God’s Challenge To Us
October 3rd, 1993 @ 7:30 PM
GOD’S CHALLENGE TO US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-3-93 7:30 p.m.
I am W. A. Criswell, and I now speak on the occasion of the forty-ninth year of our ministry here in this precious church, and the title of the message is God’s Call To Us. Dr. Gephardt read the background text, and it concluded with these words:
O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision;
But declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem,
then throughout all of the region of Judea, and then to the nations,
that they should repent and turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.
God’s call to us in remembrance of our beloved nation of America.
Sir Walter Scott wrote in the “Lay of the Last Minstrel,”
Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned,
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell.
With what pride do we look upon our native America, wide as the continent is wide, from ocean to ocean, a land of charm and beauty. And there is a reason why the greatness of America.
Some time ago, a few days ago, I stood on Hampton Roads in Northern Virginia and called to mind a tremendous declaration and declamation by Henry W. Grady, the editor of the Atlanta Constitution, in this last century. He was speaking of the secret of the greatness of America. He said, “I stood on Hampton Roads and saw the military and naval might of America pass by, and when I looked upon it, I said in my heart, ‘Truly this is the strength and the secret of the greatness of America.’”
Then the orator said, “I later stood in the halls of Congress and listened to the debates of the democracy of our legislative process, and as I listened to the senators and to the representatives, I said, “‘No, the secret of the greatness of America lies in its democratic processes.’” Then he said, “Later, I was the guest in the home of a Georgia farmer, and at the end of the day, he gathered his family together, opened God’s Word and read to them of the infallible, inerrant revelation of our Father in heaven, then knelt with his family in prayer.”
And the great orator said, “As I looked upon that kneeling father and the family gathered round in prayer and intercession, the military might and the naval strength of America faded away, the democratic processes of our Congress I forgot, and I could but look upon the kneeling figure of that Georgia farmer. And I said in my heart, `The might of America is not in its military might, and it is not in its democratic processes, but the might and greatness of America lies in the devotion of its families, its people, its fathers and mothers and children.’“
The dream of a Christian America has faded away. I think of that little boy who was walking down the street with his mother. And there in the gutter was an oil spill, and, as you know, looking at it, the colors of the rainbow shine from the surface. And the little boy, looking at those colors, said, “Mother, Mother, look, a rainbow has gone to smash.” That is the picture of modern America.
I was born in 1909, and I do not recognize our modern nation. I was grown before I ever saw anyone divorced. I was grown before I ever saw a front door or a back door in a home locked. I was grown before I ever saw a liquor store. I grew up in the days of prohibition. I was grown before I ever heard of a drug. I was grown before I ever listened to a liberal sermon. And I was grown before I was ever introduced to secular humanism.
What a difference in our nation today. We have drugs that tear our bodies apart. We have promiscuity that tears our homes apart. We have crime that tears our cities apart. We have liberalism that tears our churches apart. And we have secular humanism that tears our schools apart. We are worshiping at the shrine of strange and foreign gods. We bow at the altars of materialism, and hedonism, and secularism. That is so seen in things that are said.
For example, a rich man in West Texas, on whose ranch they discovered an oil field, when he died, they carried out his wish and buried him in a gold-plated Cadillac. The crowds gathered around as the crane picked up that automobile with that dead rancher on the inside, and, as they lowered the thing into the prepared, evacuated, excavated hole, one of the men looking upon it said, “Man, ain’t that living!”
And a Dallas dowager appeared before St. Peter in heaven, and he asked her the credentials for her entrance into the Holy City, and she presented them. She presented a Neiman-Marcus charge plate. She presented a stub from a Dallas opera. She presented a season pass to the Dallas Cowboys. She presented title to her Cadillac Seville. And St. Peter looked through each one very carefully and said to the Dallas dowager, “Well, come on in, but I’m a-telling you now, you ain’t going to like it here.”
It is another day. It is another generation. It is another nation. We have forgotten our prayerful intercession that our America might be Christian, and the judgment of God inevitably follows after.
Right after the Second World War, I went through Germany, those vast cities in utter ruin and devastation, and while there I listened to Goetterdaemmerung. The author—by Richard Wagner—he had a trilogy: Die Walkuere, Dag Siegfried, and Goetterdaemmerung, and they present the demise of the gods. And in the midst of that incredible devastation and endless ruin in that city, sitting there, listening to Goetterdaemmerung—Wotan, the god, has a broken spear, Dag Siegfried has been slain, Bruennhilde has cast herself upon the burning funeral pyre, and Valhalla, the home of the gods, is on fire. This is a picture that inevitably lies ahead for America, not just for Nazi Germany.
Far-called, our navies melt away
On dune and headland sinks the fire
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre.
Judge of the nations, spare 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 boastings that the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the law.
Lord God of hosts, be with us yet.
Lest we forget, lest we forget.
