I AM A DEBTOR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-27-54 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through the Word, we are in the first chapter of the Book of Romans, and the text is in the fourteenth verse [Romans 1:14]. Let us begin at the eighth verse and read through the [sixteenth], Romans, the first chapter, beginning at the eighth verse:
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;
Making requests, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.
For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;
That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
Now I would not have you without knowledge, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was hindered hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.
I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise—
then my text for tonight—
So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
The sermon this morning is in Romans 1:14: “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.” That is, he is under tribute and obligation to all of the peoples, and nations, and cultures, and languages, tribes and families of the world. By that grouping: Greek, the cultured and educated Greco-Romans; the barbarians, the man untouched by the higher cultures of civilization; the wise, those who are trained in the way of the Lord; the unwise, those to whom the message has never been made known: I am debtor to them all. That’s a strange thing for a man to say, isn’t it? That he should refer to the fact that he is loaded down with debt to all of the families, and nations, and peoples, and tribes of the world. What does he mean when he says he is under obligation, he has a debt to pay? Well, it is a debt of a man who has “the message of life,” to a man who is dying; it is that kind of a debt.
It is a kind of a debt, as if you stood by the bedside and saw a fellow perishing with an unspeakable, indescribable, loathsome, and incurable disease, and you knew the remedy; you knew how to make him well and strong; you knew how to heal him of his malignancy, of his malady; you had an answer; because you know you have a debt to that man who lies there in agony and in death. It is the same kind of a debt as if you and a party were lost in the desert. And you left the group, searching for water to drink, and you found it—a crystal pool of clear, cool spring water; and the palms grew by the stream. And you bathed in it; and you drank it; and you sat down under the palm and enjoyed it; and forgot of the party that is perishing and famishing of thirst.
You have a debt! You are under obligation! “I have found the water! I have found a spring!” You have a debt to return to the party and say: “This is the way of life! I have found water, water to drink! “I am debtor!” It is the same kind of a debt that the Good Samaritan felt that he owed to the poor wretched traveler who fell among thieves on the road to Jericho. He was lying there in his own blood, robbed and beaten and left for dead. And the Samaritan passed by, and he felt that he owed that wretched, dying, robbed, beaten man—owed him life and protection and care—a debt [Luke 10:25-37]. It is the same kind of a debt as if you were in a boat and were rowing down across the lake, and in front of you, a boat capsized and it sank, and the poor wretches were struggling in the water, and they lifted up their arms to you, crying for help. And you, in your boat as you row by, you have a debt, an obligation. “I am debtor to the Greeks, to the barbarians; to the wise, to the unwise” [Romans 1:14], that kind of a debt.
It is another kind of a debt Paul felt in his own life and heart and in the kingdom of the gospel of the message that he was preaching in the name of Christ Jesus, that all of these somehow had made a contribution to the progress and the furtherance of the preaching of the gospel. We owe them a debt, all of them. The Greek—what did he do for the gospel? [Romans 1:14]. The language the gospel was preached in, and the language the gospel was first written in, was the incomparably beautiful and expressive language of the Hellenes. It was the universal tongue, and the Greeks had spread an universal culture, an universal culture and in that culture and in that language, the gospel of the Lord Jesus was preached, and it was written. And all of the civilized world heard it because of the inheritance they had received from the hand of the Greeks.
What did he owe to the Romans? The Romans built the road that the gospel message traveled over. The Romans insured a peaceful world. The Romans put together in one great empire, all of the known civilized world; law, order, justice, the inter-communication of people and ideas, all of it was a gift of Rome.
The Jew; what did he owe the Jew? I say to you, in my humble opinion, the greatest debt that the world owes today is to the Jews; to the Jews. In so many places, hated and despised and outcast, put in his ghetto, or the victim of violent anti-Semitism; the world owes its greatest debt to the Jew. Why, through them was delivered the oracles of God, the prophets, the apostles, and according to the flesh, our own Savior, the Son of God and the Son of Mary Romans 9:4-5].
What does he owe to the barbarians? [Romans 1:14]. The vast, uncultured groups who inhabited the darkened continent and the fringes of the civilized world, what did he owe to them? Much, every way: their humility; their eager readiness to believe, to accept, and their worship of the great Spirit whose name they could not fathom, but whose presence they intuitively knew. A debtor to all of the families, and languages, and tribes, and peoples, and nations of the world; I am a debtor! [Romans 1:14].
And now to bring that to our heart and to us today; we are debtors, all of us! We are debtors to the people who have lived before us and to all of our contemporaries today. There is not any man sufficient unto himself; we are dependent upon them. We are under tribute and under obligation to them [Romans 1:14].
In the last several years, it has grown popular to write stories in magazines about successful men. Sometimes they are autobiographical. And those men parade before our people as examples of great success, or they operated before us as examples of great success. We have some of those men here in Dallas. I have read of them in some of the magazines of America. And I am proud of them, and proud of their success. And I thank God for all that they have done. But I also have this comment to make: there is not a man among them, not a one of them, but that owes his success to somebody else; he’s a debtor to somebody else. Nineteen-twentieth of everything that he has was given to him by somebody who lived before, and the other one-twentieth was given by a contemporary. He is a debtor, with all of his prowess and all of his good fortune.
