THE FAMILY OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-13-57 10:50 a.m.
You’re listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled The Family of God. It is a textual message. In our preaching through the Word, we are in the third chapter of the Ephesian letter, Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus.
In the third chapter of Paul’s letter to Ephesus, the fourteenth verse, he says, "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," and the next verse, "Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" [Ephesians 3:15].
The text: "The whole family in heaven and earth" – God’s one family in heaven and earth. The word is singular, patria, "family," singular: "the whole family," the one family of God in heaven and in earth.
Bereavements are the deepest and the most sore of all the griefs that come to mortal life, the separation that heart sustains in death. God permits us to love those He places in our arms, and the sweetest tendrils of affection we cast about them. Then when they are torn away, we cannot help but weep and lament.
Jesus wept [John 11:35]. A stoic is not a Christian. He is altogether removed from the tenderhearted Jesus. Standing at the tomb of a loved friend, Jesus burst into tears [John 11:35-36]. David cried, "O my son, my son, would God I had died in thy stead. O my son, my son!" [2 Samuel 18:33] The Scriptures say that Jeremiah lamented over Josiah, the good king, and wrote lamentations by which Israel mourned the passing of the good King Josiah [2 Chronicles 35:25].
The Book of Acts says that when Stephen died, devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him [Acts 8:2]. The same Book of Acts says that when Peter came to the house where Dorcas lay a corpse that the widows stood around holding up the little garments that she had made [Acts 9:39]. And as they stood, they wept.
We cannot help it. Bereavement plows up our souls and breaks our hearts. But the text that we’ve read so many times and glossed over has in it for our souls one of the holy revelations of the Holy Book of God. God says there is one family, not two – not a broken family, not a divided family: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" [Ephesians 3:14-15].
It seems to us that death makes a breech – that God’s family is not one but two: God’s family in heaven, and another, God’s family in the earth. But God’s Book says they are not divided. They’re not two. They are not broken. God says they are one family [Ephesians 3:15] – some of His children in heaven, some of His children in the earth. But they are still undivided. Death makes no breech between them.
When our Lord was raised, the angel said, "Come, see the place where He lay. He is not here; He is risen. Go tell His disciples He meets them in Galilee, alive, raised" [from Matthew 28:6-7]. In the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, the inspired apostle cries, "Who, what shall separate us from God?" [Romans 8:35] And his first question: "Death? Death?" [Romans 8:38].
Israel was on either side of the Jordan. Gad and Reuben and the half tribe of Manasseh were on the other side of the river [Joshua 22:9], but at no place in the Bible does it ever suggest that those two and a half tribes were other than one with the rest of Israel though the waters of the Jordan rolled in between. We are not two families. We are one – some of us here, some of us over there.
There’s no student now in school who is not introduced in English literature to the sweet and beautiful romanticist William Wordsworth [1770-1850], the greatest of the late poets of England, the baccalaureate, the laureate, the sweetest love song singer of that beautiful romantic period. How he could say the humblest, sweetest things.
Ever see a little flower by the stone,
Violet by a mossy bank,
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.
[from "Lucy," by William Wordsworth, c. 1800]
That’s Wordsworth. But of all of the beautiful poems of the great, great, English poet, I do not think there is one sweeter than this beautiful, beautiful Christian sentiment entitled "We are Seven": the story of a little girl who describes to an inquiring friend how many they are in her family. Listen to Wordsworth:
A simple Child, that lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb, what should it know of death?
I met a little cottage Girl: she was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl that clustered round her head.
She had a rustic, woodland air, and she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair; her beauty made me glad.
"Sisters and brothers, little Maid, how many may you be?"
"How many? Seven in all," she said, and wondering looked at me.
"And where are they? I pray you tell." She answered, "Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell, and two are gone to sea."
"And two of us in the church-yard lie, My sister and my brother;
And, in the church-yard cottage, I dwell near them with my mother."
"You say that two at Conway dwell, And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell, Sweet Maid, how this could be."
Then did the little Maid reply, "Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie, beneath the church-yard tree."
"You run about, my little Maid, your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid, then ye are only five."
"Their graves are green, they may be seen," the little Maid replied,
"Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door, and they’re side by side.
"My stockings there I often knit, my kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit, and sing a song to them.
