Lecture – Whether We Live or Die – The Criswell College
November 3rd, 1997
WHETHER WE LIVE OR DIE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
The most meaningful of all of the studies I have ever made is the one that I present to you this morning. It is entitled Whether We Live or Die. It concerns our acceptance or rejection of the Bible as the holy and inspired Word of God [2 Timothy 3:16]; Whether We Live or Die.
A passage from Revelation 2:1-5:
Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks…
I have this against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and metanoeō, change, turn, repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy lampstand out of his place, except thou metanoeō, except ye change, turn, repent.
I look at the great institutions that we have lost as a Baptist people. We have lost all of our Baptist universities and colleges in Canada, such as McMaster’s in Hamilton, Ontario. We have lost all our universities and colleges in the North, such as Brown, Chicago, Colgate, Rochester, Crozer. We’re losing all our universities and colleges in the South, such as Richmond University, Furman University, Stetson University, Samford University, Meredith College, and Baylor University; and with them, the life of the churches and the denomination. So first we’re going to speak of the pattern of death for a denomination.
In the middle of the last century, a great storm arose in the Baptist denomination in Great Britain. Opposition to evangelical truth sprang from two sources: one, the publication in  of Darwin’s Origin of Species, which made the Genesis account of creation a myth; and second, the vast inroads of German higher criticism and rationalism that explained away the miracles of the Bible, and reduced the inspired Word to merely a human book. This frontal attack on the Scriptures brought forth open and militant opposition from the mighty preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He urged the Baptist Union of England to speak out against the heresy. They refused, saying, “Baptists believe in the priesthood of every believer,” and further avowed that Baptists could believe their own way, so long as they baptized by immersion.
It was then that Spurgeon published what he called “The Downgrade in the Churches.” He wrote, “Instead of submission to God’s Word, higher criticism urges accommodation to human wisdom; it sets human thought above God’s revelation, and constitutes man the supreme judge of what ought to be true.” Spurgeon wrote, “Believers in Holy Scripture are in confederacy with those who deny plenary inspiration. Those who hold evangelical doctrine are in open alliance with those who call the Genesis Fall a myth.” He wrote:
A chasm is opening between the men who believe their Bible and those who are prepared for an advance upon the Scriptures. The house is being robbed; its very walls are being beat down. But the good people who are in bed are too fond of the warmth to go downstairs to meet the burglars. Inspiration and speculation cannot long abide side by side. We cannot hold the inspiration of the Word and yet reject it. We cannot hold the doctrine of the Fall and yet talk of evolution of spiritual life and human nature. One or the other must go. Compromise there can be none.
Dr. John Clifford, London pastor and president of the British Baptist Union, and later the first president of the Baptist World Alliance, declared in 1888, “It pains me unspeakably to see this eminent preacher Spurgeon rousing the energies of thousands of Christians to engage in personal wrangling and strife instead of inspiring them to an effort to carry the gospel to our fellow countrymen.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Dr. John Clifford had embraced the higher critical new theology. He believed that evangelicalism and higher criticism could be combined. Dr. Clifford presided over the council of the Baptist Union that met in session January 18, 1888. They voted to recommend to the plenary session of the union a vote to censure Spurgeon. Dr. John Clifford did his work well: the Baptist Union met in assembly April 23, 1888, in the Temple of London, Dr. Joseph Parker’s Congregational church, himself a critic of Spurgeon; and at that time the recommendation of the council for censure was placed before the full body. The official vote, the official vote was two thousand for the motion to censure, and seven against it.
A godly man, Henry Oakley, who was present in the Baptist Union assembly that day, wrote these words in later memory concerning that tragic meeting, quote:
I was present at the City Temple when the motion to censure Spurgeon was moved, seconded, and carried. The City Temple was as full as it could be. I was there early, but found only a standing place in the aisle at the back of the gallery. I listened to the speeches. The only one of which I have a distinct remembrance was that of Mr. Charles Williams. He quoted Tennyson in favor of a liberal theology. The moment of voting came. Only those members of the assembly were qualified to vote. When the vote of censure against Spurgeon was put, a forest of hands went up. “Against,” called the chairman, Dr. John Clifford. I did not see any hands; but history records there were seven. Before any announcement of the censure number was made by Dr. John Clifford, the vast assembly broke into tumultuous cheering, and cheering, and cheering. From some of the older men, their pent up hostility found vent. It was a strange scene. I fought it was tears. I stood near a man I knew well. He went wild with delight at the censure. I say, it was a strange scene that that vast assembly should so outrageously be delighted at the condemnation of the greatest and noblest leader of our faith.
