The Passion for Souls
January 25th, 1959 @ 7:30 PM
THE PASSION FOR SOULS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-25-59 7:30 p.m.
Now in our Bible we turn to the Book of Romans, the Book of Romans, chapter 10; the Book of Romans, chapter 10:1-10. Do we have it? The Book of Romans, chapter 10, the first ten verses. Now let’s read it together; Romans 10:1-10:
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.
But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)
Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)
But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
And I am to preach to you tonight on The Passion for Souls. This section, Romans 9, 10, and 11, is given to a discussion of election, the doctrine of election. That passage we’ve just read is one of the passages that we could read without falling into great stumbling and questioning. The most inscrutable and unfathomable of all of the passages of Scripture in the Bible is Romans 9, 10, and 11. Even Paul himself, after he discusses the doctrine of election, concludes with a peroration of the unfathomable, unsearchable mysteries of God:
O the depth of the riches [both] of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been His counselor? Or who hath [first] given unto Him? . . . For of Him, through Him, to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.
It is an inscrutable mystery. And as I pointed out to our blessed people Wednesday night of last year, of last week, even in the discussion of this deep, unknowable, unsearchable doctrine of the mystery of the elective purpose of God, Paul does not discuss it, nor does he present it apart from a heart’s agony of desire and prayer and appeal. And I made the observation that there is no such thing in the Bible as a system of doctrine. It’s never separated and apart from human life and human care and human souls. And the illustration of it, above all that you could find in the Book, is in this section of the Word of God, where Paul discusses the elective purposes of the Lord.
He begins the passage in chapter 9:
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were damned and accursed from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
"If I could be damned and lost for their sakes, I could wish that I were forever in darkness and in hell, if my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, might know Jesus." Then he began the tenth chapter in the same way: "Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved" [Romans 10:1]. Even in the discussion of this inscrutable mystery of the elective purposes of God, "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth" [Romans 9:16, 18]; these things inscrutable and unknowable, yet they’re never apart from the agonizing cry of the apostle that his people might be saved. That’s what I have called tonight The Passion of Souls; it is first an agony in prayer.
To look upon people who are indifferent with indifference is not to be Christian. To look upon people who do not pray and not pray for them is not to love God. To look upon people who are lost and not feel the awful tragedy of their facing eternity without God is not to be saved ourselves. To be converted, to be saved, to know Jesus is first of all an agony, a care, a concern, an intercession, a prayer in their behalf. It is to care, and it is to have the heart and the spirit to try. It is an agony in prayer: "O God, that there were instruments in our hands whereby we could reach them for Thee, some word we could say, some deed we could do, some prayer we could pray, some overture of grace and kindness and remembrance, something to win them for Thee."
One of the unusual stories of the latter part of the last century was in the Thames estuary. A steamer coming in and an excursion boat going out and somehow in the fog, in the mist that fell on the river, the heavy freighter ran into the excursion boat, and cut it half in two. And there were hundreds that were drowned that day. And among the valiant efforts to rescue the drowning was a man who had a little boat over there on the shore. And when the news came that the excursion boat was sinking and the people were drowning, he got in his little boat and rode out in the midst of those throngs that were in the water desperately trying for life. And he reached overboard and pulled one in, and another to safety, and another to safety, and reached a helping hand to another until finally his little boat was in danger of being swamped itself. Then he began to row for the shore. And as he rowed for the shore, his little boat was rowed through the midst of the drowning who lifted up their hands in pitiful cry, saying, "Don’t leave me. Is there not room for me? Save me. Save me!" And the story says that looking all around him, and listening to the piteous cries of the drowning, it finally was more than he could stand; and he stood up in his little boat, and raised his hands to God and cried, "O God, for a bigger boat!" That’s the heart of the true Christian: "O God, for a bigger boat!" How to do it; that God would give us the genius to include in this hope and gladness and promise of salvation all of the lost; that God would help us reach them for Him. It is a cry to God. "Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God is that my people might be saved" [Romans 10:1].
