A REASON FOR HOPE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-25-73 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing with us the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled A Reason for Hope, In Defense of the Faith. There is not one time in a decade, or maybe in two decades, that I will prepare and deliver a sermon like this; but, in my preaching through the Book of Simon Peter, in the third chapter and the fifteenth verse, the passage to which we have come, there is this text. And preaching from the text, I felt that it would be highly in order if this one time I were to present why it is that we do, in the name of Christ, certain things.
Reading the text in 1 Peter chapter 3, verse 15, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” [1 Peter 3:15]. “Be ready always to give an answer,” an apologia. We have taken the Greek word apologia and have bodily taken it into our language: apology.
For the centuries that it has been used, and correctly used today, it will have the meaning that it has here; apologia, a defense. But in our recent times, “apology” has come to refer to an obsequious asking for pardon when someone thinks he has made a mistake or done something wrong. But that is a late-added meaning to the word. The word originally meant what it is here, an apologia, a defense.
For example, in literature one of the great pieces of literature is entitled Apologia Socrates, the Apology of Socrates, the defense of Socrates for his life. Or again, doubtless one of the most beautifully written and certainly chaste in language of all the essays ever penned in the English tongue is the Apologia pro Vita Sua, by John Henry Newman. That is an apology, a defense of his life. In the first Christian centuries, when the faith was so sorely beset in the Roman Empire, there were men like Tertullian, and Justin Martyr, and Athenagoras, who wrote in defense of the faith, and they were called the “great apologists.” Well, that is the way the word is used here, and correctly used, “Be ready always to give an apologia, a defense, an answer, to every man that asketh you a reason for the hope”—elpis, he does not use the word pistis, “faith,” but elpis— “for the hope that is in you” [1 Peter 3:15].
He uses the word hope here in the same sense that it is used in the twenty-eighth chapter of Acts [Acts 28:20] and in the first chapter of Colossians [Colossians 1:5,23,27], hope here referring to the faith of the Christian. The reason he uses the word hope is wherever, whenever the Christian faith comes under great trial and persecution, the creed takes on a color for the future, it just inevitably does. The people who are under great trial and persecution have a tendency to lift up their hearts and their faces to a redemption that the Lord will bring when He comes again. So he calls it hope. But the word hope refers here to the whole Christian creed, the faith of the child of Christ. So he admonishes us, “Be ready always to give an answer, an apology, a defense to everyone that asks you a reason for the faith, the hope that is in you” [1 Peter 3:15].
And that is what I shall seek to do this morning. We are going to take some of the things that we have given our lives to and that others look upon with askance, and we are going to give a reason why we have committed to the Lord in faith, in hope, our lives.
All right, first of all, the religion itself; we will plead for a man to come to Christ, “Accept the Lord as your Savior.” Then the man replies, “I look upon religion as a crutch and I am self‑sufficient and able to stand on my own feet; I do not need it. It may be all right,” he would add, “for weak women and unknowledgeable and unknowing children, but as for me, I am not a candidate for its necessity. I don’t need a crutch, and religion is just that: a crutch for weaklings.” Well, let’s look at that just for a moment. So he is self‑sufficient; he stands on his own feet; he doesn’t need God and he doesn’t need Christ and he doesn’t need a Savior and he doesn’t need religion. It is a crutch, and he doesn’t need it.
May I take a leaf out of the life of our world? In 1912, the Titanic made its maiden voyage out of Liverpool, where it was built, to New York City. And on that far-famed unsinkable ship there were something like 1,600 of the socially elite of both continents, America and Europe. But that night in the North Atlantic the Titanic that couldn’t be sunk brushed a great iceberg and tore away a part of its right side, and the ship began slowly to sink beneath the bosom of the waters. And as the ship went down, the dance orchestra that had been playing for the happy and joyous guests that night, the dance orchestra withdrew to the bow of the boat that was last to go down. And as the orchestra played, they were playing the music of this Christian hymn:
Nearer, my God, to Thee.
E’en though it be a cross
That raiseth me . . .
Nearer, my God, to Thee.
[“Nearer my God to Thee,” Sarah Adams]
And as the 1,600, including that orchestra, went down to a watery grave, they sank to the strings of the melody of that Christian hymn. “But you see, it’s a crutch, and I don’t need it. I can stand on my own feet; I am sufficient and don’t need God.”
