."  Our sight of Him in the New Testament is but an infinitesimal part of the vast ministries of our Lord Christ through the years and the years.  John 1:1-3:  "In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God, and the logos was God. . .all things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was mad," before all creation.  Colossians 1:15-17: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation:  For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible,

All things were created by Him and for Him: He is before all things, and by Him all things sunesteken" – from sunistemi, "to put together, to place together, to cohere," translated in the King James Version: "consist."

This great Lord God of heaven and earth, who made all that we see, who is in all that we experience – not just a little segment of 6 BC to 27 AD, but through all time and in all creation and in all human history.  John 10:16: "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring,and they shall be one fold, and one shepherd."  Jesus is not only just the Jesus of the pages of the Bible, but He is the Jesus of all time, and of all eternity, and of all creation, and of all human experience.  I have copied this from The World Treasury of Religious Thought, page 535, quote:

 

The voice of Truth, which spoke once for all on Calvary. . .was heard more or less perfectly by all the great seers, the intuitive leaders of men. . .  .There are few Christian names of God which were not known to the teachers of antiquity.  To the Egyptians He was the Saviour, to the Platonists and the Greek philosophers, He was the Good, the Beautiful, and the True, to the Stoics He was the Father and Companion.  The very words of the Fourth Gospel are anticipated by Cleanthes –

he was the follower of Zeus, in founding the Stoic school of philosophy, and he flourished in 260 BC.

Heraclitus –

 the Greek philosopher who founded philosophy itself, lived about 500 BC –

knew the energizing fire of Saint Boenaventura. . .

Countless [Christian] mystics from St. Augustine to St. John of the Cross –

who was a Carmelite in the fifteenth century –

echo again and again the language of Plotinus –

a great Neo-Platonic philosopher.

The very differentials which mark off Christianity from all other religions. . . make of it the most perfect of settings for the [spiritual] life. 

 

 The Christ of our Bible is also the Christ of all human history, and He spoke to men in their language through the ages and the ages. I want to take just one instance out of primitive Indian culture in our native America: the Sioux Indian; S-i-o-u-x, the Sioux Indian. The holy man named Black Elk, in a sacred dance with Good Thunder on one side of him, and Kicking Bear on the other side of him, and Afraid of Hawk and the son of Big Road before him – this is the vision that he describes in that holy dance:

 

There were six villages ahead of me in the beautiful land that was all clean, and clear, and green in living light.  Over these I glided, coming down on the south side of the sixth village.  As I touched the ground, twelve men were coming toward me, who said, ‘Our father, the chief, you shall see!" 

Then they led me to the center of the circle where once more I saw the holy tree all full of leaves and blooming. 

But, this was not all that I saw.  Against the tree, there was a man standing with arms held wide in front of him.  I looked hard at him, and I could not tell what people he came from.  He was not a Wasichu and he was not an Indian.  His hair was long and hanging loose, and on the left side of his head he wore an eagle feather.  His body was strong and good to see, and it was painted red.  I tried to recognize him, but, I could not make him out.  He was a very fine-looking man.  While I was staring hard at him, his body began to change and became very beautiful with all colors of light, and against him there was a glorious shining.  He spoke in song, "My life is such that all earthly things and all growing things belong to me.  Your father, the Great Spirit, has said this and you, too, must say it." 

Then he disappeared like the light in a wind.

[Black Elk Speaks: The Complete Edition, John G. Neihardt, p. 153-154]

 

Who was he?  I say it was Jesus Christ, revealing Himself to primitive man, as He has through all of the years and through all of the ages.  Oh, what a glorious Savior we have, who is the King of heaven and the Creator of earth and of all humanity! 

I cannot, of course, but speak as I think back of the years, having thanked God for Christ and for His great salvation extended to all mankind.  I cannot, of course, forget the sadnesses of the year.  I do not know of a greater sadness than the one I now experience: this is our last TV-broadcasted service.  Our church does not have, as of this moment, the money to pay for another broadcast, and this is our last one.  We have broadcast this 11:00 o’clock hour every Sunday for twenty-five years, and now come to its conclusion.  There are, of course, loss of loved ones; the funerals that we have.  There is sadness in our endless series of mistakes.  And, of course, there is the ebbing of strength in our mortal bodies.