[from “Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling]
God’s call to America, our native and beloved land
God’s call and God’s challenge to our pastor—there is no such thing as a great church without a great pastor. In 1 Corinthians 1:21, it is still written by the hand of God: “It pleased the Lord that by preaching, He saved those who believe.” And in this Book I hold in my hand, three words are used interchangeably to describe that man of God. He is called an episkopos. He is called a presbuteros. He’s called a poimēn. Episkopos, translated “bishop,” referring to the dignity of his office; Presbuteros, translated “elder,” referring to the rulership of his administration; and poimēn, translated “shepherd” or “pastor,” referring to his compassionate heart in remembrance of us.
And the power of God is dynamically incarnate in this chosen pastor of our wonderful church. And what a glory it is that he is a man of God who is vocal and dedicated and unafraid, standing in the pulpit to proclaim the inerrant and infallible and inspired revelation of the Lord from heaven [2 Timothy 3:16]. Great God, how we thank You for our wonderful, glorious pastor! The tragedy of so much of our pulpit ministries lies in the kind of pastors that are in those pulpits. They can be described as a mild-mannered man, speaking to a mild-mannered congregation, on how to be more mild-mannered.
This is a man of God who’s unafraid and proclaims the revelation of the holy and heavenly Father, who reigns in heaven and who bids us be His faithful and obedient children. It is a glorious thing to have a marvelous pastor. I so well remember, as I mentioned, after that Second World War, being in England and going to Spurgeon’s Tabernacle. It had been bombed, and all that remained was just the façade, just the front columns. They had dug out the debris and over the basement put a temporary shed—looked like a shed to me—and Mrs. C and I attended services that Sunday night. We sat on the second row, and right back of us sat two old men. One of them was old, old, an ancient man, and the other was an old man.
And the old man said to the ancient man—he said to him, “Did you ever hear Spurgeon preach?”
And the ancient man said, “Huh, what did you say?”
And he repeated, “I said, `Did you ever hear Spurgeon preach?’“
And the ancient man replied, “Oh, yes, many times. He was my pastor.”
And the old man said to the ancient man, “Well, how was it? How did he preach?”
And the ancient man said, “Huh, what did you say?”
And he replied, “I said, `How was it? How did Spurgeon preach?’“
And the ancient man said, “Well, it’s hard for me to reply.” He says, “I love my pastors and I pray for them and support them, but it seems to me that they just talk when they stand in the pulpit to preach. But,” he says, “when Spurgeon stood up to preach, man, there was fire in it!” Great guns, how we need that in the pulpit of the people of God! Fire in the pulpit; proclaiming the Word of the Lord fearlessly, gloriously, just like you can do it.
As you know, I’ve been running around all over creation preaching on these Sundays and in the days of the week. And it is amazing to me as I look at these preachers. Some of them are so sissy. Some of them are so feminine that, when they are up there, I feel like I would like to crawl up behind him and holler “Boo!” and just scare them to death. Let me tell you. Did you know one of those preachers was so sissy, a visitor came down the aisle, shook his hand, and asked what was his maiden name?
And some of them are indecisive. They are wishy-washy. You don’t know what side of any fence that they are on. They remind me of a preacher who swallowed an egg. He was afraid to bend, afraid it would break. He was afraid to sit still, afraid it would hatch.
And some of them are pseudo-intellectual. One of the craziest stories I ever heard in my life happened in Georgia. The Southern Baptist Convention was meeting in Georgia, and it was in the day when as you registered in a hotel, you had a register there. So this preacher, messenger to the convention, came to the hotel, and they stuck that register in front of him.
And he got on his glasses and pulled them down on his nose and he looked at it:
Such-and-such big shot, Ph.D.
Such-and-such big shot, Ph.D.
Such-and-such big shot, D. D.
He wet the end of his pencil and wrote his name and put it after it “R. F. D. Number one.”
O dear Lord in heaven, how we need that preacher to declare fearlessly and unabashedly the entire Word of the living God. And he is God’s man to open that Book and to break for us the eternal bread of life.
I had a dear friend who went to Chicago University to get his doctor’s degree in pedagogy. He was a teacher, and he said to me he’d made an acquaintance up there in the divinity school, and the young fellow had completed his work in the divinity school and he was called to a Presbyterian church in the Middle West. But said the young preacher to my friend, the pedagogue, said to him, “I don’t know what to do. It is one of those old-time, old-fashioned churches that believes the Bible, and I don’t believe the Bible, and I don’t know what to do.”
And my friend said to him, “I can tell you exactly what you ought to do.”
And the fellow replied, “What?”
And my friend said to him, “If you don’t believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, I say you ought to quit the ministry.” And I say the same thing. I say the same thing. If you don’t believe the Bible is the inerrant, and infallible, and inspired Word of the Lord, I say you ought to dig ditches, or sell soap, or join one of those clubs that knock at your door and sell pretty products to make you look well. Nothing in the world like having a preacher that believes the inspired Word of the living God, and declares it fearlessly and amazingly and marvelously to his people [2 Timothy 3:16].
