The Passion For Souls
March 8th, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
THE PASSION FOR SOULS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-8-59 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message which is dedicated to these beginning days of revival appeal. We could entitle the message The Love of Souls, or The Passion for Souls, or Who Pays the Price? In the sixth chapter of the incomparable prophet Isaiah:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.
Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, in reverence; with twain he covered his feet, in humility; with twain he did fly.
And one cried unto another, saying, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.
And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with the shekinah glory of God.
Then said I, Woe, woe is me! I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:
And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us? Then said I, Here am I; send me, use me. Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us? Who pays the price? Then said I, Here am I; use me.
In the experience and inspiration of this same incomparable prophet Isaiah, after the passing of the years, he wrote in the sixty-sixth, the last chapter of his prophecy, in the eighth verse, this sentence – and no old-time preacher ever preached that he didn’t quote it, and no old time, old fashioned assembly of God’s children ever gathered together that they didn’t mention it – the great prophet, in the experience and inspiration of his life, wrote, Isaiah 66:8, "For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children." Born in labor, in pain, in tears, in sorrow, and in blood, and never born without it. "As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children."
I bring that to us; to me first, then to you. The passion of souls, the love of souls, the prize of a revival. I copied this from an old Puritan divine: "I marvel," he said,
, how I can preach stolidly and coldly – how I can leave men in their lost condition – and that I do not go to them, and beseech them, for the Lord’s sake, however they take it, and whatever trouble it should cost me. When I come out of my pulpit, I am not accused of want of ornaments, or elegance, nor of letting fall an unhandsome word; but my conscience asketh me, "How could you speak of life and death with such an indifferent heart? How couldest thou preach of heaven and hell in such a careless and sleepy manner?", Truly, this peal of the conscience doth ring in my ears, O Lord, do that on our own souls that Thou wouldst use us to do on the souls of others!
[from "Characteristics of an Efficient Ministry," in
The Pulpit Cyclopaedia, Jabez Burns, 1844, p552]
That great, wonderful Scots preacher Dr. Bonar heard a man vigorously and vehemently speak in his pulpit, and after the service was over, he came to the minister and said, "You love to preach, don’t you?" And the minister replied, "Indeed I do." Then Dr. Bonar asked, "But do you love the souls of the people to whom who preach?" Religion can be an exercise, even for the minister. The clock comes at a certain hour, certain formalities and amenities are performed, then the time comes for the preacher; and he turns himself on like a spigot, like a faucet, then when the time is done, he’s seated and his work is over. "You like to preach, don’t you? But do you love the souls of the people to whom you preach?"
Last week, I rode back on an airplane from the other side of the continent, from the Atlantic. I rode back with three ministers; and the four of us got a place up at the front of the plane where two seats will face each other. And the four of us sat there together. We began to reminisce and especially about that great man of God and lover of human souls, L. R. Scarborough, for so many years the president of our seminary in Fort Worth. And each one of us had something to say by way of memory, how that man touched our lives and moved our souls. And among many other things that I could speak of, I said this: my roommate down at Baylor was to be ordained to the gospel ministry in the Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth; so because we were bosom friends, I went with him and delivered the charge in that ordination service. It was well attended, large group there because he was also marrying the young people’s director of the church. And in that ordination service, Dr. Lee Scarborough, the president of the seminary, had a part. And he led the ordaining prayer. And in that prayer, while he was praying, he said something like this: "And now, O God, remember that boy who has shelter for the night in our home and under our roof, that poor, lost, ragged boy, whom I picked up on the street, lost, and prodigal, and wandering, and away from home. O God, help me to win that poor, lost boy to Thee before he leaves the shelter of my roof."
I could not have forgot it because of the passion by which he prayed. But I also could not have forgot it, for the man had picked up off of the streets in Fort Worth a boy, a young man, taken him to his house, given him a room, and was praying to God for the right word to say that he might lead that young fellow, prodigal and wayward, to Jesus. Oh, oh, oh, just to think of it condemns my own heart; and to speak of it lays bare the sterility and the barrenness and the fruitlessness of almost all of our lives.
God, speak to me. God, speak to us all.
So many of our people come to the city of Dallas, many of them join this glorious church; back home they labored so faithfully and well, taught Sunday school, worked in the Training Union, sang in the choir, faithful upon the services, but when they come to Dallas, they come for a rest, kind of, a vacation, sort of. "I was so engrossed and I was so busy back there that here I think I will rest." So, the days pass, and their hearts grow cold, and their love for the Master dies, and religion finally becomes just a nominal thing in their lives. There are others of us who are so burdened with and consumed with the pressure of things, things, things, just everything. Emerson one time said, "Things are in the saddle, and they ride mankind." Somebody asked Philip of Spain, "Did you see the eclipse yesterday?" And the king replied, "No, I am so immersed in things down here below, I never have time to look up." That accounts, I think, for the feverishness of the activity of our lives. Anything to drown the poverty of our spiritual souls, entertainment, make them better, make them funnier, make them louder, anything. We rush here, and rush there, and turn on this, and flip on that, seeking entertainment. Why, it is a passion with America to be entertained. Why? Anything to drown ourselves, and that’s why we drink more than any other people who’ve ever lived under God’s heaven. Just to forget ourselves, to get away from ourselves, feverishly active to drown ourselves: it is an unconscious manifestation of the spiritual want, and need, and lack, and poverty of our lives.