"And often after sunset, Sir, when it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer, and eat my supper there.
"The first that died was sister Jane; in bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain; and then she went away.
"So in the church-yard she was laid; and, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played, my brother John and I.
"And when the ground was white with snow, and I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go, and he lies by her side."
"How many are you, then," said I, "if they two are in heaven?"
Quick was the little Maid’s reply, "O Master! we are seven."
"But they are dead; these two are dead! Their spirits are in heaven!"
‘Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will, and said, "Nay, we are seven!"
["We Are Seven," by William Wordsworth, 1810]
The great poet has captured the spirit and the truth of the revelation of God. It is an unbroken family. It is one undivided family: some of us in heaven, some of us in earth. "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" [from Ephesians 3:14-15]. Now may God help me and bless me as I speak of that holy truth this solemn sacred hour.
A family is not built upon artificial lines but upon natural and eternal foundations. It is in the nature of things. It is a creation of God.
In the ancient day and the ancient world, they formed guilds, men who had a like artistry or artisanship or a like craft, and they associated themselves together in a common life being employed in a common work. In our modern days, men associate themselves together along political lines following political creeds. And sometimes they associate themselves together because of likeness in tastes, and they organize groups to further the things to which they are devoted. But these associations are artificial and therefore temporary. Tastes change, leagues dissolve, society passes, and all of those associations and organizations come to nothing.
But it is not so with the family. The family is built not upon artificial but on natural lines, and it endures forever. My mother is my mother forever; my father is my father forever not by arbitrary choice or by artificial organization but by the creative bloodstream of almighty God. My sisters are my sisters, and my brothers are my brothers. It is an eternal relationship.
And that same conception and that same revelation of the family of God not only is true in our bloodstream, but it is true in our spiritual life. The family of God is not created on temporary and arbitrary and artificial bases, but it is created in the great eternal choices and predestinating plans of almighty God [Ephesians 1:3-12]. And in that family in heaven and in earth, we all are one, and to that one undivided family we all belong [Galatians 3:28].
We are all registered in the same book: God’s Book of Life [Revelation 20:15]. The same Hand that wrote the names of the patriarchs and the prophets and the apostles, that same Hand wrote our names, the feeblest and the humblest among us. And on the page bright and fair, there will you find the names of God’s children: some of them there, some of them here, but all alike in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
We are all born into the same family. Sadly, we are born into the family of Adam and all of us with our propensity to sin and our liability unto death [Romans 5:12], but we who are born into the family of God belong to the family of another Adam, a second Adam [1 Corinthians 15:22, 45]. And that relationship never dissolves, and it never passes away. We are nearer to our family in heaven than we are to the ungodly and the unbelieving among whom we dwell in this earth [Matthew 10:36-37; Luke 8:20-21]. For we are here strangers and pilgrims in this earth [Hebrews 11:13-14]. Our home is in heaven, some of us there and some of us here.
We are all alike the blood-bought children of the Lamb of God. There and here, we are redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. One of the beautiful, beautiful passages in the Revelation is this, 7:14:
"Who are these who are arrayed in white garments, and whence came they?"
And I said, "Sir, I don’t know. Thou knowest." And he said, "These are they," and you have it translated, "which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
[from Revelation 7:13-14]
Here is the reading of that: "These are they hoi erchomenoi, who are coming out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" [from Revelation 7:14].
"These are they who are coming." Do you see what God means in the Word? These who have arrived and these who are arriving are one great company. Some belong to the host triumphant, some belong to the host militant, but they all belong to the host of God. These who have arrived and these who are arriving, those who are in glory now and we who are following after, all of us belong to the same host, the same company, the same redeemed blood-bought family of God. Their robes have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 7:14]. Our spirits have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb [1 John 1:7]. The same cleansing mercy that saved them has saved us, and we are gathering home. We are one in the love and care of our Father, these in heaven and these on earth.
One of the great passages of the Bible is Second Timothy 2:19: "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal: the Lord knoweth them that are His." Those of His that are in heaven, God knows them; and those of God that are here in earth, God knows us. And we are one and alike in the love and care of our Father. He does not love them in heaven more than He loves us on earth, neither does God care for us on earth more than He cares for those who are in heaven. We are one family, unbroken and undivided, in the love and care of our Father God.
