The Infidel’s Sermon to the Pirates

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) spins an interesting tale of an Infidel, masquerading as a minister of the gospel, constrained by an island of pirates to preach a sermon. The Word of God proves “sharper than any two edged sword.” The story reminds me that the Bible’s unfailing truth does not depend on the skill of the speaker. The gospel itself stands as the “power of God unto salvation.”

A native of Sweden who had imbibed infidel views, had occasion to go from one port to another in the Baltic Sea. When he came to the place whence he expected to sail, the vessel was gone. On inquiring, he found a fishing boat going the same way, in which he embarked. After being for some time out to sea, the men observing that he had several trunks and chests on board, concluded he must be very rich, and therefore agreed among themselves to throw him overboard. This he heard them express, which gave him great uneasiness. However, he took occasion to open one of his trunks, which contained some books. Observing this, they remarked among themselves that it was not worth while to throw him into the sea, as they did not want any books, which they supposed were all the trunks contained. They asked him if he were a priest. Hardly knowing what reply to make them, he told them he was; and at this they seemed much pleased, and said they would have a sermon on the next day, as it was the Sabbath. This increased the anxiety and distress of his mind, for he knew himself to be as incapable of such an undertaking as it was possible for any one to be, as he knew very little of the Scriptures; neither did he believe in the inspiration of the Bible.

At great length they came to a small rocky island, perhaps a quarter of a mile in circumference, where was a company of pirates, who had chosen this little sequestered spot to deposit their treasures. He was taken to a cave, and introduced to an old woman, to whom they remarked that they were to have a sermon preached the next day. She said she was very glad of it, for she had not heard the Word of God for a great while. His was a trying case, for preach he must; still he knew nothing about preaching. If he refused, or undertook to preach and did not please, he expected it would be his death. With these thoughts he passed a sleepless night; and in the morning his mind was not settled upon anything. To call upon God, whom he believed to be inaccessible, was altogether vain. He could devise no way whereby he might be saved. He walked to and fro, still shut up in darkness striving to collect something to say to them, but could not think of even a single sentence.

When the appointed time for the service arrived, he entered the cave, where he found the men assembled. There was a seat prepared for him, and a table with a Bible on it. They sat for the space of half an hour in profound silence; and even then the anguish of his soul was as great as human nature was capable of enduring. At length these words came to his mind: “Verily, there is a reward for the righteous: verily, there is a God that judgeth in the earth.” He arose and delivered them; then others words presented themselves, and so on, till his understanding became opened, and his heart enlarged in a manner astonishing to himself. He spoke upon subject suited to their condition; the reward of the righteous, the judgments of the wicked, the necessity of repentance, and the importance of a change of life. The matchless love of God to the children of men had such a powerful effect upon the minds of these wretched beings, that they were melted into tears. Nor was he less astonished at the unbounded goodness of Almighty God, in thus interposing to save his spiritual as well as his natural life; and well might he exclaim, “This is the Lord’s doing and marvellous in our eyes.” Under a deep sense of God’s goodness, his heart became filled with thankfulness, which it was out of his power to express. What a marvellous change was thus suddenly brought about by Divine interposition! He who a little while before disbelieved in communion with God and the soul, became as humble as a little child; and they who were so lately meditating on his death, now were filled with love and goodwill towards each other, particularly towards him; manifesting affectionate kindness, and willing to render him all the assistance in their power.

The next morning they fitted out one of their vessels, and conveyed him whither he desired. From that time he became a changed man; from being a slave to the influence of infidelity, he was brought to be a sincere believer in the power and efficacy of the truth as it is in Jesus.

[How marvellous the providence of God, and the sovereignty of his grace! Who is he that has stepped beyond the range of Almighty love? or has sinned too much to be forgiven? Reader! are you an infidel? What would you do in a similar situation? What other doctrine than that of Scripture would benefit pirates? Certainly not your own. What would you like to teach your own children? Certainly not your own sentiments. You feel that you would not wish to hear your own offspring blaspheming God. Moreover, forgive us, if we declare our opinion that thou knowest that there is a God, though with thy lips thou deniest him. Think, we beseech thee, of thy Maker, and of his Son, the Saviour; and may Eternal love bring even thee to the Redeemer.

