The Unanswerable Question
August 22nd, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
THE UNANSWERABLE QUESTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-22-71 8:15 a.m.
And on the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. The title of the sermon is The Unanswerable Question; and this is the pastor preaching it. It is from a text in the second chapter of Hebrews and the third verse; but I read the context:
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.
For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward;
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him;
God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?
Now the text: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" [Hebrews 2:3].
I have not spoken on the text in recent years, but in years passed many times I have used the text as an address to the lost: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" Like a text I have used many times, the last verse in the sixth chapter of the Revelation, "For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" [Revelation 6:17], so this text, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" and I have used it in making an appeal to the lost.
Actually, exegetically – – and that’s the way I am going to preach it this morning – – it has nothing to do as such with the lost at all. It is addressed to a church. It is addressed to a band of Christian people, and the reference is not to those who pass the blood atonement of Christ, His cross, His saving grace and mercy, who pass it by. But the address of the text is to the people of God, who having the gift of God in their hands, neglect it, let it decay. It is addressed, as I said, to a church, to a group of Christian people who were at a standstill, who were about, actually, to apostasize. And the author says to those Christian people and to that church, "How shall we escape?" we who are saved and are Christian and have the gift of God in our hands and lives, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" [Hebrews 2:3].
"How shall we escape, if we," and the word there is ameleo. "A," an alpha privative, it’s the way the Greek language builds up a word: like you have theos, God, put an "a" in front of it, and it’s atheos, "atheist," a not believer in God. Or gnao, put an "a" in front of it, an alpha privative: "agnostic," doesn’t know. Well, that’s the way the word is built up here: melo is the word meaning "to care," that it is a concern to you; and an alpha privative in front of it, ameleo, don’t care, translated here in the King James Version "neglect."
I one time went to the hospital to visit a young mother who was the proud parent of a little baby, newborn baby. And as I stayed there a moment and finally prayed, there was another young mother over here in the bed on the other side of the room. And while I was there – – just evidently the tone of my voice or speaking about Jesus and especially praying – – the girl began to cry and finally to sob. I went outside. I left and I went to the nurse’s station, being a Baptist hospital I felt free to ask, and I said, "The girl in this room, on that side, she is sobbing so piteously. Is there something wrong, or is there something maybe I could do?"
And the nurse herself, being a devout Christian and a member of our church, said, "Pastor, I don’t know what you can do." She said, "That young woman has come here to the hospital, and God has given her a precious baby; but her husband has not visited her, and the husband has not even cared enough to come to look at the child. And she is there so heartbroken." Well, I went back in and I told her who I was, that I was pastor of the church and that the nurse had told me why she was crying so. And I said, "My dear, sweet little mother, I don’t think there’s anything I suppose I can do, but I just wanted to pray." Ameleo, just don’t care; that’s what that word means.
Now, in our lives, sometimes I am persuaded, both in my own life and in ours, our greatest sins are not these that we commit, but they are these that we omit! Things that we ought to do, that we should do, but don’t do because we don’t care; it is no burden to us! A Holiness man, one time – – and I have nothing against a Holiness man – – a Holiness man, that is one who said that he lived above sin, was arguing with me. And I said to him, "You may be very proud of your spiritual attainments, and you may think and honestly persuade yourself that you do not commit sin, you have been elevated above it, but," I said, "though you don’t do this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and you pride yourself upon not committing this, and this, and this, and this, yet there are in your life sins of omission; things that you ought to do that you don’t do, that you cannot escape. You never get beyond that." We never quite measure up to the fullness of the stature of Christ. There’s always lack in us, neglect in us, omission in us.
The Bible, and especially our Lord, has so much to say about that. For example, He would say to the Pharisees, in the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, "These things you ought to have done," and He was referring to their meticulous righteousness. For example, they’d count out the peas and give every tenth pea to the Lord. They fasted three times a week, you know, all those things. And the Lord said, "These things you ought to have done, but not to have left the other undone" [Matthew 23:23]; the omission, the neglect.