We are one in nature. They have in them the uncorruptible seed that liveth and abideth forever, and that same uncorruptible seed is in us. They pulsate with life immortal, and that same pulsing life is in us for he that liveth and believeth in Christ can never and shall never, never die [John 11:25]. They have just shaken off the dust of this mortal life. We are still captive, but the life – the immortal life – that is in them is in us also. We are one before God.
We are the same in our worship and service of the Lord Jesus. The songs they sing in heaven are to the Lamb of God. The songs we sing in our Zion are to the praise and glory of Christ Jesus. They adore Him in glory [Revelation 5:12]. We bow before Him in earth [Luke 5:8; Ephesians 3:14]. Their delight is in Christ every day [John 15:9-10]. Our holy delight is in our Lord every day [Psalm 37:4]. He leads them to living fountains of waters [Revelation 22:1]. God leads us to living fountains of waters [John 4:14]. It is Jesus that wipes away the tears from their eyes [Revelation 21:4]. It is Jesus that wipes away the tears from our eyes [Psalm 56:8]. We are all one family, loving and serving the Lord Jesus.
We are all one body in Christ [1 Corinthians 12:13]. Christ hath not two bodies – one body in heaven and one body in earth. It is never so revealed nor is it ever so said. He hath one body, and all of us members in particular [1 Corinthians 12:27]. They cannot be perfect without us, nor can we be perfect without them. They are a part of the holy body of Christ, and we are a part of the holy body of Christ. We are one in Christ Jesus: they who have gone over the river and we who abide here below.
We are all fellow servants of our Lord God in heaven: they who live before the throne and we who tarry below in this pilgrimage in the earth. Did you ever call to mind this passage in the [nineteenth] chapter of the Revelation and the tenth verse, when the sainted John says to the angel, "I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, ‘See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’" [Revelation 19:10]. And it happened again in the last chapter of the Revelation, in the ninth verse: "I fell to worship before the feet of the angel . . . Then said he unto me, ‘See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this Book . . .’" [Revelation 22:8-9].
They are our fellow servants. They have just laid down the bow and the arrow. We are still in the warfare of the marching armies of God [Ephesians 6:10-13; 2 Timothy 2:3], but we are one in the service and in the ministry of Jesus Christ our Lord [1 Corinthians 3:9]. One sows and the other reaps [John 4:37], but the sower and the reaper both rejoice in the presence of God: one people, one family, some of us there and some of us here.
And we are all the heirs of the same holy promise. Listen, my brethren, heaven is as much ours as it is Simon Peter’s or Saul/Paul. Heaven is as much ours as it is the prophets, or the apostles, or the evangelists. Heaven is ours by the same immutable promise of God who will never fail us nor withdraw from us the love and the grace and the mercy that saved us. Our heritage is as great, and as broad, and as eternal as it is to those who have already entered into the glorious promises and consummation of God: all of us alike, heirs of the same promise.
For they have been saved by the grace of God that brought them to trust in the Lord Jesus, and we are saved by the same grace of God that brought us to lean upon the mercy and the tender love and the sacrificing atonement of our Savior the Lord Jesus. We are one family, some of us there and some of us here.
And may I say that our destiny is one? According to the Word of God, their destiny and our destiny – just one. On this earth we cry, "How long, O Lord, how long?" [Psalm 13:1-4]. And in heaven they cry, "O Lord, how long, how long?" [Revelation 6:9-10] They in heaven, though they live in bliss, cannot be perfected without us. In heaven, they wait for the adoption to wit the redemption of the body [Romans 8:23], and we [on earth] wait for that same glorious resurrection.
Our bodies are here alive and quickened by the soul that breathes within them. Their bodies lie in the vault or in the sod of the ground, and they in heaven cry to God, "O Lord, how long?" And we in the earth cry to God, "O Lord, how long?" They look forward to the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ. We look forward to that holy day when the Lord shall come with ten thousands of His saints [Jude 1:14]. We are alike in our expectancy, in our hope, and in our looking forward to that great and final and consummating day: one family in expectation, in destiny, some of us in heaven and some of us in earth.