 

O World!  O Life!  O Time!

On whose last steps we climb,

Trembling at death, where we have stood before;

When will return the glory of your prime?

No more – Oh, never more!

 

Out of the day and the night

A joy has taken flight:

Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar

Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight

No more – Oh, never more!

 [adapted from "A Lament"; Percy Bysshe Shelley]

 

There is a sadness in the passing of time and the multiplying years that is inexplicable: opportunities we have lost; words I should have spoken and didn’t; testimonies I should have made and passed by; the souls who have perished, maybe because I did not witness.  Some of you are preparing these holidays and the New Year Day for the last time.  Others will plant the Christmas tree and greet the new year; these are some of the sadnesses of our life.  But Paul avows, "We are to forget those things which are behind and to press toward those things which lie before" [Philippians 3:13-14], and of course that includes the glorious opportunities of the new year.

The Jews had an incomparable, impressive way of announcing the new year. From morn till night, from Dan to Beersheba, the trumpets were sounded announcing the new year, the coming of the month of Tishri.  And it had a glorious twofold overtone.  One:  thanking God that we were nearer home by one year and anticipating the glorious presence of God in the new year.  This is our own heart, as we sound the trumpet of gladness, that we are a year nearer home and as we sound the trumpet of anticipation for the work that is yet to come, our finest and our best.  It is not without reason that the wisest man who ever lived closed his Book of Ecclesiastes in chapter 12, with verse 1: "Remember now thy Creator."  "Remember now thy Creator" [Ecclesiastes 12:1], remembering God in the springtime of life, in the youth time of life.  There is only one out of every five thousand ever saved beyond age eighteen; and there is only one of every twenty-five thousand that is ever saved beyond age twenty-five.

Remembering God in the youth-time of life;  remembering God in the noontime of life, in the prime of manhood and womanhood; remembering God in the old age of our lives. Benjamin Franklin had his greatest ministries to help our country when he was beyond sixty.  Palmerston was prime minister of England at eighty-one.  Gladstone was prime minister at eighty-three.  Bismarck was vigorously administrating the affairs of the German Empire at seventy-four.  Crispi was premier of Italy at seventy-five.  Pope Leo directed the pontificate at ninety-three.  Adams at ninety, and Jefferson at eighty, were forces in American political affairs.  Verdi wrote operas after he was eighty.  Tischon painted when he ninety-eight.  Cervantes did not finish Don Quixote until he was seventy.  And Herbert Spencer at eighty-three, and Tolstoy at seventy-four were literary titans.  Because we have come to the age in life, that does not mean we can’t serve God and love the Lord, and be useful in His pleasure and in His assignment.  Maybe our best days are these that lie ahead in our age; walking with God in the beginning of life, in the noonday of life, in the evening of life; and walking with God into the night.

There is a despair in unbelief and irreligion that is evident in all human history and in our modern generation.  I copied from a newspaper this word from Boris Yeltsin, the president of Russia.  He said, "The people here in Russia are weary of pessimism; their share of pessimism is too large for the people to live by.  They need belief and faith in the finality of God."  Can you imagine a leader of Russia avowing a thing like that?  It is the truth.  When we walk with God into the night, the darkness becomes a heavenly light:

 

There’s a holy and beautiful city

Whose Builder and Maker is God;

John saw it descending from Heaven,

When Patmos, in exile, he trod;

It’s vast, massive walls are of jasper,

The city itself is pure gold;

And when my frail tent here is folded,

Mine eyes shall its beauty behold.

 

O that bright city, that heavenly city,

I have a mansion, a harp and a crown;

Now I am watching, and waiting, and longing,

For the [bright] city that’s soon coming down.

