Blood On Our Hands
January 31st, 1954 @ 7:30 PM
BLOOD ON OUR HANDS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-31-54 7:30 p.m.
This morning, tonight, and for the next several Sundays we shall be preaching out of the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts. There is hardly a syllable in this address that Paul made to the elders of the church at Ephesus that does not have in it an eternal message for us who live and who labor in the circumference of the church of Jesus today, the church which He bought with His own precious blood [Ephesians 5:25]. The text tonight is in Acts 20:26-27:
Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
I have done my best: I have preached; I have witnessed; I have testified; I have gone from house to house, door to door.
By the space of three years I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears [Acts 20:31],
Preaching repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 20:21].
Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men [Acts 20:26].
And the title of the sermon is Blood on Our Hands.
That thing, blood on his hands, stayed in my mind from the description of one of our young men in this last World War. He and another group were given an especial assignment to destroy a certain center of the enemy. It was an attack at night. It was a personal attack, with gun and knife and violence. And this young man, with the other fellows in the uniform of our country, carried out their assignment, and they destroyed that center by gun and by knife and by murder. When the young man came back to report, he looked at his hands, and his hands were red with human blood. I haven’t time to follow the sequel, but I suspect a lot of us would fall into the same despair into which he fell; blood on his hands. The boy finally came through and is a glorious young preacher today. But that expression that he used stayed in my memory: “blood on his hands.”
The imagery of blood, what it stands for, what it represents is used all through the Word of God, from the beginning of time until this present moment. In the Book of Leviticus, God said, “The life is in the blood; and I have given it to you for an atonement for your souls” [Leviticus 17:11]. The life is in the blood. Back there in the days of our first parents, when Cain quarreled with his brother Abel, lifted up his hand and destroyed his life [Genesis 4:8], the Lord God said to Cain from heaven, “Cain, Cain, the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground” [Genesis 4:10]. The Lord said to David, “David, it shall be for thy son to build My house because thou art a man of blood” [1 Chronicles 28:3]. Our Lord Jesus, after He had eaten the Passover with His disciples took bread, and brake it, and said, “Take, eat, all, eat of it; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, the fruit of the vine, and said, “This is My blood of the new covenant, shed for the remission of sin” [Matthew 26:26-28]. The pouring out of His life, the blood represents the life; “and the life is in the blood” [Leviticus 17:11-14].
And from that it came into the nomenclature and imagery of Holy Scripture: blood representing life, blood representing the responsibility of life; representing physical life, the life we know in the flesh. When Pontius Pilate, at the cruel insistence of the Jewish people, finally delivered Jesus up to be crucified [Matthew 27:26], he called one of his slaves and said, “Bring me a basin of water and a towel.” And there, in the presence of the people, Pilate washed his hands, “I am free, I am guiltless from the blood of this just Man” [Matthew 27:24], and he wiped his hands and dried them with the towel. And the people cried, “His blood be upon us, and upon our children” [Matthew 27:25]; the responsibility for physical life.
And that imagery came finally to be applied to the responsibility for spiritual life. When the Lord spake to His people through Isaiah the prophet, He said:
When you spread forth your hands, I will hide My eyes from you;
and when you make your prayers, I will close My ears to you:
for your hands are full of blood.
Their spiritual, religious life was an affront to God, and when they came to pray, their hands were crimson, covered in blood. And in the thirty-third chapter of the Book of Ezekiel is one of the great messages of all time. God said:
When I put a watchman on the tower and he does not cry the danger to the people, and the enemy comes, and they are devoured by the sword, their blood will I require at the watchman’s hand. So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: and thou shalt hear the word from My mouth, and warn them from Me. And when I say unto the wicked, O thou wicked man, thou shalt surely, surely die; if thou does not speak to warn the wicked of his evil way, he shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. His soul will be chargeable to your account. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way, and he persists, and does not turn, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
And in the Book of Acts, in the eighteenth chapter, after Paul had poured out his soul and his heart to his own kinsmen, his Jewish people, they turned and spurned his message. And Paul said, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean, I have done my best: henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” [Acts 18:6]. And then my text: after the end of his third missionary journey, after the end of his wonderful ministry in the city of Ephesus, he called the elders of the church together, and as he bid them goodbye, said my word, “I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God” [Acts 20:26-27].
Now to us, in the ordinance, in the economy, in the arrangement, in the dispensation, in the government of God, the Lord hath ordained that we are responsible for our fellow men. In the day of the beginning, in the day of Cain and Abel, when the Lord said, “Cain, where is thy brother Abel? For his blood cries out unto Me from the ground. Where is he?” and Cain replied, “How would I know? How do I know? Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:8-10], and that question reverberates through the ages, and through the times, and through the centuries, and through the millennium: “Am I my brother’s keeper? Is it chargeable unto me how he fares, how he does, what comes of him? Am I accountable? Am I my brother’s keeper?” And it reverberates through the centuries. And the whole Bible is an answer to that question. If he’s hungry and I have bread to eat, God holds me accountable that he starves. If he’s thirsty and I have water to drink, God holds me responsible that he dies of thirst. And if he’s lost and I know the way, I don’t show him how he can be saved, then God holds me responsible. The whole world almost is an Aceldama, a field of blood to bury strangers in [Acts 1:19]; for their blood is on our hands.
