January 21st, 1945
Dr. W. A. Criswell
The Baptist Hour Radio Program
January 21, 1945
On the plains of Sharon, far out over the blue waters of the Mediterranean, glittered in ancient days the colonnaded streets and the marble palaces of Caesarea by the sea, the city of Herod, the provincial capital of Judea. Within the heart of the city, in the Roman praetorium, a scene is taking place the world can never forget. On the raised dais of the judgment hall is seated the Roman procurator Porcius Festus, and by his side are his guests of honor: Herod Agrippa, the king of Lebanon, with his sister Berenice. Below them, on the polished marble pavement, stands a Jew on trial for his life. On his hand is an iron chain, and a pace behind stands a Roman guard. The king addresses the prisoner, “Paul, thou art permitted to speak for thyself.” The prisoner replies, the iron chain on his hand giving a dramatic emphasis to his earnest words:
I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee …
I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God and to our fathers. I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth …
Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me …
And I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? …
And I said, Who art Thou, Lord? And He said, I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest.
But rise and stand upon thy feet; for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose: to make thee a minister and a witness …
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
But showed first unto them at Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God …
[Acts 26:2, 6, 12-20]
When the strange prisoner had ceased his pleading he had reached the hearts, not only of the king and his courtly friends, but across the centuries and down through the years he had touched the hearts of the millions who have shared a like experience of surrender to this Jesus of Nazareth.
It is the prayer of the Southwide Radio Committee that this morning hour, which begins Student Life Commitment Sunday, might be used of God to encourage our young people one by one in their homes to respond to the Savior’s call for personal service. Such a vital decision on the part of our young people touches our home and church life so intimately until we all are inextricably involved. The appeal, therefore, affecting us all, is made to us all: to the youth, to the home, to the church.
First then, to you, my young friend. Have you seen a heavenly vision of Christ and of Christ’s will for your life, one that you cannot forget or escape or subdue? Have you met the Lord on a Damascus road, an experience that burns in memory to your latest breath? Have you heard a voice that will not drown, a call that will not fade away? Is there in your heart a yearning restlessness, a consuming eagerness, a fire of love and interest in the things of Christ that will not die? Has God spoken to you? These calls and appeals come through the Spirit of the Lord from everywhere; from every continent and across every sea, over every mountain range and beyond every barrier. Who could but listen to the voice of lost and undone multitudes crying out from unfathomable depths of woe and sorrow, “Come over and help us,”? Every mission field in this bloodstained earth needs you. Every struggling church and city and town needs you. Our neglected rural communities cry out for you. There is no people or place, at home or abroad, where the gift of your consecrated life in royal service would not lift up a lost people unto God.
O young man, young woman, have you heard these calls? Have you seen the vision of help and service? Then do not turn it down or pass it by. The need is too great and the imperative will and wisdom of God is too vitally important; both now and forever, to you and to God’s needy people.
To refuse the call is to suffer in your soul every day that you live. Paul described the driving passion that throbbed in his own heart when he said, “For necessity is laid upon me, yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel” [1 Corinthians 9:20]. Yea, woe is unto every one of us who has seen the heavenly vision but who turns back in selfishness, self will, and neglect. The refusal to surrender to the will of God is to surrender to defeat and to the misery of a life that has missed its high, real, God-given purpose. There is no comfort for that sorrow; no healing for that wound; no gathering up at a later date the broken strands of a wasted opportunity. Do I mean that it is a simple, easy task that pleads for the gift of your life? Easy? No one would deny that the commitment of your life in special service to the cause of Christ may mean untold trial and privation. Easy? When at the center of our Christian faith and on its skyline stands a naked, rugged, blood-stained cross?
One of the sobering realizations of the record of the kingdom of heaven is the apparent prodigality and awful wastefulness of God with the lives of His saints. For Christ, to surrender, “Thy will be done” [Matthew 26:42], meant Calvary. For Paul to surrender, “What wilt thou have me to do?” was to receive the verdict, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” [Acts 9:6, 16]. For [Balthasar] Hubmaier to be true to the heavenly vision meant death at the stake in the public square of Vienna, and the drowning of his wife in the Danube River. For [David] Livingstone to refuse the honors of England was to die alone on his knees in the heart of Africa. Here truly is a costly and an exhausting devotion; but oh, my young friend! What could more certainly glorify our poor dust and raise us into the very image of God than the gift of our lives to a holy sacrificial task? “Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate; let us go therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” [Hebrews 13:12-13]. A Lord so unspeakably wondrous and worthy deserves from us the Roman soldier’s sacramentum, the allegiance unto death, undaunted by insuperable, insurmountable difficulties.