Yes. Are you sure? Take again: in 1915, the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U‑boat precipitated the entrance of America against Germany in the First World War. And in the icy cold waters of the North Atlantic when the Lusitania went down, there was a group of singers called, known as the Royal Welsh Male Choir. And in their desperation they were clinging, that group of men, to a disabled life raft. And as the life raft itself disintegrated, the men who were clinging to it one and one and one began to find themselves unable to hold to it longer, and in those cold, chilly waters and in the great swells of the sea, began to drown, sinking beneath those dark waves. And the little group that remained, some of whom were rescued, began to sing a song. Would you like to know what it was? Let me quote it for you. That group of Royal Welsh male singers began to sing this hymn:
Abide with me;
Fast falls the eventide;
In the deepening darkness,
O Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail
And comforts flee,
Help of the helpless,
O abide with me.
[from “Abide with Me,” Henry Francis Lyte, 1847]
“But it is a crutch, and I don’t need it.” Are you sure? There will come a time in every life when a man desperately needs God—where can I find Him? And we know God in the loving mediation and in the dying grace of Jesus Christ [Romans 5:8]. “Be ready always to give an apologia, an answer, to anyone that asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” [1 Peter 3:15]. When people respond to the Lord, we receive them into the church. We raise our hands and acknowledge their coming, and we vote for them to be members of the church. So there are those who say, “That is an unusual custom, and it is not a biblical doctrine or practice; why do you do that?” Well, a part of the criticism of such a practice in the church I can understand, when they say, “God adds to the church,” and “We don’t do it; God does that.” That is true.
In 1 Corinthians 12:13, by inspiration the apostle Paul wrote, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into the body of Christ.” When a man belongs to Christ, God puts him in Christ. When a man belongs to the church of the Lord, God puts him in it. But that’s not all; there is something more. You see, the church is the church triumphant someday, the church invisible, the church of the firstborn [Hebrews 12:22-23]. God’s redeemed will be gathered before His throne of glory someday [Jude 1:24], and to that church a man is joined by the baptism of the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 12:13].
But you see, I also belong to the church visible, the church militant, the local church, which is the only church we have anything to do with [Hebrews 10:25]. The church invisible and triumphant we will see in glory someday. You will never see it here, for the only church you will ever see here is a local congregation. That’s what you find in the Bible: the churches of Judea, the churches of Galatia, the churches of Macedonia, the churches of Achaia. That’s what you find in the Bible, and that’s the only church that you will ever see or have anything to do with in this mortal life.
Well, how is it that somebody becomes a member of that local church, how is he received? Well, he comes down the aisle and he says, “I have been saved, and I want to join the church.” Well, who receives him? Somebody has to. Who receives him? Well, the people do not receive him in the church; the minister receives him. Somebody has to, so the minister does. The minister would say to the man, “Listen, you are sot drunk. You have no idea what you are doing, and I will not receive you. You wait and sober up and see whether or not you want to be a member of the body of Christ or not and accept Him as your Savior.” The minister has to do it.
Well, why does the minister not do it in our church? Because we believe that the ordinances are not in the minister but in the church. They do not belong to the pastor, they belong to the congregation. And when a man is saved and comes forward and says, “I have been saved, I want to be baptized, I want to be a member of the church,” instead of my receiving him, because the ordinance of baptism is not vested in me—I am a servant of the church, I am a fellow elder with my people, I am a fellow member of the congregation of the Lord—but it belongs to the congregation, the ordinance is invested in the church, and the church receives the man.
How else do you know that? Because in the first Corinthian letter, chapter 5, there is a man living in incest, and Paul says, “When you are gathered together as a church, he must not be counted among you. He lives in incest, he is living with his father’s wife, his stepmother; he must not be counted among you. Dismiss that man that he might learn, to be saved, the mind of God” [I Corinthians 5:1-5]. Then again, in the second Corinthian letter, in chapter 2, Paul says, “When the church is gathered together, receive him back.” He evidently had repented and got right with God. “Now take him back” [2 Corinthians 2:7-8].