There are not many of us who could stand up here tonight and say, “As God liveth, and as my soul liveth, I have done my utmost and my best to declare to all men everywhere the whole counsel of God” [Acts 20:27]. How many of us by the space of three years, or one year, or one week, have not ceased to warn everyone night and day with tears, testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ? [Acts 20:31, 21]. That’s the reason, and listen to me: that’s the reason, that it is my earnest, fervent hope, Bob, that what we do over there in that recreational building somehow be turned and used, that those young people who are attracted by the glory and the movement and the activity of that program, may also be told of the will and the way of the Lord Jesus. I believe if God is taken into our counsels and into our heart, He will show us how to turn it to a holy end, to a holy end. We’ll make friends there; not only for ourselves, we’ll make friends for Jesus.
And that’s the reason that from the beginning I have pled and preached and tried my utmost to get our Sunday school into a great soul-winning way. We’re not down here just to greet one another and to oil our machinery so it runs beautifully and smoothly, so that we can just keep on in that squirrel cage over and over again, same people, same group, oh no! But that all the energy and all the life of our Sunday school in its departments and in its classes might be turned to the heavenly end that God sends us out to put our arms around this whole city, bring them to the house of God to be taught the Word and way of the Lord. Our accountability: blood on our hands.
It will surprise you, it will surprise you how many people will respond. You will be amazed. You will be dumbfounded. You will be surprised. I went to a home, knocked at the door; I had never seen them before, nor had I ever heard of them. I went to a home and knocked at the door. A man came to the door. I told him my name, “And I’m pastor of the First Baptist Church.” He said, “Well, we are very surprised. No preacher has ever come into our home, never. We are very surprised. Come in.” I came in. I sat down in the living room. He called his wife. I talked to them just a little while about the church. I talked to them just a little while about the Savior and just a little while about how a man can be saved. I asked if I might lead in prayer: they were happy that I prayed for them. When I lifted up my head, I extended my hand, and I said, “Sir, if you’ll take the Lord Jesus as your Savior, would you take me by the hand?” And he took me by the hand. And I extended the other hand to her, and I said, “If you will take the Lord as your Savior, would you take my hand?” And she took my other hand. And I prayed again; and I baptized both of them. It happened; that entire thing transpired in fifteen minutes, in fifteen minutes. “First time any preacher ever came into our home.”
If I had the energy, if I did not have the burden and the responsibility of the many things that fill up my life, I’d love to devote a life going from house to house, knocking at the door, pleading “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:21].
That man that came down the aisle this morning, he’s here tonight. He has a Catholic background. Said, “I’ve never seen anybody baptized.” I said, “You come tonight and watch me baptize these people. And then next Sunday night, you can be baptized.” He’d never talked to a minister of our faith or communion before; knew absolutely nothing about it. I sat down with him yesterday, and in just a few minutes, just a few minutes, “Yes sir, pastor, I’ll be right down that aisle. I’ll publicly give my heart to the Lord Jesus, and I’ll be baptized.” And it was that simple, that simple.
“Well preacher, do these great decisions, do they come in such moments of time, do they come in such simple ways?” Yes they do. Yes they do. Conversion is a beginning; and a beginning is never progressive. We either start or we don’t. We either do or we don’t. We say yes or we say no. And whenever I start, that’s the beginning, and the beginning is the conversion. “I’m on the way.” Maybe a feeble way, maybe a little way, maybe a small way, maybe barely a way, but when I start, that’s it. And it’s like that; it can’t be progressive. I’m on the way or I’m not. I’m either converted or I’m not. I’ve either turned or I haven’t. “Here I come, preacher,” or, “No sir, no sir.”
“Well pastor, could it be as simple as that, that a man should say yes, and that in that yes his eternal salvation is determined, and his destiny now and forever is made? Can it be that simple?” Yes sir, it’s that simple. It’s that simple. If God had made it difficult, I might have missed the way as a ten year old boy. I didn’t have any theology in my head when I was ten years old. I didn’t know much about the ancient Scriptures when I was ten years old. I might have known the name of one king in Israel. I might have been able to quote a few verses. But I wasn’t a theologian ten years of age. And if the Lord had made the way difficult and erudite and hard to find, I might have missed it. I might have missed it. Those two precious little girls I baptized tonight, Jeannie and Elizabeth Ann Allen, why, they wouldn’t be there yet if God had not made it so plain and so simple that a child could answer yes, could answer yes.