Do you remember, again, He said in the parable of the talents, the man who had five used them, and the man who had two used them, but the man who was given one talent buried it in the earth? And when the Lord came back there was nothing judgmental in his having just one talent; but the judgment was found in that he did nothing with it. He just buried it. He never tried. He just neglected it, let it go [Matthew 25:14-28].
Do you remember in the story of the great judgment in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew? The Lord says to those on His right hand, "Come ye blessed of My Father, for," and then He lists all those things: "I was hungry and you fed Me, and visited when I was sick," all those things. Then He turns to those on the left hand and says, "You go away, for," then He says all those things: "I was hungry and you did not feed Me, thirsty and you did not give Me to drink." And they asked, "Well, Lord, we never saw Thee hungry, and thirsty, and sick, and in prison, and never ministered to You." And the Lord said, "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to Me" [Matthew 25:34-45]. It is a sin of neglect, of omission. You didn’t do it.
Take the church at Laodicea. I preached about the death of the seven churches last Sunday morning. What was the matter with Laodicea; because they were vile, or vicious, or iniquitous, or incorrigible, or obstreperous, or wicked? No. The only thing about Laodicea was that they were at ease in Zion. They were neither cold, they were neither hot, they were just pleased to be as they were, and they did nothing [Revelation 3:15-18]. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation" [Hebrews 2:3], this gift of God in our hands?
Now, when I attempt to answer that – – the title of the sermon is The Unanswerable Question – – when I attempt to answer it, it seems anomalous. Yet, there are some things in it that I can plainly see. I can see in history, and I can see in the church, and I can see in my own life and ministry. Now, I cannot enter into the final judgment of Almighty God, when we stand in His presence at the great assize [2 Corinthians 5:10]. I shall not presume. I shall not assay to myself such a prerogative. I do not enter into that. But there are some things I can see in this world, in this life. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" Having the gift of God, having this marvelous revelation from heaven of what God has done in Christ to save our souls, when we do nothing about it, when we neglect it, when it decays in our hands, I say, there are some things I can see in history and in my own life and yours.
All right, first: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" I speak of it nationally, nationally. In the first Christian centuries, the early apostles and evangelists turned their faces to the Western world. The Holy Spirit wouldn’t let, remember, Paul turn to the East, turn to the right. He turned to the left and came to Europe [Acts 16:9-10]. And in those centuries there were great churches and witnesses for Christ established in Jerusalem, and in Antioch, and in Alexandria, and Ephesus, and Corinth, and Rome, and finally Spain, and Gaul, modern France, and Great Britain, and it just covered the entire Western civilized world.
But back of Antioch, and back of Jerusalem, and back of Alexandria was a great Arabian desert. And they neglected that vast stretch of illimitable, burning, blistering sand. As they faced the evangelization of the Greco-Roman world, so engrossed were they that they forgot the Arabian desert. And in one of those strange judgmental providences of God, out of that Arabian desert came the fiercest antagonist the Christian faith has ever know: the sword of Mohammed.
Again, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" [Hebrews 2:3]. The state church in Russia, instead of evangelizing their people and teaching their people and training their people, instead of that the church found itself an instrument in the hands of the czars as an instrument of espionage, to spy on the people, and as an oppressive instrument. And I want you to know, you will never quite, I couldn’t say it in words, standing in that Kazan’s Cathedral in Leningrad, the communist atheists had placed there an enormous statue depicting their contempt for the church. And the way they did it was horrible!
There was a peasant Russian woman, and by her side a little boy, and on her back was an enormous iron cross crushing her and the child to the ground. Everywhere I’d ever seen the cross it was a sign of sacrifice, and commitment, and love, and the pouring out of life. But to take the cross there and to make it a sign of oppression, and as I looked at it, I felt that I knew enough about history to see the truth of what the atheist and the communist were so poignantly and vividly and dramatically depicting. The church, instead of taking the gospel of salvation to win the lost and to teach them the Word of God, took the church and made it a burden to the people and an instrument in the hands of the czarist rulers. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?"