For one thing, when he rises from bed in the morning, he couldn’t rise, he wouldn’t be there to rise, had it not been for his mother’s pain and the blessing of an early home. He rises, having spent a night’s sleep in safety: but the reason that he slept in safety was because somebody died that he might be saved. An unknown guardian watched over him during the night. He dresses: but the clothes that he puts on, he didn’t spin or weave or make. And he speaks: but the language that he uses was created by a thousand Miltons who turned it into silver bells and by the blood of men who died for freedom of speech. He gets in an automobile that he didn’t make; unknown men dug out and ferreted out all of the patents that go into that complicated machine. He comes downtown, and he walks on these streets that he didn’t build, and he goes up into an office that he didn’t erect. And he uses a telephone that he didn’t invent. And he looks out of the windowpanes that he didn’t discover. And he uses electricity that he didn’t discover… And why go on? Just exactly what did he do? Just exactly what? He is a debtor, a debtor! And all that he has, he owes to somebody else. In the Book it says, “We brought nothing into this world” [1Timothy 6:7]. In this Book it says, “that all that we have, first we received” [1 Corinthians 4:7].
Robert Louis Stevenson one time simply remarked, regarding the pride of our human family: “To every man’s hand, something is given, if it be nothing less than four fingers and a thumb.” I never made them, somebody put them there; I am a debtor to somebody else.
When we turn to the church and our Christian faith and our Christian lives, ah, under what tribute and what obligation does the Christian find himself a debtor. This church here—I have been here ten years—it was here before I came. Some of you have been here forty years, fifty years, sixty years! It was here before you came. Somebody, back yonder before we came into this fellowship, founded here in this city this blessed church. And they watered it with their tears; and they sacrificed for it; and they nurtured it and cared for it and ministered to it—all of them in the days and in the years that are past.
Our singer says: “We will now turn to the hymn and sing the hymn.” He didn’t write that hymn! Nor did I! Nor did we! The songs that we sing, somebody gave them to us. And the Bible that I hold in my hand, I didn’t write it! We did not write it! Neither did our fathers and mothers write it. Back yonder, back yonder, back yonder, in the dim ages of the past, thousands and thousands of years ago, did men pick up a pen, and under the hand of God, and for a period of two thousand years, were they inspired to write the revelation of the oracles of Almighty God [2 Timothy 3:16].
The fact that we meet here today, unmolested and unafraid—what if our congregation was in Moscow? What if our congregation was in Peking? I wonder if I would be here at all? I wonder if this congregation would meet unmolested? For the freedom of this assembly, we owe a debt, an obligation. We are under tribute to how many? To whom? Their blood, their lives—how much do we owe!!!
And when I speak of our Savior, the Lord Jesus; “We are not our own,” Paul said in Corinthians, “Bought with a price, He paid it all [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. Robert Murray M’Cheyne died when he was thirty years old. He burnt himself out, a young Scots preacher, lived a little over a hundred years ago, but he left an indelible impression upon the world; though he died when he was thirty. And one of the most beautiful poems, I think, in the English language is this written by that young preacher entitled: “How Much I Owe.”
When this passing world is done,
When it has sunk beyond glowing sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking over our life, our finished story;
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.
. . .
When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art
Loving with unsinning heart;
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,—
Not till then—how much I owe.
When the praise of heav’n I hear,
Loud as thunder to the ear,
Loud as many water’s noise.
Sweet as harp’s melodious voice,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.
Even on earth, as through a glass
Darkly, let Thy glory pass,
Make forgiveness feel so sweet,
Make Thy Spirit’s help so meet,
Each on earth, Lord, make me know
Something of how much I owe.
. . .
[“I Am Debtor,” Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 1837]
I am debtor! We are debtors to the grace and mercy [Ephesians 2:4-10; Titus 3:5], to the life and atoning death of the Son of God! [Romans 4:25, 5:11; Hebrews 2:17] We are in His debt! [Romans 1:14].
And now, turning to the other: we are debtors to those who need us [Romans 1:14]. There is not a broken, pained, tortured body; there is not a lost sheep; there is not a storm-driven soul; there is not a leper; there is not a darkened mind and a clouded life but to whom you and I owe the debt of the unfathomable, unsearchable riches of the mercy of God in Christ Jesus [Ephesians 3:8].
God made it that way. We are in their debt. That’s the reason, and in it the heart of this church beats as one, that’s the reason that over yonder we have a West Dallas mission. Over yonder, we have our Hampton Road mission. And right over there, we support our Dallas Community Center, and right beyond we bought and helped to build the first Mexican church here in this city. We owe a debt to our Latin Americans, and as faithfully and valiantly as we know how, we are trying to be true to that obligation. There is a part of all that you bring here to this church that goes into that ministry.