An English writer said of that downgrade controversy against Spurgeon, that it entailed one of the most bitter persecutions any minister of the gospel has ever endured in this country. Spurgeon’s wife, Susannah, said that the controversy cost him his life; he died at the age of 57. Spurgeon himself said to a friend, in May , “Goodbye, you will never see me again. This tragic fight is killing me.” But Spurgeon also said, “The distant future will vindicate me.” All that Spurgeon saw and said and much more came to pass. The Baptist witness in Great Britain began to die. The Baptist Union, in their minutes, recognized the presence of higher criticism in their midst, but they said it would do no harm. Spurgeon answered that the future would witness a lifeless and fruitless church. As he foretold, with the accommodation of the higher critical approach to the Scriptures, attendance in the churches fell off, prayer meetings ceased, miracles to conversion were less and less, the number of baptisms, the number of baptisms began to decline. And for many years, they are beginning to decline with us here in America. The churches began to die out. The numerical graph of British Baptists since the days of Spurgeon, their mighty champion, is down and ever down; and for a century has been going down.
I was in India some years ago, when English Baptists were closing down their mission stations on the Ganges River, mission stations founded by William Carey. Some say the position taken by Spurgeon hurt the mission movement. My brother, if the higher critical approach to the Scriptures dominates our institutions and our denomination, there will be no missionaries to hurt; they will cease to exist.
A comment on the sad condition of Baptist churches in England is found in the latest biography of Spurgeon, written by Dr. Arnold Dallimore entitled C. H. Spurgeon, The New Biography, published by Moody Press in 1984. The comment concerning English Baptists is this, “Where there is no acceptance of the Bible as inerrant, there is no true Christianity. The preaching is powerless, and what Spurgeon declared to his generation a hundred years ago is the outcome.” The author follows the statement with this paragraph:
The failure of the new theology, or higher criticism, call it what we will, is forcefully brought out by E. J. Poole-Conner in his Evangelicalism in England. He tells of a conversation between the editor of an agnostic magazine and a liberal, neo-orthodox minister. The editor told the minister that, despite their different vocations, they had much in common. He said, “I don’t believe the Bible, but neither do you. I don’t believe the story about creation, but you don’t either. I don’t believe any of these things, but neither do you. I am as much of a Christian as you, and you are as much of an infidel as I.” As with the Baptists of Great Britain, whether we continue to live or ultimately die lies in our dedication to the infallible Word of God.
That’s the Lord’s truth: whether the denomination lives or dies depends upon its attitude to the infallible Word of God.
All right, my second discussion: the pattern of death for an institution. An institution can be like a great tree which in times past withstood the rain, and the wind, and the storm, and the lightning, but finally fell because the heart has rotted out. Insects and termites destroyed the great monarch of the woods. This is the unspeakably tragic thing that happens to many of our Christian institutions and eventually threatens them all. They are delivered to secularism and infidelity, not because of a frontal, bitter frontal attack from without, but because of the slow, gradual permeation of the rotted curse of unbelief from within.
A tragic and traumatic example of that decay is the great University of Chicago. The faithful, devout Baptist people of the North said—about to build—in their words and I quote, “a great Christian university to counteract the materialism of the Middle West.” God greatly and immeasurably blessed their efforts. In May 1889, the electric news was announced to the Baptists gathered at a national meeting in Boston, that Rockefeller had offered six hundred thousand dollars for the building of the Christian school, if the Baptist churches would give four hundred thousand dollars. In today’s money that’d be about ten million dollars. When the announcement was made, the entire assembly arose with doxology on its lips, and Dr. Henson, the president of the association, exclaimed, “I scarcely dare trust myself to speak. I feel like Simeon when he said, ‘Now Lord, lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace…For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation’” [Luke 2:29-30].