Another instance, nationally; when I was in a three month preaching mission in Japan in 1950, General Douglas MacArthur was the ruler of the nation, and he asked us, our denomination, he asked us, "Send us a thousand missionaries. Do it now." General MacArthur made that appeal to our Southern Baptist denomination, "Send us a thousand missionaries." In the three months that I preached in that mission in Japan, starting at the north going clear down to the tip of Kyushu at the south, there was hardly a service that I held at which there were not at least a hundred fifty souls saved; from that on up to the hundreds and the hundreds.
There was no hall where I preached big enough to contain the people. Little town, big town, great city, they were thronging to the religion of the American people. Well, as you know, I went with a choir, this chapel choir, in 1970, last year, on a preaching mission in Japan. And there were times, when with the entire choir and the pastor and all the rest, we had no more people than are right down here on these front rows. And maybe one saved, or two saved. What became of the appeal of General Douglas MacArthur for a thousand missionaries? Nobody knows. We were busy with other things and let it slip through our hands. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" Why, our seminary at Kokura is being closed. It’s being shut out, going out of business. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?"
I speak of it now urbanely, and I must hasten. There’s so much to say. Urbanely, citywide. Do you remember when Chicago was the symbol of the gangster and gangster rule and gangster control? Do you remember that? The reason it’s not today is all of our cities are like that. Corruption and violence are so pervasive in all of our cities that Chicago no longer stands out anymore. But I remember when Chicago was almost alone in its symbol and type and international fame as an urban community of violence and gangsterism and gang wars.
And the people in that city, the citizens, paid more for crime than they did for city government. I remember that. Well, anyway, in those days there was a sociology student who studied the criminal Polack community in Chicago, out of which those gangsters came. And you know what he found? This is what he found. He went back to Poland, where those people came from, and back there in Poland, they lived in little villages and they lived on the farms, and they were a people who were the salt of the earth. They were fine people. They were noble people. They were Christian people. They were godly people. They were church people, and they reared their children in the love and admonition of the Lord.
Then enticed by industry and wages, they came to Chicago, one of the cities, they came to Chicago. And in Chicago they lived in ghettos, a real ghetto. They spoke a funny language. They had funny customs, and their children were brought up in an area despicable and cast out. Nobody cared to find out about these strangers. Nobody visited them. Nobody evangelized them. Nobody did anything to try to show them the goodness of God in Christ Jesus. And they festered, and corrupted, and finally cost the city more than the city government itself. Any people is like that. Anywhere in the world they can fester, they can sink, they can corrupt, not because anyone around is violent toward them, but just passing them by, just neglect them, forget them. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?"
In the home: why, I so vividly remember a man who’d been the guest of a rancher out in West Texas. And the rancher told him all about his blooded cattle; showed him his bull, showed him his cows, showed him his heifers, showed him the pedigrees, so proud of his spread and of those blooded cattle. And that evening in the home, a beautiful girl came down the stairway, walked through the hall. And he said to the rancher, "Who’s that?"
"Oh," he said, "That’s my daughter." Then he saw a young man meet her at the door. He was a sallow-faced boy. He looked like a dissipated wretch. And the man said to the rancher, "Who’s that?" And the rancher said, "I suppose that’s a young fellow who’s come to take my girl out for the evening." The man asked the rancher, "Do you know the boy?"
"No," he said, "I don’t know who he is."
"Well, do you know where they’re going?"
"No, I have no idea where they’re going?" And I remember the man making the comment, "He studied and worked with, day and night, and proud of, his blooded heifers and his fine thoroughbred bulls; and there was a beautiful girl in his home. He had no idea where she was going, had no idea who the boy was she was going with."
"How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" [Hebrews 2:3]. And that’s true in the church, in the church. Oh, how easy it is to fall, and especially in the city, how easy it is to fall into the city into forgetfulness, passing by! Why, out there on those high plains the only county in western Texas that had a gain of population this last decade was Lubbock. All the rest of them have lost population. And the city in which we held this crusade for all that area, one fourth of the people have left, one fourth of them.