That’s the reason that over yonder, and over yonder, and when the Supreme Court has given its decision, over yonder we shall have our third Anglo mission, ministering to thousands of people in this city, our debt, our obligation under tribute. That’s the reason that as I went around with Dr. Goldie, visiting the lepers in Nigeria, West Africa, all through that great, vast country, clan settlements, where they picked up the outcasts because the leper cannot associate in the family any longer; nor can he visit in the village any longer; nor can he have a home where other people live any longer. And they are thrust outside and pushed away; and we gather them up, and in clan settlements all through the country, we gather them up. And the physician with his nurse, his male nurse, the physician makes regular journeys, bringing to them medicine, looking at their sores, caring for their leprous body. Who sent out that missionary? We did! Who buys that medicine? We do! Who built those clan settlements? We did! Why? Why? Because of the unspeakable, unfathomable, indescribable urge on the inside when a man becomes a child of God—a debt to pay, a debt to pay. Part of everything you bring to this church goes over there, goes over there.
And I haven’t time, I haven’t time to speak, of the ministry that we seek to share with our brethren that goes all the way around this earth. While we sleep; carrying on, ah, the debt, the debt that we owe! And I’m glad to share it; no burden to me, no burden to me! There’s an unspeakable joy; there’s an inevitable gladness; there’s an indescribable celestial holiness that comes from the knowledge that through this blessed church, and in what little that I am able to dedicate to its work, I have a part in ministry to the need of our world. I am debtor! I am debtor! [Romans 1:14].
And now the last: I cannot remember when I didn’t hear people refer to the fact that we have one last debt to pay. You know what they mean by it. We have a final debt to pay; and all of us have it—a final debt. They are talking about our inevitable and final hour when we pay back the debt of this life in death. A final debt to pay: go through those cemeteries… “paid in full,” “paid in full,” “paid in full.” We all have a rendezvous with the pale horseman, a final debt to pay [Hebrews 9:27]. And it is sobering! It is sobering!
I sat down this week with one or two men in the Baraca Sunday School class. We got to talking about our wonderful friends in that class, some already over the divide, some who are looking into the face of God even now. And one of the men remarked, he said: “You know, there were six of us, that every Monday we sat down and talked about our class, six of us in the class, meeting every Monday, four of them gone, two of us left.”
A few weeks ago, accepting an invitation to speak in California, I went out there, not nearly so much to speak as it was to see my mother, go up there into the cemetery, stand there on the side of a valley, look down there—my name on that grave. I have my father’s name. You can’t stand and read your own name there without having a sobering effect; just a matter of this long or this long, this many days or this many days—that debt that we pay [Romans 1:14].
But that’s not the last one. That’s not the last one. There’s another one still. I’ve always thought there is another one still. I have another debt. I have another rendezvous. I have another obligation. You know what it is? It’s not just to die. It’s not just that this body be given back to the ground from whence it came, to which inevitably it returns, paying the debt, but there is another. I have a debt, a rendezvous to make; it’s in glory. It’s in heaven. And I ought to make it. Don’t you think? You ought to make it. Don’t you think? When the family gathers there, ought you to be there? When God calls the roll in glory, shouldn’t your name be there?
We’re invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb, and it is one invitation we ought to accept [Revelation 19:7-10]. We ought to make it. We ought to be there. When the Lord opens the portals of glory and the saints go marching in, in that number, don’t you belong? Do not I? Do not we? Isn’t that a debt we finally owe? [Romans 1:14]. That the grace of God was not shed in us and for us in vain [2 Corinthians 6:1], but that we kept the appointment [Romans 1:14].
“Lord, when the hour strikes and the great day comes, that rendezvous I’ll make. I’ll be there, Lord. It’s the great and final debt to which I will be true, I’ll make it, Lord! I’ll be there!” I am debtor to do it [Romans 1:14]. It’s not a heaven without you, you know that? I guess God in His infinite wisdom has a way to make it heaven when our families aren’t there, but I still say it’s not as heavenly as it could have been had you made it, had you made it. With you gone, however the Lord turns it, it’s not as glorious as had you made it. Somehow I think you owe that debt to be there when God’s great heavenly day brings together His children in this earth; you ought to be there, you ought to be there. That’s the reason we preach the gospel. That’s the reason Paul said: “So, as much as is in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome . . . For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that will receive it” [Romans 1:15-16]. “I am ready to preach the gospel . . . It is the power of God,” and we owe it to God to accept it. It is a debt to pay [Romans 1:14-16].
We must sing our song. While we sing it, from side to side, anywhere, everywhere, somebody you, would you step into this aisle and down here to the front, and stand by me? “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” Is there a child this morning, a you, a family? “Today, preacher, I’ll give my heart to the Lord in faith, in trust [Romans 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:8], here I come, and here I am.” Is there a family of you to come into the church? Today while we make this appeal, would you come into the aisle and down to the front, “Here we are, pastor, all of us.”
On the radio as we go off, if you have listened to this appeal this day, by your radio, in the chair, or in the bed where you sit or lie, would you give your heart to God? Would you say: “Lord, the humblest best I know how, I give my soul and my life in Thy keeping, in Thy trust. Anywhere in this vast auditorium, while we sing the song and make appeal, giving your heart to the Lord or into the fellowship of His church, would you come and stand by me? While all of us stand and sing together.