That is the church. The minister ought not to exclude anybody from the church; the minister ought not to take anybody back into the church. According to the New Testament, that is the obligation and prerogative of the house of God, the people of the Lord.
For example, at Caesarea when those in Cornelius’s household were saved, they were gloriously saved [Acts 10:34-46]. Simon Peter said, “Can any forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit the same as we?”[Acts 10:47]. That is what I do exactly. This man says he is been saved and he wants to be baptized. Is there anyone in the congregation that objects? All of you who are in favor and are grateful to God that the man has found the Lord, with the pastor, hold up your hand high,” and I add, “and say, ‘Amen.’”
I don’t have to do it that way. I could say, “All of you that are in favor, stand on your heads.” We could do that just as well. Or we could all say, “All of you that are in favor, give the preacher a ten‑dollar bill.” I would like that very much. There is no way to do that particularly, it is an expression of the will of the church. “Can any man forbid water?” Are all of us one heart and mind? And in our church, we all are.
They say to me, “Pastor, one good thing about the First Baptist in Dallas, there has never been a negative vote in the church since you have been there for thirty years.” The reason is, I don’t give them a chance to vote negatively. We are all for it, we are all happy in it, and I know we are. So I say, “And that is all of us.” That’s right. The church receives them, and that’s why we receive them here.
All right, again, “You people that are called Baptists, when anyone comes forward and receives Christ as his Savior, you baptize him, you immerse him. Now, that’s a thing that is alien to practically all of the Christian faith. We sprinkle them as babies, we christen them as babies, baptize them as babies. Why do you baptize in water? Why do you do that?”
I listened to a radio program last week that I could not believe my ears. This is a great theologian who is speaking. He is a man of world reputation who is answering. There is a panel and evidently by the tone of the voices—because I tuned in late; I was driving my car, visiting, and as I visit in the city in the hospitals, going around in my car, I always turn the radio on and I listen to it. Well, there was a panel, evidently of young people, college young people, and they had this theologian there. And some of those young people were asking this theologian and great preacher why he didn’t baptize, why he sprinkled his converts.
All right, listen to his answer. His answer, first of all, he says, was that the Jordan river is too shallow for anyone to be baptized in. That was his first answer. I don’t know why these things pop into my head, but when he answered that—that was his first answer—when he answered that, I thought immediately of the story of Elisha and Elijah.
When Elijah and Elisha approached the Jordan river, Elijah took his mantle and smote it, and the waters scattered hither and thither, and the two went over on dry ground [2 Kings 2:8]. Just beyond, a whirlwind took Elijah up into heaven, and Elisha saw the chariot of fire and the horses of Israel. And when Elijah went up to heaven, the mantle fell from his shoulders down to the ground. And Elisha picked it up, and, turning to the waters of the Jordan, smote the river and said, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” And again the waters parted, and he went over on dry ground [2 Kings 2:11-14].
What I thought when he answered was, “If the water was that shallow, why didn’t he just take off his sandals and wade across? Why go to all of that trouble of smiting it with the mantle of God? Or, if he didn’t mind getting his sandals wet, just walk across it.” I have baptized in the Jordan River in the driest of seasons.
What else did he say? His second answer was, “The Greek word baptizō does not mean immerse.” This is a theologian and a far-famed preacher, answering a panel of young college students. “The word baptizō, ‘baptize,’ does not mean to immerse. It does not mean to dip. We sprinkle.” Out of 10,000 instances of the use of that word, let me choose just one out of 10,000, because it was a common, ordinary Greek word, as you would use the word “dip,” or as you would use the word “immerse.” It was just a common, ordinary Greek word, baptizō. Out of 10,000 ordinary uses of it, let me choose one out of Josephus.
Josephus was alive when Paul wrote; he was in the first century, in the days of the writing of the New Testament. Let me choose just one incidence: Herod the Great was a butcher. Augustus Caesar said, “In Herod’s household, it would be better to be ahuos than a huios,” you would be safer to be a pig than a son, for Herod the Great killed most of his family out of envy and jealousy and fear of them.