Well, I said, "Where do they go?" And you know the answer was? Most of them moved to Dallas, "Most of them moved to Dallas and the rest of them moved to Houston." Well, I said, "What do they do in Dallas?" And the reply was, "Most of them do nothing." They come here. They look at the church, and they’re full of strange people. They look at the city streets jammed with traffic, and it isn’t long until they’ve slipped through our fingers. O God, how we need to visit and to find these people, and to work with them, and to reach them, and to make them welcome and to love them; O Lord, dear Jesus, just show me how to do that and get that done.
"How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" And I can’t close, my time’s already gone, and I can’t close without applying that to the soul, to the soul. I went to see, in a family here in our church, I went to see a man who was so grievously ill. And you know, when I sat by his side in the house, he said, "You know, the first thing I’m going to do when I get up? I’m going down that aisle, and I’m going to give my heart to Jesus. I’m going to be baptized, and I’m going to serve God the rest of the days of my life."
Why, his wife had been here for a generation, and he’d never bothered to come. He’d never bothered to attend. He never bothered to say he loved Jesus or come down the aisle. He gave himself to the world. But now, he says to me, "You know, when I get up that’s the first thing I’m going to do." And when I left, the wife whispered to me, as I was in another room and he couldn’t hear, as I was leaving, she said, "Pastor, he’ll never get up. The family is already come because the funeral will be in the immediate days ahead."
O Lord, live here with a godly wife for a generation, and then on a deathbed say to me, "Preacher, when I get up, I’m going down that aisle, going to be baptized, going to give my life to Jesus." Dear Lord, what a loss, what a neglect, what a tragedy. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" If I’m ever going to love Jesus, I’ve got to love Him now. If I’m ever going to serve the Lord, I must serve Him now. If I’m ever going to accept Him as my Savior, I must do it now. If I’m ever going to be baptized like it says in the Book, I ought to be baptized now. "If ever I’m going to come down that aisle, preacher, hurry up, quit the talking and get the song ready, because I’m going to come." That’s what we need. That’s what we need. "Make room for me in that pew, I’m walking to the aisle and down to the front; I should have done it a long time ago. I’m going to do it now."
Would you this morning? Would you? As we sing our hymn of appeal in just this moment, in the balcony round, you, on the lower floor, you, down one of these stairways or into the aisle and to the front: "Here I am, pastor. I’m coming now, accepting the Lord Jesus as Savior." Putting your life in the fellowship of the church, maybe rededicating your whole heart and soul to the blessed Jesus, come. Come. A family you: "Pastor, my wife, my children, we’re all coming today," or a couple you, or just you, as the Spirit shall make the appeal, shall give confirmation to the word that I have preached, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming. "Here I am, pastor, I make it now." Do it now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE UNANSWERABLE QUESTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?"(Hebrews 2:3)
A. In the past I have preached this text to the lost
B. Exegetically it is addressed to the church, the saved
1. Author is speaking to a church that is at a standstill, proposing to apostatize
II. He brings up the subject of neglect
A. Ameleo – not to care for, to disregard, neglect
B. Usually we categorize sin in terms of doing something
1. Our greatest derelictions may be found in not doing something
a. Young mother with new baby in the hospital, crying
b. Holiness minister arguing with me
C. The Lord had much to say about that sin of omission(Luke 11:42, Matthew 25:14-30, Revelation 3:16)
III. Impossibility of escape from loss, tragedy, when our great salvation is neglected
A. In national areas
1. 600 years the Arabian Desert neglected – out of it came the sword of Mohammed
2. The established church in Russia
3. In 1950 Japan was open – now, where are the missionaries?
B.In urban areas
1. Out of the neglect of the Polish in Chicago came the criminal assault on society that astonished the world
2. West Dallas was a festering cesspool of the forgotten and neglected
a. Hattie Rankin Moore – gave money to build chapel there
1. West Texas rancher prided himself on his cattle; had no idea who his daughter was going out with
D. In our churches
1. Preaching in West Texas – populations moving to Houston, Dallas
a. What becomes of them? Did anyone reach out to them?
E. In our lives
1. Husband refused church his whole life; on deathbed promises to come