OLD TIME RELIGION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Well, I am going to take a leaf out of my life and expound upon it. In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, Paul writes, saying that for three years he was in Ephesus, and that he, those three years [Acts 20:31], went from house to house, with tears, testifying to the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ, and was calling the people to repentance, and faith in our wonderful Lord [Acts 20:19-21].
So one of our deacons called me on the telephone and said, “Next door to us has moved a family, and I thought if you would come and visit them they would respond by joining our dear church.” So I knocked at the door, was graciously entreated, and met a father and a mother and a seventeen-year-old daughter, a fifteen-year-old son, and a twelve-year-old boy. Read the Bible with them, knelt down and prayed, and they said to me, “We’ll be there at church next Sunday.” When Sunday came, they were not there.
So after about three weeks I went back, knocked at the door, again was graciously entreated. Read the Bible with them, talked to them about Jesus, and they responded, “We’ll be there next Sunday.” When Sunday came, they were not there. And the following Tuesday night, about two o’clock in the morning the telephone rang at the parsonage. A sweet, beautiful nurse in our Baptist hospital there said, “Pastor, I apologize for calling you at such an unearthly hour, but there is a man here whose boy has been tragically hurt in an awful automobile accident, and he’s dying. And I asked him, ‘Do you know anyone in the city?’ and he says he knows you. I thought maybe you would come and stand by his side as his boys dies.” So I dressed hastily, went to our Baptist hospital, up to such floor and room, walked in, and there stood that father, and on the bed before him that fifteen-year-old boy; driving back into the city at furious race, and crushed from head to foot.
In just a moment almost, the nurse took the white sheet and put it over the face of the lad, looked up and said to the Father, “Your boy is gone”; and left me standing there by his side. He reached down and pulled the sheet away from the face of the boy, and looked long and hard into that silent countenance. Then falling on his knees and lifting his hands to God, he said, “O God! I haven’t lived right before my boy. I haven’t done right by him. What shall I do? O God! And what shall I say?”
When the lad was buried, the following Sunday morning down the aisle came that family, the father, the mother, the seventeen-year-old girl, the twelve-year-old boy, confessing their faith in the Lord, and asking to be baptized into the church. As I stood at the back of the sanctuary and shook hands with the people as they left, every one of them, every one of them said to me, “Wasn’t that a glorious sight, that entire family coming to the Lord and joining our church by baptism?” I said, “Oh yes, oh yes. That was a beautiful sight. Oh yes.”
Do you know what I actually thought? When I saw them seated down there on the front row, I said in my heart, “That is the saddest sight I ever looked at in my life!” You see, I did not tell the people that there was another boy that belongs to the family, and that he lies in a Christ-less grave. And someday at the great assize and the judgment of Almighty God, that family will be there, and the Lord will open the book and call the name of that father, and he will answer, “Here”; call the name of that mother, and she will answer, “Here”; call the name of that seventeen-year-old daughter, she will answer, “Here”; call the name of that twelve-year-old boy, he will answer, “Here.” Then the Lord will look into the face of that father and say, “And is that all?” And he will reply, “Your Honor, there is another boy, fifteen years old.” And God will say, “And where is he?” And the father will reply, “He lies in a Christ-less grave in Texas.”
“The harvest past, the summer ended, and we are not saved” [Jeremiah 8:20].
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 is died out on the air;
When the Bible lies closed on the altar,
And the pews are all emptied of men;
And each one stands facing his record,
And the great Book is opened—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 fort and hill;
When the flag is hauled down from the masthead,
And the wounded afield checked in;
And a world that rejected its Savior
Is asked for a reason—what then?
[“What Then,” J. Whitfield Green]
Our great assignment and call from God is to knock at that door, kneel down with the family, read to them how “the Lord came into this world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” [1 Timothy 1:15], and inviting them, importuning them, impleading them to come to the Lord and go to heaven when you die, when you die.
Now may I take just one other leaf out of my life? I turn to 2 Timothy, chapter 3, and Paul writes, “All Scripture is theopneustos, theopneustos, God-breathed”; all of it [2 Timothy 3:16]. Then he starts the fourth chapter, “I beseech you therefore”—by the mercies of God—“that you preach,” that word kerussōn, kerussōn [2 Timothy 4:1-2]. The inspired writer used that to describe the preaching of John the Baptist: “In those days came John the Baptist, kerrusōn” [Matthew 3:1]. Man, you could hear him clear to Jerusalem proclaiming the advent of our Lord. So the Bible I hold in my hand is theopneustos, God-breathed [2 Timothy 3:16].
Well, two mischievous boys got a hold of the pastor’s Bible and glued some of the pages of it together. And the preacher stood up the next morning and opened his Book, and announced his text. “And in those days came Noah, and he was married to a wife,” and he turned what he thought was one page, “and she was fifteen cubits broad, twenty-five long, made out of gopher wood and daubed on the inside and out with pitch.” He scratched his head and said, “Brothers and sisters, that’s the first time I ever saw it in the Word of God. But if the Word of God says it, I believe it!” Amen. It just goes to prove that other verses which says, “We are wonderfully and fearfully made” [Psalm 139:14].