Appeals were sent to twelve hundred Baptist pastors in the Middle West. The second Sunday in April, 1890, was made University Day; the humble, faithful, loyal, Baptist people in all the churches gave prayerfully and sacrificially. Their splendid school for preachers, the Baptist Theology Seminary at Morgan Park in Chicago, was, under the terms of the Rockefeller gift, to be the center of the university and to become the divinity school. The university was to be built around the seminary; and all of it was to be dedicated to the evangelization of the heartland of America. It was done gloriously and victoriously. The university was built; the divinity school was opened, and they prepared preachers to win the Middle West for Christ.
If you’ve ever been to Chicago University, you will see right there in the middle of it the school of theology, the divinity school, and all of the university units are built around it.
Then the infiltration began—the curse, the rot, the virus—the corruption of the liberal, higher critical approach to the gospel began to work. What are the ultimate results of this almost universal higher critical teaching? Here are some of the professors who have taught the preachers during the course of the years in the Chicago Divinity School. Professor G. B. Smith, professor of systematic theology, wrote, “The spirit of democracy protests against such ideas as that God has a right to insist on a rigid plan of salvation.” Professor [Theodore G.] Soares, who said, “Redemption is an absolute fancy. Revelation is self-deception. We refuse the idea that the principle business of the church is to get people converted or committed to the Christian life.” Professor G. B. Foster, Baptist teacher at the seminary and pastor of a Unitarian church, wrote:
An intelligent man who now affirms his faith in miracles, could hardly know what intellectual honesty means. The hypothesis of God has become superfluous in every science, even that of religion itself. Jesus did not transcend the limits of the strictly, purely human.
We cannot but find ourselves in sympathy with a comment of a great Chicago newspaper, quote:
We are struck with the hypocrisy and treachery of these attacks on Christianity. This is a free country and a free age, and men can say what they choose about religion. But this is not what we trained these professors to teach. Is there no place in which to assail the Bible but a divinity school? Is there no one to write infidel books except the professors of Christian theology? Is a theological seminary an appropriate place for a general massacre of Christian doctrine? We are not championing either Christianity or infidelity, but only condemning infidels masquerading as men of God and Christian teachers.
A friend of mine, a teacher, went to the University of Chicago to gain a Ph.D. in pedagogy, in teaching. While there he made the friendship of a student in the divinity school. Upon the young theologian’s graduation, the budding preacher said to my teacher friend, “I’m in a great quandary. I’ve been called to a pastorate of a Presbyterian church in the Midwest, but it is one of those old fashioned Presbyterian churches that believes the Bible. I don’t believe the Bible, and I don’t know what to do.” My teacher friend replied, “I can tell you exactly what you ought to do.” Eagerly the young preacher asked, “What?” And my teacher friend replied, “I think if you don’t believe in the Bible, you ought to quit the ministry.”
The University of Chicago is just one of the many Christian institutions of America that have been lost to higher critical infiltration. Consider the statement of belief by Dr. Morton Scott Enslin, at one time professor and head of the department of New Testament, in the once famous Baptist Crozer Theological Seminary; I quote him:
I believe that the whole view of Bible history with its theory of a chosen people, special revelation, special prophecy, is utterly unconvincing and basically vicious. I believe that beneath this whole substructure of the divine plan of salvation, with its precise way in which God designs to save men, is but one solid foundation: namely, man’s great effort to save himself.
John Wesley at one time wrote, “I am not afraid that the people claimed [Methodist] should ever cease to exist in Europe or America, but I am afraid lest they should exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power.” This fear that troubled the heart of John Wesley, no less troubles the hearts of believing Christians everywhere who take time to see what higher criticism can do to their institutions. If liberal or neo-orthodoxy were separate movement in itself—built its own churches, launched its own institutions, projected its own denomination—then we’d look at it as just another of the many sects that appear on the surface of history; but liberalism, neo-orthodoxy in itself, builds nothing. It is a parasite that grows on institutions that are already built.