Our spirit is to be that of John Calvin, who placed on his coat of arms a hand lifting up a burning heart unto God. I was deeply moved one time by a historian’s description of the Nicean conference [Council of Nicea, AD 325], an assemblage of God’s servants who had passed through the terrible Diocletian persecution: “Eyes gouged out, tongues slit or cut out, arms cut off, teeth gone, they had paid the price; but they had won the world.” It is not for us to say what shall be our destiny in the work of God. In the earthly record there are mighty men whose names are known; others who are cut down or who work in obscurity. But in the heavenly record all serve equally so, and equally great. It is not ours to choose or to understand. It is ours to trust, to surrender, to obey. Destiny, victory, and reward belong to God. Young man, young woman, will you let Him lead the way? Will you answer with your life His heavenly call? Will you? God bless you even now as you bow in victorious surrender.
Could I make appeal to you fathers and mothers, that you pray for your children to the end, that they faithfully follow the leadership of God? Yea, even more, that you lay upon the altar of service your sons and daughters? Like Hannah, give the child to God [1 Samuel 1:11]. You have a tremendously great responsibility in shaping the attitude of the youth toward needy people. For the sake of the boy and the girl, for the sake of the hungry heart of the world, for the sake of the lost in our own land, for the sake of Christ and His kingdom among men, give your children to God.
One of the moving incidents of this terrible war [World War II] concerns just such supreme devotion on the part of a little French mother. A group of soldiers were gathered at a station in France. One young man kissed his mother fondly, boarded, and as the train pulled out waved to her from the window. She, with a little French flag in her hand, waved in return. When the train had passed out of sight, the soldiers who remained in the station saw her fall to the ground, like a crumpled flower. They rushed to her, bathed her face with water, helped her tenderly. As she revived she began to talk slowly, sadly, brokenheartedly: “My husband, my eldest son, they will not come back; the war has taken their lives. My two other boys, these many months have been in the army. And now my youngest son, the widow’s staff, they call him too and take him away. Oh, oh, oh!” Just then, her eyes fell on the little French flag that heedlessly she had allowed to fall from her hands into her lap. Her eyes, through the tears began to flash. She picked it up, held it high as arm could reach, and cried pathetically, “Vive la France, Vive la France, Long live France.” Isn’t it true? We have given sons and daughters to the armed defense of our country. Could we offer them in like devotion to the saving of the world in the spiritual and blessed ministries of Christ?
The last appeal is to the churches, that we make it possible for these young lives of service given to Christ to count to the utmost for God and His work among men. More than a hundred years ago the churches prayed that the doors of mission lands might be open. Within fifty years that prayer was fully answered. Every land was an open door to any missionary who would come. The churches then began to pray that God would raise up volunteers, young men and young women, to go. God again answered prayer. When appeal was made from the pulpit calling out the call, sons and daughters offered themselves up in supreme allegiance to Christ to go anywhere, to do any work. The appeal then was made to the people of God to support the volunteers who were ready to go. But oh, what sorrowful days! Bankrupt mission boards bowed their heads in confusion and shame as the appeal for help fell on hard hearts and stony ground. Our churches denied their responsibilities; our people refused to give. The discouragement and heartache of our young people knew no bounds. The door of opportunity had been opened of God, they had answered the glorious vision; but the churches at home were lost to the sacrificial spirit and to the supreme devotion.
The aftermath of this terrible dereliction is this equally more terrible war. We are paying in blood, in toil, in tears, and in death. But, young people, there is another and a new day coming. We have learned at so great a price a lesson we shall never forget. As churches we too have seen a heavenly vision; we have heard the Macedonian call. We are ready, please God and by His grace, to stand by you as you prepare for Christ’s all-important worldwide tasks. You give yourself, young friend, and we shall see you through.
Several weeks ago, in a little country church of eastern Oklahoma, I saw [record skips] … giving her life to be a missionary, that she was praying, studying, going to school, preparing herself for that call. I answered her that the large majority of young men and women with whom I had gone to school were deeply disappointed in their day, because there was no one to send them after they had volunteered. But I added, “Young lady, a new day is coming. It is already here. You prepare, you train, and we shall make it possible for you to go. This time, we shall not let you down.” By the grace of God, I intend to keep that pledge. And I am persuaded that the millions of our people here in the Southland will not fail you when the hour of world evangelism strikes again. We are preparing even now to help.
O youth of today, if God calls, you answer, you obey. Whether for foreign fields or for service here at home, we shall, through prayer and faithful support, make your allegiance to Christ a victorious and a blessed surrender.