It is not only a heart’s cry to God, but it is the heart and the spirit to care. "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart" [Romans 9:1-2]. However the joy and gladness of his own preaching and his own ministry and the wonderful assurance of his own salvation, yet a shadow always over his life, over his pulpit ministry, over his work, always that shadow there. And I have felt it all my life. However there is gladness and joy in what God hath given us, yet there is a shadow always here: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" [Hebrews 10:31]; to die without Christ and without hope is a sorrowful, indescribable tragedy. "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart"; the shadow is never removed. "I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" [Romans 9:2-3]. The passion for souls is a care, a burden, a sorrow, a shadow.
In the Bible we are told how some of God’s saints reacted under the pronouncement of the terrible judgment of Almighty God. The Lord came down and said, "I shall see the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the plain; and if it is as it has come up to Me, they shall be destroyed with fire from heaven. And the angels of the Lord went on their way to visit Sodom and Gomorrah; the announcement had been made to Abraham" [Genesis 18:20-22]. And the Scriptures say that Abraham stood yet before the Lord, and Abraham prayed in behalf of the wicked in Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 18:22-33]. Why didn’t he clap his hands and shout, "That serves them right, that’s what they deserve; to be damned, to be burned, to be destroyed"? That’s the most un-Christian thing in this earth; it is unthinkable, it would be inexcusable. "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked" [Ezekiel 33:11]; nor do God’s children rejoice in the overthrow of the damned and the lost. And Abraham stood yet before the Lord and prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 18:22-33].
When the Lord God said to Moses, "Moses, stand aside, that My wrath might burn against the children of Israel. And when I have consumed them, out of thy loins, I will raise up a nation who will do My will in the earth" [Exodus 32:9-10]. And Moses stood yet before the Lord; and Moses prayed, saying, "The people have sinned a great sin; yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin," then there’s a long black dash in the Scriptures, then he concluded, "And if not, blot my name, I pray Thee, out of the book which Thou hast written.
If my people cannot live, I do not want to live. If they cannot be saved, I do not want to be saved. "I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" [Romans 9:3].
When Jesus walked among men, He asked, "Whom do men say that I am?" Some of them said, "He is like John the Baptist; He must be John raised from the dead." And others said, "No, He is like Jeremiah." Did you ever pause there to think of that? "He is like Jeremiah." When they saw the Savior, there were many, many of the people who felt, "This must be Jeremiah raised from the dead" [Matthew 16:13-14]. Well, why Jeremiah? Because Jesus was a man of tears; He was a man of prayer, great heaviness and continual sorrow in His heart. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how oft would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" [Matthew 23:37-38]; the heart to care.
I had a telephone call from one of the funeral homes. And they said, "There is a young couple, strange in the city, do not know anyone; and they have a little girl who has died. And we wanted to know if you would come and hold the funeral service." So I dressed, and went to the funeral home, and held the service for the little girl who had died, just a little child. And after it was over, after my funeral service, my part was over, I stood by the little casket, and the husband and the young mother came to look for the last time on the face of their little girl, and the mother knelt down. And oh those things tear your heart. She stroked the golden curls of her little girl, and patted the little face and put her hands on the still clasped hands, and cried and said, "Oh, my little girl, oh my precious darling, what will mother do without you?" Why, I just cry, do now even thinking of it. And while she was on her knees there, bowed before that little casket, that husband stood there with his arms folded like a wooden Indian. There was no sign on his face of any care, of any concern, of any feeling; he just stood there. And as I watched him and watched her, I wanted to say to him, "Fella, is your heart made out of stone? At least could you not look down, at least could you not put your hand on the shoulder of your wife? At least could there not be some light of recognition in your face? Is it nothing to you?" And I have come to believe that that young husband standing there in absolute indifference and unconcern, in the midst of the tears and sorrow and bereavement of that hour, is the best image that I could picture of God’s people in the earth. When did you ever see a congregation bowed in tears over the loss of the earth? When did you ever see that? When did you ever see a class or a group so burdened that they melted in tears before the awful judgment of God upon the lost? The passion of souls is the heart to care [Romans 9:1-3].