If those higher critical, semi-Unitarians won the lost to Christ, built up the churches, sent out missionaries, ministered to the needs of the people, then we could abandon our Bibles and rest at ease in Zion, and watch the kingdom of God advance from our ivory towers. The trouble is, these self-styled superior religionists do nothing but preside over a dying church, and a dying witness, and a dying denomination. No minister who has embraced a higher critical approach to the gospel has ever built a great church, held a mighty revival, or won a city to the Lord. They live off the labor and sacrifice of those who paid the price of devoted service before them. Their message, which they think is new and modern, is as old as the first lie, “Yea, hath God said?” [Genesis 3:1].
Let the true pastor never turn aside from his great high calling to preach the whole counsel of God, to warn men of their sins, of the judgment of God upon them, baptize their converts in the name of the triune God, and build up the congregation in the love and wisdom of Jesus Christ. If he does that, he will have completed the work for which the Holy Spirit did choose him. Do not be deterred or discouraged about what others say about you; just keep on winning souls to Jesus. Oh, I would to God you men would do that. No matter what an infidel says, or what unbelievers may say, just keeping on preaching the gospel.
Can somebody take that window there, and turn it?
All right, my next discussion concerns the pattern of death for a preacher, for a pulpiteer, for a professor. There came to the Southern Baptist Seminary in 1869 a scholarly young man by the name of Crawford H. Toy. He was the first addition to the original faculty of four, and gave every promise of becoming the greatest of them all. He knew more Hebrew than his teacher, Dr. Basil Manley. Literally, he was the pride and joy of the school; he was brilliant beyond compare. However, through studying German higher criticism and rationalism, he drifted away from the revealed truth of the Scriptures, and began to teach in the Southern Seminary the pentateuchal, destructive attacks of Keunen, Wellhausen, and a host of others. It broke the heart of President James P. Boyce and Professor John A. Broadus; but the dismissal had to come. When they dismissed Dr. Toy, Boyce and Broadus accompanied him to the railroad station. Just before the train took him away, President Boyce placed his left arm around the shoulders of the young man, and lifting up his right hand to heaven, said, “Crawford, I would give my right arm if you were back as you were when you first came to us.” Dr. Toy went to be professor of Hebrew at Harvard University. He went into the Unitarian church, and finally, never went to church at all. He was a world famous scholar and internationally known author; but the virus of higher criticism destroyed his spiritual life and work.
This is the young man who first taught in Albemarle Female Institution in Charlottesville, Virginia, before joining the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is the young man who taught in the school attended by a most vivacious and brilliant student, Miss Lottie Moon. This is a young man with whom Lottie Moon fell in love. This is the young man to whom Lottie Moon returned from China to America to marry. This is the young man the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1860 appointed as a missionary to the Orient. The War Between the States prevented his going. This is the young man, Crawford H. Toy, who was idolized by the Baptist academic and religious world. But Lottie Moon, when she came to America, was shattered and grief-stricken by the new theology and liberal beliefs of the man she so deeply loved and so beautifully admired. She returned to China heartbroken; never returned to her home in America, never to marry, and died there in the Orient, lonely in soul and pouring out her very life into a ministry for her starving Chinese people.
In an issue of the Review and Expositor, published before the resurgence of Biblical conservatism, that theological journey of the Southern Seminary has in it an article on Crawford H. Toy. It is filled with lavish and extravagant praise for the Unitarian. That’s before this present turn of the seminary. Here are the closing sentences in that review, I quote: “So far as his critical trends develop within the ten years of his membership on the faculty of the seminary, his views today would not be regarded as sufficiently revolutionary to call for drastic action. Toy’s research and views were too advanced for his contemporaries,” end quote. That is, if he lived and taught today in most of our Baptist schools, his higher critical destructive approach to the Word of God would be perfectly accepted, condoned, and defended.
However much our hearts may yearn for those who are victims and carriers of modernistic fallacy, if we are to survive as a people of God, we must wage a war against the disease that more than any other will ruin our missionary, evangelistic, and soul-winning commitment.
Can you believe such a thing as that? That just overwhelms me. And thank God, our Southern Seminary has turned back to be as it was in the days of Manley and Broadus.