A call from God, for our nation and for our pastor and for the lost; the only reason for a church lies in its mission of evangelism and soul saving. A church lives by evangelism, by soulwinning, as a fire exists by burning. And there is not anything in God’s Word so explicitly presented as the doctrine of eternal judgment and damnation. Why did Christ come? Why did He die? [Hebrews 10:4-14]. Why did He ascend to heaven to intercede? [Acts 1:9-10, Hebrews 7:25]. In order that we might be saved.
I read where there was a famous theologian who avowed, “If the doctrine of damnation”—that is, lostness, and judgment, and hellfire—”if the doctrine of damnation were written on all the leaves of all of the pages of all of the Bibles of all the world, I would not believe it.”
Wonderful, glorious; nobody rejoices in the damnation of a soul in eternal hellfire. Nobody praises God for the judgment that separates from heaven. Nobody rejoices in the cries of those who are damned and lost. But the problem is, whether you’re speaking theologically, or philosophically, or socially, or politically, there is no truth in human history more regnant than this: that men and nations and people are lost without God [Psalm 37:38].
O God in heaven, how it is written in the Book, “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” [Acts 4:12; John 14:6]. That old-time doctrine of total depravity, it is not a doctrine that we are vile as we can be. The doctrine of total depravity is that sin has entered into every area of human life, and we face the judgment of God. We face death in the physical body, we face death in our spiritual body [Ezekiel 18:4, Romans 6:23], we face the second death in the ultimate judgment before Almighty God [Revelation 20:11-15], and we face eternal death when we’re separated from the Lord [Luke 17:34-36].
O God, how we need to present the saving message of Christ to a lost world!
When the choir has sung its last anthem,
And the preacher has prayed his last prayer,
When the people have heard their last sermon,
And the sound has died out on the air,
When the Bible lies closed on the altar,
And the pews are all emptied of men,
And the great Book is opened
And we stand before Him—what then?
When the actor has played his last drama,
And the mimic has made his last fun,
When the film has flashed its last picture,
And the billboard displayed its last run,
When the crowds seeking pleasure have vanished,
And gone out in the darkness again,
And the trumpet of ages is sounded,
And we stand before Him—what then?
When the bugle’s call sinks into silence,
And the long marching columns stand still,
When the captain repeats his last orders,
And they’ve captured the last foreign hill,
When the flag is hauled down from the masthead,
And the wounded of the field checked in,
And a world that rejected its Savior
Is asked for a reason—what then?
[“What Then?”; J. Whitfield Green]
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” [Jeremiah 8:20]. Nothing in this earth is more meaningful, now and in the hour of death and in the eternity that is yet to come; nothing is more meaningful than that Jesus is my Savior [John 3:16].
The Lord is my friend. He died for me that I might be saved [1 Corinthians 15:3], and He opens the doors of heaven, waiting for me to come in [John 14:1-3].
That’s our message, and that’s our appeal to you tonight. Down one of these stairways from the balcony, down one of these aisles, in the press of people on this lower floor: “Pastor, tonight I’m giving my heart in love, in acceptance of the grace and saviorhood of the Lord Jesus Christ” [Romans 10:9-13]. “I am coming into the fellowship of the church.” “I am answering a call of the Holy Spirit in my heart, and I’m on the way.” Pastor, would you come and stand down here in the center? Our precious men in our staff, would you all come and stand on either side? And Fred, I want you to sing a song of appeal and a song of invitation. And while we sing that song, in your heart make that decision now, and come and tell these godly men, “I have opened my heart to the Lord Jesus, and I am following Him into the kingdom of God.” Do it now, make it now, and a thousand angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing and while you come.
CHALLENGE TO US
I. For the nation
A. Sir Walter Scott’s “Lay
of the Last Minstrel”
B. With what pride do
we look upon America
C. What made her great?
1. Declamation of
Henry W. Grady
D. The heavenly vision
of a Christian America has faded away
1. “Rainbow gone
2. Such a
difference from when I was growing up
a. We bow at the altars
of materialism, hedonism and secularism
3. Judgment inevitably
lies ahead for America
a. Wagner’s opera, “Goetterdaemmerung”
II. For the pastor and his church
such thing as a great church without a great pastor(1
Three words used to describe the man of God in the Bible
Glorious the man of God who is bold, dedicated and unafraid
of the modern pulpit
Ancient man at Spurgeon’s Tabernacle
Soft, effeminate preachers; indecisive
Chicago University friend
III. For the lost world
A. Church exists for
evangelism and soul-winning
B. The nations and
people are lost without God(Acts 4:12)
1. Doctrine of
2. We face death
and judgment(Jeremiah 8:20)