And oh, my soul, what a rendezvous – what a rendezvous when the Lord shall come, and those of us who have fallen asleep in Jesus shall share in the first resurrection [1 Thessalonians 4:15-17], and those of us who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump [1 Corinthians 15:51-53]. For the trumpet shall sound, and the rapture of the church to meet Christ in the air, and the resurrection of God’s beloved dead, and the saints coming with Christ in glory, and the great rendezvous when God’s family is forever with one another and with Him.
O death, where is thy victory? O grave, where is thy sting?
Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be not weary, nor heartbroken, nor cast down, nor weep as others who have no hope.
[from 1 Corinthians 15:55, 57-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13]
For whether we are here or whether we are there, we are one in Christ Jesus our Lord. What a blessed hope. What a precious hope. And it’s the Christian’s hope.
I’ve been a pastor, – do you realize it? – thirty years. Thirty years have I been a pastor – Dr. Fowler many years longer than that. I do not know of a more helpless feeling than to go to the house of sorrow and they’re not Christians. What do I say? What can I do? Without God, without Christ, without hope in the world [Ephesians 2:11-12]
But oh, oh, oh – when I go to the house of sorrow and the shades are drawn, and there’s a hush, and a quiet, and there’s a wreath on the door, and I sit down with a beloved son, or daughter, or mother, or father, and they love God, and their hearts are hid with Christ in the Lord [Colossians 3:3], and I open this Book and I read about those many mansions [John 14:2-3], and I read about that golden city [Revelation 21:10-11, 21], and I read about our raised and risen Lord, and I read about the hope that we have in Him [1 Corinthians 15:20-23], oh, sweet blessed comfort when I say, "God’s Book says it’s better over there than it is here" [Philippians 1:23].
We have not lost. They have just entered into an inheritance that shall never pass away [1 Peter 1:3-4], and we are following after, one family still: some of us there and some of us here. "We’re five? No. We’re seven."
God bless us in this faith and in this holy comfort that we sorrow not as others who have no hope [1 Thessalonians 4:13], but we lift up our faces for our redemption draweth nigh [Luke 21:28].
Now we sing our song, and while we sing it, somebody you give his heart to the Lord, put his life in the keeping hands of Christ Jesus, would you come? Somebody you, a family you, put your life with us in the church, would you come? Into the aisle, down here to the front, as God would say the word and lead the way, would you come today? Would you make it now? "Pastor, my humble best, my humble best, I do give my life in faith and in trust to Christ Jesus." Would you so? Or into the fellowship of His church, while prayerfully, earnestly, we sing this song of appeal and invitation, would you make it now while we stand and sing?
THE FAMILY OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Bereavement one of the deepest griefs of human experience
1. An experience all of us sometime, some way share(2 Samuel 18:33, 2 Chronicles 35:25, Zechariah 12:11, Acts 8:2, 9:39)
2. To be a stoic is no Christian(John 11:35)
B. The infinite comfort of the text(Ephesians 3:14-15)
1. Death has no separating power(Matthew 16:18, 28:6-7, Romans 8:38-39)
2. Poems, "Lucy", "We are Seven"
II. The formation of the family of God is natural, eternal; not artificial, temporal
A. Temporary, artificial associations
1. In ancient day, men organized by guilds
2. In modern day, men associated by common affinities and predilections
B. As we are born into our family, we are born into family of God
III. The indivisible oneness of the family of God
A. One family register – the Lamb’s Book of Life(Ephesians 1:4)
B. All alike born into family of God
1. All members of fallen family of Adam and of second Adam, Christ
2. We are nearer the saints in heaven than to ungodly here in earth(Hebrews 11:13, Philippians 3:20)
C. We are one in the blood-bought redemption of Christ (Revelation 7:13-14)
D. We are one in the loving care of our Father(2 Timothy 2:19)
E. We all have the same nature(1 Corinthians 15:42, Hebrews 12:23, John 11:25)
F. We all worship the same Lord(Hebrews 12:22-24)
G. We are all members of one body(Romans 12:4-5)
H. We are all fellow servants (Revelation 19:10, 22:8-9)
IV. The destiny of God’s family is one
A. Looking forward to the same great consummation(Hebrews 11:40, Jude 1:14, Revelation 6:9-10, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)
B. Those who are resurrected and those who are changed at the rapture together will sing(1 Corinthians 15:54-57, 1 Thessalonians 4:18, John 10:28-29)