Then I have an extensive hope for the possibility and the promise of a great resurrection, renascence of the Bible in our denomination.
You want to stand up a minute or just go on listening? All right.
Lastly, I am going to speak of, I say, the possibility and promise of resurrection and renaissance and revival in our denomination. If we will receive the Scriptures as of God, and be true to them and to the Holy Spirit, the Lord will use us Southern Baptists to evangelize the world. Revelation 14:6 says, “And I saw an angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth. The angelos, the angel, having the everlasting news, euangelion, gospel, to euangelisai, to preach.” We can experience in our very midst great revival, the outpouring of the saving power of the Holy Spirit upon our churches, upon our preachers, and upon our mission fields. The way of God is always onward, forward, and upward. The Holy Spirit always announces that there is a greater day coming. The burden of the prophets and the marvelous beckoning light of biblical revelation are forever and always the same: our mighty God is marching on.
It is the message of the first page of the Bible. It is the message of the second page of the Bible. It is the message of the first book of the Bible. It is the message of the middle book of the Bible. It is the message of the last page and the last book of the Bible. A glorious triumph is coming. The Lord never recedes: He necessarily advances. His creation is followed by redemption. His redemption is followed by sanctification. His sanctification is followed by glorification. There is no formal conclusion to the Book of Acts: it is open-ended. God means for the story of Pentecostal power in the Bible to be prolonged after the same manner. God does not do a great thing, and then increasingly smaller things. God does not build a portico of marble and then finish the temple with brick. Our greatest days are yet to come.
There was a time when the Holy Spirit as a heavenly fire was in mysterious presence, flashing like lightning from the sky; we did not know whence or whither. Coming now upon a Moses, and again upon an Elijah, sometimes appearing in a burning bush at Horeb [Exodus 3:1-3], sometimes falling in awesome mystery upon the altar of sacrifice on Mount Carmel [1 Kings 18:24, 32-39], sometimes striking out in an Israel camp in destroying fury, sometimes appearing as the shekinah glory in the temple’s Holy of Holies the strange sign and symbol of God’s presence and power [2 Chronicles 5:14]. But since Christ’s ascension [Acts 1:9-10], and in the fulfillment of the prophets, especially that of [Joel 2:28-32], the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon all flesh [Acts 2:1-18]. John 3:34 confirms that, “God giveth not His Spirit by measure.” He is with us, within us, for us, for power or conquest, for glory. Since Pentecost there is no age, no century, no era, no time without the marvelous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The soul-saving experience continues. Darkness and death and decay may reign in one place, but always light, life, and salvation will reign vigorously and abound in another place.
The church at Jerusalem may fall into Ebionitic legalism; but the church at Antioch experienced the greatest revival of Gentile converts the first century ever knew. When waning piety began to empty the church at Antioch, the churches at Ephesus and Rome and Milan were waxing mighty in the work of the Lord. When the churches of Alexandria and Carthage were falling into empty philosophical dissertations, the churches of Gaul were winning all western continental Europe to the Lord. While Rome was pursuing vain and sterile riches, the churches of Ireland were baptizing the whole nation and their many tribes into the faith. I have delivered a lecture that those original churches in Ireland were Baptist.
While Mohammed was destroying the faith in North Africa, the Middle East and the churches in Asia Minor, there the scholars of Iona were going forth to evangelize the Northern Europeans, the Scots, and the Anglo-Saxons, our ancestors. While the pontifical court of Avignon was engrossed in seeking political power, the cities of Germany were learning the heavenly ways of the Lord Jesus. When the darkness of night and superstition were covering the churches of France, the morning stars of the Reformation were rising in England. When Italian fields were turning into useless stubble, Bohemia was alive with the converting Spirit of Christ. When the Unitarian defection destroyed the evangelizing spirit of the congregations of New England, the pioneer preachers were advancing beyond the Alleghenies to build churches and Christian institutions in the heartland of America. And that’s where I came from.