-By Charles Spurgeon

Joel Osteen

Joel Osteen
A couple of years ago Forbes reported on the Ten Largest Churches in America. The 25,000 member Lakewood Church in Houston topped the list. Soon to be finished renovations to the acquired Compaq Center (former home of the Houston Rockets) will host the ever-growing mega-church. Pastor Joel Osteen packs them in with his feel-good call to “Discover the Champion Within.” His book, “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential,” hit the #1 slot on the New York times Best Seller list.

Well known evangelical leaders like Max Lucado and John Maxwell have endorsed his ministry, so even though I had no first hand knowledge of Osteen’s theology, I put him in the category of Rick Warren and Billy Graham – not as solid and straight shooting as John Piper and John MacArthor, but not as left-field as Joyce Myer and Jan Crouch. Perhaps I nodded approval too quickly.

Recently, The Crusty Curmudgeon criticized the Christianized self-help guru’s theology as being “a mile wide and a millimeter deep.” The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, goes so far as to call the evangelical blogging community to “Out Osteen” for his denial of the faith once delivered to the saints. I decided to check him out for myself.

This morning I watched an internet broadcast of one of Osteen’s sermons, “Have the Courage to be Different.” Although he began his sermon with the congregation holding their Bibles in the air chanting allegiance to the written Word of God, he spent precious little time in its pages. He took his text from about 1/3 of a verse, Romans 12:2a, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” (J. B. Phillips paraphrase) He later turned to the book of Daniel to make his main point, “If you do your part and swim against the stream, God will reward and bless you.”

The remainder of the skyscraper sermon (one story on top of another) served to illustrate his main point. Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself and therefor God rewarded him by moving him up the corporate ladder. (Daniel 1:8) His other illustrations included his physician brother not going along with a scheme to hide doctor error from a patient, a book-keeper refusing to cheat a client out of money, a girl choosing church over her boyfriend, and his dad asking some rowdy baseball fans to refrain from foul language. In every instance God rewarded the person for taking the high road. His brother eventually moved up to head surgeon and part owner of the hospital, the book-keeper influenced her boss to stop cheating other people, the girlfriend found a new love and the cussing fans changed their tune to shouts of “hallelujah” when their team scored the next run.

Between each story Osteen reinforced his point with metaphorical challenges to stand out in the crowd, swim upstream, and soar like eagles; as well as his favorite homespun aphorism of the day, “cream always rises to the top.” No Christ, no cross, no mention of man’s moral bankruptcy, just the feel-good positive message of assurance that God always rewards human effort and virtue. To close the service he turned to the camera with a quick 20 word sinners prayer with the assurance “if you just prayed that prayer you are now born again.”

I commend Osteen for calling his parishioners to a life void of dirty jokes, lying, cheating, premarital cohabitation, and foul language, but if we take the time to exegete the sermon’s key passage (Romans 12:2) we see that Osteen’s pep-rally falls woefully short of the Biblical doctrine the Apostle Paul gives his readers. Paul does indeed urge us not to be conformed to this world, or as J. B. Philips puts it “don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” As Osteen rips the phrase from its context, he twists it beyond recognition.

While Christians should have “Courage To Be Different,” Osteen runs counter to Paul when he stresses the motivation for a life of sanctification to be man-centered self promotion, instead of self sacrificing Godward worship. The previous verse gives clear indication of what prompts a believer to resist worldly conformity. Paul says, “Therefore, I urge you brethren by the mercies of God.” (Romans 12:1) With these words the apostle links the coming challenge with the mercies of God previously delineated in chapters 1-11. These abounding undeserved mercies of God include, justification Romans 2:13, propitiation of sin Romans 3:25, forgiveness of our evil deeds Romans 4:7-8, reconciliation with God through the death of His Son Romans 5:10, freedom from the bondage of sin Romans 6:18, the right to be called heirs and the children of God Romans 8:14–17, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the gift of faith, and much much more. These rich mercies of God, not personal promotion, should compel us to offer our bodies a living sacrifice in fitting worship to our all deserving glorious God. Joel Osteen turns Paul’s admonition inside out and upside down when he changes the substance of our worship to God for undeserved mercies into a man-centered program to gain deserving reward.

If this one random sermon provided an indicative look into Joel Osteen’s typical sermon fair, I do not recommend his ministry and wonder why some evangelical leaders have done so. While he may not seem as extreme as the lunatic fringe of the health wealth and prosperity, name it and claim it, blab it and grab it crowd, the end effect may be more dangerous because of his wider appeal.