Well, Herod the Great, the one who was king of the Jews when Jesus was born and killed the babes at Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16], Herod the Great married Mariamne. She was the last of the Maccabean princesses, the Hasmonean family that the Jewish nation loved because Judas Maccabaeus had brought liberty to the country from the dreaded Syrian oppressor Antiochus. Well, this Herod the Great was married to the beautiful Mariamne. She had a brother, a Maccabean prince named Aristobulus, and she asked Herod the Great to make Aristobulus high priest. The young fellow was seventeen years of age, tall and beautiful, handsome. Out of deference to his wife Mariamne, whom he later killed, out of deference to Mariamne, he made Aristobulus, her brother the Maccabean, high priest.
And in celebration of the occasion, they dressed up Aristobulus in beautiful garments, high priestly garments, with a miter on his head, the breastplate, the beautiful robes, the bells, and the pomegranates. And at the head of a great procession, Aristobulus, tall, young, and handsome Maccabean, was leading the Jewish priests and the worshipers from the temple through the streets of Jerusalem; and the people went wild. They were mad with joy and excitement and praise, following Aristobulus the Maccabean, just made high priest. Well, out of the palace Herod heard the commotion, and he went to the window and saw what it was: that Aristobulus was being accepted and acclaimed in paeans of praise and glory by all the populace. So he said in his heart, “I must do away with him.”
And this is the way he did it. He gathered all of the family, his family, and went down to Jericho, to the warm springs where he had built a big Roman bath—great big; you would call it a swimming pool, a covered swimming pool, a Roman bath. So he said to his servants privately, “Now I am going in swimming with Aristobulus, the young Aristobulus, and after I have been in the pool with him for a while, I am going to leave. And I am going to Mariamne and the house, the winter palace down in Jericho. And when I am safely away, I want all of you servants to take Aristobulus out into the pool, and I want you to play with him, and I want you to play with him until you drown him.” The servants said, “We understand.”
So Herod the Great took all of his family down to Jericho to the warm springs, and he and Aristobulus and the servants went swimming. And then after a while, according to plan Herod the Great dressed and went to the winter palace in that warm country with Mariamne and the family. And while Herod was gone, Josephus writes, “And the servants took Aristobulus out into the middle of the pool, and they baptizō and they baptizō and they baptizō Aristobulus until he drowned.” All right, you just translate that, “And they sprinkled him and they sprinkled and they sprinkled him until he drowned.” It is intellectually ridiculous. It has a plain, simple meaning; and thus it is why we do what we do.
Not only does God say that we are to baptize our converts [Matthew 28:19], but it has a profound meaning. The apostle Paul will say, not once or twice, but many times, we are buried with the Lord in the likeness of His death, and we are raised with the Lord in the likeness of His resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. Baptism has a profound meaning, as does our Lord’s Supper. This bread represents His body given for us. And this red, crushed fruit of the vine represents His blood which is spilled out for us [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. So baptism has, according to the Scriptures, a divine and heavenly meaning: we are buried with the Lord in the likeness of His death—buried—and we are raised with the Lord in the likeness of His glorious resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. Burial and resurrection: this is the heavenly meaning God has given to the holy ordinance of baptism.
Just one other: be ready always to give an apologia, a defense, an answer, to anyone that asks you a reason for the faith that is in you, the hope that is in you [1 Peter 3:15]. I choose just one other, and this may be just mostly your pastor, but your pastor is very much that way. One of the ministers here in the state and belonged to our church, one of the ministers left our church. He and his wife left and joined another church; they did it in the days when I was preaching through the Bible.
I preached through the Bible for seventeen years and eight months, and preached through the Revelation for two years, closing that long series. So the minister left, and he said, where everybody could hear him, and scattered it everywhere anybody would listen to him, he said, “Criswell, the pastor of the First Church in Dallas, has gone to seed on dispensationalism, and all he can preach about is the second coming of Christ.”
Well, if a man preached the Bible, one out of every four verses of the New Testament refers to the coming of the Lord. And if he preached the Old Testament, there are many, many, many times more references in the Old Testament to the second coming of Christ than the first coming of Christ. There are very few references in the Old Testament to the first coming of Christ, but they are legion to the second coming of our Lord. And your pastor is a Bible preacher; that’s all he does. When you invite anybody to church, you can just know before you go that you are going to hear a sermon from God’s Book. He is that kind of a preacher.