When elitism and liberalism and spiritual indifference were decimating the churches in the West, great revival is being experienced in Korea and South America. Why not all America? And why not now? Our own and our ultimate destiny lies in the offing; and with us the destiny of the world. Seemingly, we stand at the continental divide of history, at the very watershed of civilization. Changes of a colossal nature are sweeping this world. In years past, the French Revolution signaled a political change, the Renaissance brought intellectual change, the Industrial Revolution introduced economic change, the Reformation encompassed religious change; but today we face every kind and category of change, mostly defined by the floodtides of materialism, secularism, and liberalism.
In my lifetime, for the first time in world history, governments are statedly and blatantly atheistic. No ancient Greek would ever make a destiny-determining decision without first consulting the oracle of Delphi. No Roman general would go to war without first propitiating God. But these of today bow no longer, call upon the name of no deity, and they seem to be possessing the world.
Whether we live or die lies in the imponderables of Almighty God. God has, for example, God has judged atheistic, communistic Russia. Will He not also judge secular, hedonistic, and humanistic, and materialistic America? What is the difference at the judgment throne of Christ between a God-denying communist atheist, and a God-denying American liberal humanist? Can God judge Sodom and Gomorrah, and Nineveh, and Babylon, and not judge New York, and Peking, and San Francisco, and Dallas? Our mission frontiers are running down every street and village, through every home, house, and classroom. The whole globe today is small, compact, and shrunken. We see, hear, watch, read, follow what happens moment by moment around the world. The interdependence and interlinking of all mankind is an actual modern fact. We all ride this planet together. Our nation is one in a dependent family of nations. Romans 14:7 avows, “For none of us lives to himself, and no one of us dies to himself.”
As Baptist churches and as a Baptist people we need each other. One segment of our community cannot do our work, our task, alone. Our strength lies in a common determination and a common dedication. One church can build a Sunday school; but a Sunday school movement must be launched by an association of churches. One church can send a missionary; but a vast missionary movement must be energized by a denomination of churches through a foreign mission board. One church can have a revival; but a revival movement must be prayed for, and prayed down, and lifted up by a community of churches through an evangelistic leader.
Years ago, I saw a pathetic picture in Life magazine. A little boy had been lost in a horizon-to-horizon Kansas wheat field. He had wandered away from his home, and had lost his way in the vast sea of standing stalks. Frantically the parents had searched for the small child to no avail. The sympathizing neighbors helped, but without success. Finally, someone suggested they join hands and comb the field by sections. The picture I saw was the sorrowing neighbors with the family, standing over the dead body of the little boy, and the cry of the father printed as the caption below: “Oh, if only we had joined hands before!”
United in prayer, preaching, witnessing, working, not around a higher critical denial of Scriptures, but around the infallible Word of God in Christ Jesus, we cannot fail: If we join hands with the blessed Savior, and deliver the message of the inerrant Word of God, God will rise to meet us.
And the Lord God whispered and said to me,
“These things shall be, these things shall be;
Nor help shall come from the scarlet skies
Till My people rise.
Till My people rise, My arm is weak;
I cannot speak till My people speak.
When men are dumb, My voice is dumb;
I cannot come, till My people come.
From over the flaming earth and sea
The cry of My people must come to Me.
Not till their spirit break the curse
May I claim My own in the universe.
But if My people rise, if My people rise,
I will answer them from the swarming skies.”
[excerpts from “God Prays,” Angela Morgan]
No battle was ever won by retreat, surrender, or capitulation. Alexander the Great was asked, “How did you conquer the world?” And he replied, “By never wavering.” As Alexander the Great lay dying, his generals gathered around him, and asked, “Whose is the kingdom?” And he replied, “It is for him who’ll take it.”
I close. William Blake, English mystical poet of the 1700s thus wrote:
Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear; O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.
We shall not cease from battle strife,
Nor shall the sword sleep in our hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In this fair and pleasant land.
[from “Jerusalem,” William Blake]
And that is our high calling: out there leading our churches, out there leading our people, out there leading all of our agencies, out there leading our denomination, and, please God, out there leading our world to the humble and loving devotion in our hearts and lives to Jesus our Lord, revealed to us through His holy and inerrant Word.
Thank you for listening. We need you, I tell you. This whole world needs you. I do not know of any spot or place that does not doubly need you. And I pray for you humbly, as you go out there and take your place in the kingdom.