I don’t know whether you were here or not, when Robert, when Robert G. Lee was preaching in a revival meeting here in this pulpit. He told a little story that stayed also in my memory. They called him in Memphis, Tennessee, to go see a thirteen year old boy who was dying. The lad wasn’t a Christian. And so he went to see him, to lead him to Christ before he died. And the boy was under an oxygen tent. And the preacher said he stuck his head underneath the oxygen tent, and he talked to the boy about how a boy can be saved. And he said those simple things:
If thou wilt trust in your heart, and confess with your mouth, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart we believe; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed. . .For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But to as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the children of God; even to them that trust in His name.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,
that anybody that believes in Him should never perish,
but have everlasting life.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” [Acts 16:31]. And he said, “Son, will you believe and be saved?” And the boy in amazement looked into the face of the preacher, and asked, “But preacher, is it that easy? Is it that easy?” And the preacher replied, “Son, it’s easy for you; it wasn’t for Him.” He made it that way. He died in our stead [2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:8]. He suffered our death [1 Corinthians 15:3]. All of the pangs and hours of the penalty and recompense of our sin He took in His own body on the tree [1 Peter 2:24]. It is His blood shed for the remission of sins [Matthew 26:28]. Easy for you, easy for you, plain for you; it was a hard road for Him. He does it. He does it. He does it. We, we take it, the gift from His blessed hands.
I repeat: it will surprise you how many will respond: “Come, come, come,” it will surprise you how many will respond. Then what of those that do not? There’s a heartbreak in it, I know. There’s a heartache in it, that’s right. I spoke of it just momentarily this morning; Paul, as he cried [Acts 20:19, 31]; Why did he cry? Tears were wrung from his heart by those who rejected his message. It hurt. It hurts God. It hurts heaven. It hurts the angels. It hurts the Savior. All of the glories that are crowded together, heap upon heap, grace for grace, and faith for faith, the ladder that goes clear up to glory, to spurn it, to pass it by, “No, preacher, no. No, church, no. No, Bible, no. No, God, no. No, Christ, no, no, no.”
“But this is My blood shed for you.”
“My hands were pierced and nailed for you.”
“But I sent My preacher to appeal.”
“But I built My church.”
“No!” And there’s a heartache in it. Then Paul cried, Paul wept [Acts 20:19, 31], tears wrung from his heart by the rejection of those who said no. But when he came to the end of his ministry, he said the words of my text: “But I take you to record this day, that I have done my best, I did my best, and I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God” [Acts 20:26-27]. “Their blood is not on my hands. My employees, my friends, my neighbors, the people I know, I’ve done what I could. I am free, pure, clean from the blood of all men.”
After we’ve delivered our message, after we have obeyed Christ’s command, after we’ve done our best, then our hands, as God shall look upon them, our hands are clean; we’ve done our best.
A freight conductor pulled his big train into a siding in a small town; got off of the caboose, went into the office, he’d pulled his freight off the main line to let the big passenger all Pullman train from the west speed by. When he went into the office, he was given a yellow piece of paper, and on it were the orders written, “You’re to proceed on down the main line, the main track. And at such and such place, pull in your freight train; there let the great passenger speeding Pullman train go by.” So the conductor gave orders to the engineer and the fireman, and they pulled the big freight on the main track. When the freight got speed, and the great moving weight was underway, rounding a curve they saw the headlights and heard the whistle of the all Pullman train from the west, speeding. There was the awful telescoping of the cars, there was the awful, indescribable wreck, and the engineer killed, and the fireman killed, and the dead and the dying everywhere. And the conductor from the back of the freight making his way up to the awful hour, helping, ministering, calling for doctors, calling for nurses, calling for ambulances; blood, and death, and tears, and crying, and dying. The railway company appointed a board of inquiry. And they haled before it that freight conductor, “Why did you pull your freight into the main line and in the pathway of that speeding train?” And the freight conductor pulled out that yellow sheet: “These were my orders. These were my orders.” As an old man describing that terrible, that terrible night, he said, “In the years since, in the middle of the night have I awakened from those terrible dreams, I see again those that are dying, I hear again their cries of agony.” And he says, “I get up, I go to a hallway, and there on the side of the wall is an old yellow piece of paper, framed. And I stand in the hallway, and I point to it, and I say, ‘But it wasn’t my fault. Those were my orders, and I obeyed. It was not my fault. It was not my fault.’”
“Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men” [Acts 20:26]. I have obeyed the will of God. I have done my best. If they are lost, if they are lost it has been over my testimony, and my witness, my appeal, my prayer, my intercession, my best for God.
Somebody you here tonight, the Lord sent you here. In this praying company, in this host of Christian people, every one of whom would say yea and amen to the appeal that I make for Christ tonight, would you say yes to Him? “Here I am, preacher, here I come. Tonight I’ll give my life and my heart to the Lord Jesus. I’ll do it now. I’ll do it now. My humble best, I’ll make it now. I’ll do it now.” Tonight, somebody you, put his life in the fellowship of our church, would you make it now? Bring your family, “Here’s my family, pastor, we’re all coming tonight.” Is there a youth here, or a child? In the balcony around, anywhere, somebody you, “Here I come, pastor, here I come. I’m answering the call of God. I’m giving Him my heart and soul and life, and here I come. Here I am.” Out of your seat, into this aisle, down here by my side, would you come? “I’ll do it now, pastor, I’ll make it now.” While we stand and while we sing.