[adapted from "The Pearly White City"; Arthur F. Ingler]

 

How wonderful and glorious it is to walk with God into the nighttime of life!  Maybe, from His heavenly point of view, it is the springtime of life.

 

Precious Lord, take my hand.

Lead me on, help me stand,

I am weak, I am tired, I am worn;

Through the storm, through the night,

Lead me on to the light.

 

Precious Lord, take my hand,.

Lead me home.

["Precious Lord, Take My Hand"; Thomas Andrew Dorsey]

 

 It’s such a beautiful thing to come to the end of the way with rejoicing, and gladness, and thanksgiving, and heavenly anticipation; to see these whom we’ve lost for awhile; and to look upon the face of our Savior.  This is the joy incomparable of the Christian faith.

 To conclude: God bless our nation!  As a nation, may we not forget God.  In Judges 3, the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and forget the Lord their God, and serve baalim [Judges 3:7].  And when they forgot the Lord their God, He sold them into the hands of Sisera [1 Samuel 12:9]. The children of Ephraim kept not the covenant of God and refused to walk in His law [Psalms 78:9-10].  They forgot His works.  Then the Lord refused the tabernacle of Joseph and chose not the tribe of Ephraim [Psalms 78:67].  "And Israel decked herself out with earrings and jewels, and went after her lovers, and forgot Me, saith the Lord" [Hosea 2:13].

 I see that in America.  Compared to the America I knew when I was born in 1909 – and grew up as a boy in the culture of our beautiful country – and I look at America today, I do not recognize it.  There is a sinister secularism in America that is tragic beyond all description, and what lies ahead for our country God only could know.

 

God of our fathers, known of old –

Lord of our far-flung battle-line –

Beneath whose awesome hands we hold

Dominion over palm and pine –

Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget, lest we forget!

 

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose

Wild tongues that hold not Thee in awe –

Such boasting as the heathen use

Or those without the Law –

Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget, lest we forget!

[from "The Re­cess­ion­al"; Rudyard Kipling]

 

 Oh, that there might be a great turning back to God!  And, of course, praising God for our nation and past, and asking God to bless it now.  God bless our church:

 

God bless the church on the city street,

That hears the city’s cry.

The church that sows the seed of the Word

Where the masses of men go by;

 

The church that makes midst the city’s poor

A place that for an altar of prayer;

With a heart for the rich, and a heart for the poor

And rejoices in their burdens to share;

 

The church that’s true to the call of Christ

Who wept for the city’s needs;

And who sent His disciples to labor for Him

Where the forces of evil breed;

 

The church that gives, and the church that lives

As seen from the Master’s eye.

God bless our church on the city street,

That answers the city’s cry.

[Adapted From “The City Church”; Ralph Walker]

 

And that of course includes the many-faceted ministries of our congregation: God bless our academy, and God bless that marvelous college that is preparing young men and women for the preaching of the gospel and for their service in the churches, both here and as that boy Sibley abroad.  So we’re asking God to remember us as we enter the new year.  Moses, in Exodus 33:14, pled before God "And God answered Moses, saying, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give you rest."

 

Another year I enter; its providences unknown

O how my feet would tremble and tread its path alone

But, I’ve heard a whisper; I know I shall be blessed,

God says, "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest."

 

What will the New Year bring me? I may not – cannot know

Will it be love and rapture?  Or loneliness and woe?

Hush, hush – I hear Him whisper, I surely shall be blessed,

"My presence will go with thee, and I will give thee rest."

[Author and work unknown]

 

This is God’s promise to us, as a people and as a church.  I close:

 

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

"Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!"

And he replied:

"Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.

That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a way that is known."

 

So, I went forth, and finding the hand of God, Trod gladly into the night

And He led me toward the hills And the breaking of the day in the heavenly East.

[adapted from "The Gate of the Year"; Minnie Louise Haskins] 

 

They make us remember the word of the psalmist:

God is my refuge and strength, a present help in trouble. 

Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed,

and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.

 [Psalm 46:1-2]

 

Trusting God for the new year and for the providences that inevitably it holds for us.