So our kids go to school. They’re graduated from high school, and they go to these universities and colleges, and they come back, and they say to me, “That Bible you preach out of, I hold it in contempt. It says that God made us, God created us [Genesis 1:27]. I have learned that I have evolved from a green scum. I once was an insect.”
“Wonderful. Wonderful. Who taught you that?”
“Oh,” he replies, “my professor heads the department of biology, and he is a Ph.D.”
“Wonderful.” And the other one says, “You know, I was taught that in my class in genetics. And he is a Ph.D.”
“Wonderful.” And another one says to me, “And I learned that in my class in social science. And he is a Ph.D. in social science.”
“How wonderful. I now know I am evolved from a green scum or from an insect because I have as my authority this professor of genetics, biology, and he is a Ph.D. Wonderful.”
Once I was a tadpole, beginning to begin.
Then I was a frog, with my tail tucked in.
Then I was a monkey in a banyan tree.
Now I’m a professor with a Ph.D.
Oh dear! Oh dear! You…oh my!
Well, anyway, a few days ago I read an article in one of our national magazines, and the gifted author was describing what is happening to the Christian faith in the Western world. He says the Christian faith is dying in the Western world. And one of his illustrations was that more, and more, and more, all of the clergy and all of the executive leaders in our Christian denominations are discarding the Bible. They are using it, and referring to it, less and less and less.
Well, I look at Canada: we’ve lost all of our great Baptist institutions in Canada, every one of them, like McMaster in Hamilton, Ontario. I look at our Baptists in the North. We have lost all of our great institutions in the North, like Brown University in Rhode Island, like Chicago University in Illinois. We’ve lost all of them. And to my amazement—because I grew up in a different world—to my amazement we are losing all of our great universities and colleges in the South. Our senior university in Virginia, Richmond University, has disassociated itself from our Baptist people. Our great senior university in North Carolina, Wake Forest, has disassociated itself from our Baptist people. Our great university in South Carolina, Furman, has disassociated itself from our Baptist people. Our great university in Florida, Stetson, has disassociated itself from our Baptist people. Our great university in Alabama, where I was preaching at the Beeson School of Divinity a day or two ago, has disassociated itself from our Baptist denomination. And I have a Bachelor’s Degree from Baylor, and I was awarded an honorary Doctor’s Degree, a D.D. degree, from Baylor. And Baylor has disassociated itself from our Baptist denomination.
So recently I was preaching in one of the great cities of our South. And when I was done, I was standing on the left side of the lectern. And standing there at the benediction there came down the aisle eleven young people, and they surrounded me in a semicircle, eleven of them. And as I gossiped with them and talked with them, I found that all eleven of them were in that great university, Baptist. So as I talked with them, I said, “Do you kids take Bible in the university?”
“Oh yes.” All of them said, all eleven of them, “Yes, we’re in Bible classes in the college.”
Well I said, “What do they teach you there?”
And all eleven of them said, “They teach us that the Bible is full of mistakes and errors and contradictions.”
Well I said, “What do they teach you about the historical passages of the Bible?”
“They teach us that the historical passages in the Bible are nothing other than Aesop’s fables and myths and legends, like Jonah and the whale, like Jesus resurrected from the dead, and the dead don’t rise.”
Well I said, “What do they teach you about the Bible as such?”
And they said, “They teach us that the Bible is a human book, and has all the foibles and exaggerations and mistakes of any other human effort.”
So I stand in the pulpit, and in my pulpit before the dear congregation, and I have that Book in my hand. And when I open it, there I have a volume of mistakes, contradictions, fables, myths, legends, and all the other weaknesses of humankind. So I throw it away, and I take my place in the pulpit and I preach now as a liberal. Man alive, I’m standing in the pulpit now preaching on social amelioration, political confrontation, all the things that are headlined in the newspapers, the events of yesterday and all the things that belong to do-gooders.
Fine. Excellent. Just like most of the preachers in the modern pulpit. And I do pretty good until I stand in the front of a grieving family who have lost a precious loved one. And I don’t have a word from God that is inerrant and inspired and infallible and authoritative! I just have to preach a guess, a philosophical approach to the fact of death. And there is that family seated in front of me.
When I was the senior pastor at our dear church in Dallas, sometimes I’d have five funerals in one week. And there they are, my people, grieving, brokenhearted, burying somebody they love better than life itself.
When Sir Walter Scott lay dying, he turned to his son-in-law, and said, “Son, bring me the Book.” And the son-in-law replied, “Father, there are thousands of books in your library. What book?” And the great poet replied, “Son, there is just one Book. Bring me the Book.” He picked up the Bible and brought it to Sir Walter Scott, his father-in-law, and the great poet died with that Book in his hand.
“There’s just one Book,” cried the dying sage,
“Read me the old, old story.”
And the winged word that can never age,
Wafted his soul to glory.
There’s just one Book.
So, I said to my dear wife, “When I die,” and I’ll be in my eighty-sixth year in just a matter of days, “When I die I want you to take my Book, I want you to put it over my heart. And when those people come by and look on my still, silent face, I want them to see the Word of God.” Amen.
Thou truest friend a man ever knew,
Thy constancy I’ve tried
When all were false, I found thee true
My counselor and guide.
The mines of earth no treasures give,
That could this volume buy;
In teaching me the way to live,
It taught me how to die.
[“My Mother’s Bible”; George P. Morris]