Well, preaching the second coming of our Lord, which Paul calls “the blessed hope” [Titus 2:13], giving a defense, a reason—if anyone asks you about “the hope that is in you” [1 Peter 3:15]—and the pastor preaches the visible, open, personal return of our Lord: these dull, stolid eyes, and this weary world one day will lift up its head and see the reigning God of all creation coming in power and glory [Revelation 1:7]; I preach that.
I believe that so much so that I ask these little children that the fathers and mothers bring to me—and I have three families that are already scheduled to come to see me tonight—anytime a child is received in the church and he is baptized, I talk to the child personally. And one of the questions I always ask the child is this: “Son, or little girl, the Lord closed the memorial supper with these words: ‘For as oft as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show, you dramatize, you present the Lord’s death till He come’” achri hou elthē [1 Corinthians 11:26]. “Until He come, Son, what does that mean, ‘Till He come?’“ And there will never be a child that will fail to answer, “That means Jesus is coming again.” Then I will ask the youngster, “Do you believe that?”
“Yes.” And I will say, “Do you believe you will see Jesus someday?” And the child will always answer, “Yes.” I do, too; Paul calls that the blessed hope [Titus 2:13].
Now I want to show you, taking a leaf now out of the life of our Baptist people, how that is not strange in your pastor. I am a fellow elder with my other preachers who preach the gospel of the truth and the hope and the grace of the Son of God. Now the leaf out of our Baptist history: as you know, in the years past, Japan overran Korea, and for many, many, many years Korea was a part of the Japanese empire. The Japanese at that time worshiped Hirohito as a god. That’s what Shinto religion is; it is a worship of the Japanese emperor as god.
When the Japanese overran Korea and subjugated the nation, it came to the attention of the military commanders that these Baptist preachers were presenting another lord, Jesus. So the head of the Baptist convention in Korea was brought before the commanding officer, and the commanding officer was grilling the Baptist Convention president concerning Christ, concerning the Lord Jesus, what they believed about Him. And as he followed it through, they finally came to, “So He was raised from the dead[Matthew 28:1-6], and ascended to heaven [Acts 1:9]; then what?” And the Korean pastor boldly and unashamedly replied, “He is coming again, He is coming back” [Acts 1:9-11]. And the commanding officer said, “And then what?” And bravely the Korean pastor replied, “And then when He comes, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”[Philippians 2:10-11]. And the commanding officer said, “Does that include our emperor?” And the pastor said, “Yes.”
“But our emperor is god. He is divine.”
And the Baptist pastor bravely replied, “But when the Lord comes, he will bow his knee and confess with his tongue that there is just one Lord and one God, Jesus” [Philippians 2:10-11].
The commanding officer says, “Do you believe that for yourself? Is that just what you believe, or do all of your Baptist pastors believe that?” And the president of the convention replied, “Sir, we all believe it, all of us.” The Japanese military took every Baptist pastor in the nation of Korea and put them in prison and kept them there throughout the years and the years of that occupation. Practically all of them died, all of them. This man who was president of the convention outlived the occupation and died just a few months later, so harsh were the years of privation. They literally laid down their lives for the hope we have in Christ Jesus [Hebrews 11:13]. And shall I stand here in this pulpit and be afraid or ashamed to preach that blessed hope? [Titus 2:13].
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?…
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy word.
[from “Am I a Soldier of the Cross,” Isaac Watts, 1721]
I make no—here the word “apology” in the other sense—I have no feeling of self‑condemnation when I preach the coming again of our blessed Lord. I don’t think there is any hope in the Middle East, and I don’t think there is any hope in the middle West, and I don’t think there is any hope for the nations of the world, save in that One whose name is called “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6]. And oh, to lift Him up, to preach His name, and to invite souls to love Him and follow Him is the highest, heavenliest privilege of human life.
And that’s our invitation to you today; receiving our Lord, trusting in our Savior, giving your life to the blessed and coming and reigning Jesus [Acts 16:31], being with us here in the church. As God shall press the appeal to your heart, a family, a couple, or just you, while we sing this hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come. In the balcony round, down one of these stairways: “Here I am; I make it now.” On this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front: “Here I am.” Make the decision now in your soul, and when we stand to sing, stand up. Do it now. Make it now. God bless you, angels attend you in the way as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.