I have one other observation: the passion of souls is the spirit to try. Paul says, as he speaks of the elective purposes of God, he says:
God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Know ye not what the Scripture saith in Isaiah, in the days of Elijah, when he made intercession to God for Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, and digged down Thy altars; and I alone am left, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to Myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
What Paul is saying is to encourage us: there are some who will respond. There are some who will turn and be saved, if we will just try. God does not say, and Paul is speaking of that in his discussion of the doctrine of election, Paul does not say, "All will turn, all will be saved." All are not going to turn, all are not going to be saved. But some of them will. "I have reserved for Me," said God to the discouraged Elijah, "seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal." "And even so," Paul says, "at the present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace" [Romans 11:4-5]. There are some who will respond. There are some who will turn and be saved. God will give us some. The passion for souls then is the spirit to try [Romans 9:1-3].
We may not win them all; we will win some. Not all will accept our invitation; God will give us some. Not all will turn and be saved; but God will give us some. And the passion of souls is the spirit to try. Moody said, "I must speak to one lost soul each day"; the spirit to try. John Wesley said, when they closed the pulpits of the Church of England to him, "Then the whole world is my parish"; and he preached out in the opens, on the commons, at the street corners. The great purpose of our ministries is that some will turn and be saved.
I had a stinging rebuke administered to me, kindly, prayerfully, sweetly, in my first revival meeting. It burns in my heart this day; I have never forgotten it. When I was a teenager, I was preaching, pastor of little country churches; and in the association on the other side of Coryell Creek there was a little church named Bethel. And the pastor was named Angel, Brother Angel. And he invited me for the summer revival. So they built an arbor there, and I preached in my first revival meeting. At that time, young and inexperienced, I thought that everything turned on and depended on the ableness, and delivery, brilliance of the sermon. And apparently I’d gained the impression that we came to church to listen to a sermon, and the sermon had to be beautifully done and marvelously delivered. So the Sunday of that revival, at the eleven o’clock hour, when I preached, I simply, utterly, completely failed. The sermon failed. I failed. And when I came to the conclusion of the sermon, I was so dejected and so disappointed, and felt it so keenly, that I said, "Now let’s all stand for the benediction" – just going to dismiss the service, I felt so distinct my failure in delivering the sermon. And when the people stood up for the benediction, the pastor who was seated there in front of me, came and held up his hand before me, and said, "Oh, Brother Criswell, Brother Criswell, don’t dismiss these people." He said, "I have prayed, and I have worked, and I have had the assurance from God that the Lord would give us souls today. Don’t dismiss these people. Give an invitation. Ask them to come to the Lord." So I said, "Brother Angel, we shall do that." And I gave an invitation to come to the Lord. And we had a glorious response. My remembrance is that there were eleven converted, taking Jesus as Savior, in that little arbor meeting in that tiny little country church. I have never forgotten that.
We’re not here to listen to the brilliance of a sermon, nor is the purpose of God’s preacher the delivery of scintillating sermons. The great purpose that lies back of the convocation of God’s people is to make an appeal for Christ. "My prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved [Romans 10:1]. I could wish myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" [Romans 9:3]. And the sermon is incidental. The singing is incidental. All of the organizational work of the church is incidental. Its great and ultimate purpose and appeal is that people might find Jesus as Savior of their souls. That’s our reason to be.
Oh, the Lord help me to remember the rebuke of that long ago day. And the Lord help all of us to share in the spirit of that godly pastor, Brother Angel: "Give an appeal. Give an appeal. I have prayed for this hour. I have worked toward that end. Give an appeal, give an appeal. Make an appeal, maybe somebody, maybe somebody today will respond to the invitation to come to Christ." Why, bless you, we’d have a new day and a new church and a new hour and a new service if such were the great moving spirit back of all that we did. "Make an appeal, I have prayed for this hour." Open the doors of the kingdom of God. Open the doors of the church. Maybe somebody today will respond. According to the election of grace, there is a remnant who will come [Romans 11:5].
And that is our heart’s appeal tonight. Has somebody prayed for you? For this service? For this hour? Does God say to your heart, "This is God’s time." Would you make it now, would you come? "This night, I give my heart in trust to Jesus; and here I come, pastor, I give you my hand, I give my heart to God." Does the Spirit bid you here into the fellowship of our church? In this balcony round, such a host of you; on this lower floor, down one of these staircases, or into the aisle on this lower floor, and to the front, a family you, or one somebody you, "I’ll make it now, tonight; here I am, and here I come," while we stand and while we sing.