Who, that walk with God, would need to be entertained? I heard some of these young people speaking in a little group, and they were talking about a little town out there in West Texas that didn’t have a picture show. And the group was saying, "What would you do? They don’t even have a picture show?" Why, bless your heart, I could live a hundred thousand years and never miss it, or any other of the entertainment of the whole world, and have a better time than anyone you ever saw seated there, being entertained. There is a fullness, and a richness, and a glory, and a recompense of God in human life that is beyond our ableness to describe it. It’s because we’re so poor in our hearts and so empty in our souls that we have this feverish need to be entertained. Where can I go tonight? And where can I go this afternoon? And where can I go the next night and the next day? Oh, us, we, God look upon us.
And how removed, and how cold, and how indifferent in this great ministry of the things of Jesus; why, when I compare ourselves, me, you, when I compare ourselves with our Lord and His disciples, it is a wonder to me that we think of ourselves as belonging to the same religion and embracing the same faith. They were so eager, and we are so cold. They were so full of care, and burden, and intercession, and prayer; and we are so nominal and indifferent. They would weep over the lost and weep over the cities; Jesus, weep over Jerusalem [Luke 19:41]; Paul, for three years every day, weep over Ephesus [Acts 20:19-21, 31]. Why, we don’t even weep over ourselves, much less over anybody else. Their hearts burned within them at the Word of God; to us it’s a duty: quick, get over with, let’s go, let’s go. Whose heart burns within him because he has felt, "God spoke to me this day," who does? Who? And when have you ever seen a great congregation, such as you are this morning, melted down in tears because of a great burden for the lost of this city? When did you ever see that? The passion for souls:
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.
For I could wish that myself were damned from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is that they might be saved.
I have just taken the beginning verses of Romans 9 and 10, from the pen of the apostle Paul. "I could wish I were lost, damned, spend an eternity in hell, accursed from Christ, if by the sacrifice of my soul I might win my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, that they might be saved."
Now, it is nothing unusual for a man to be consumed with a great passion. Not long before Paul wrote that; love of power had eaten up Julius Caesar, love of praise had eaten up Marcus Tullius Cicero, love of the traditional had consumed Porcius Cato, love of pleasure had destroyed Marc Antony, love of money had consumed Aemilius Lepidus. It’s nothing unusual, or strange, or even different to see a man consumed with a great passion. It is just this: how unusual to see a man with a great passion for God and for the souls of His people, how unusual. But oh, oh, when one does appear in God’s firmament, what things attend his way! Isn’t it strange how God works and how God does? The most brilliant intellect, the mightiest scholar, unchallenged in his day was Erasmus. Erasmus thoroughly believed in every one of the principles of Martin Luther; but when Luther’s friends asked Erasmus, the incomparably famous scholar, to come out and stand by Luther, Erasmus replied, "Why should I lose my living or my head?" And it was rough, yearning, burning Martin Luther who fought the battles for God and the people. Isn’t that an unusual thing? It’s the heart of the man; it’s the drive in his soul.
When I think of these things, always there comes back to me that preacher, George Whitefield. You know you wonder how is it a man could ever do the tremendous effective things that man could do? He was ordained at twenty-two, began to preach the gospel with great moving power. He crossed the Atlantic in the day when you did it on a sailboat; he crossed it thirteen times, preached eighteen thousand sermons up and down, outside, anywhere men would listen to him. John Newton said, "If somebody asks me who’s the second greatest preacher in the world, I wouldn’t know. But if he asks me who’s the first, I have but one answer." Benjamin Franklin went to hear him preach in Philadelphia; and his announced subject was, "He’s going to make appeal for his orphan’s home in Georgia." And Benjamin Franklin went to steel himself, determining not to give anything. And when George Whitefield began to make his appeal, Benjamin Franklin says, "I said I’m going to give him my coppers." Then as the preacher continued, Franklin said, "I’m going to give him my silver." Then as the preacher continued, Franklin said, "I will give him my gold." And when the preacher was done and the collection plate was passed, Benjamin Franklin said, "And he emptied his pockets into the collection plate." That illustrious lawyer and satirist, Francis Hopkinson, left his money at home purposely; and when the preacher got through preaching, he borrowed from his neighbors all around to put in the collection plate. Why, that man, that man, he preached to more than thirty thousand people on Boston Commons, and Mr. Cooper, one of the pastors of the churches there said, "In one week, in one week, I had more people come to me in deep concern about their souls than in all thirty-four years of my ministry here in this city." Why, it’s a very simple thing: George Whitefield had a love for the souls of men. It shown in his eyes, it sounded in his voice, in the tears that fell on his Bible. And this week I ran across a poem written by Cowper, the great English poet, William Cowper, about Whitefield’s tears falling on his Bible. I started to bring it and read it, but I don’t have time to do all these things. Oh, that’s what makes the preacher, and that’s what makes the church, and that’s what makes the power of the appeal of the congregation.
Now, I have time just to say this thing that I ran across in my studying. I sometimes listen to you say to me, "Pastor, that message blessed my heart this morning," or, "My life was enriched by your explanation of the Word of God"; and I almost always reply, if I have time, "My dear, if it meant something to you, I’m so grateful to the Lord. But it could never mean the beginning to you who listen as it means to me who prepares the sermon." Out there in that study, and in the quiet of those morning hours, poring through this Book, and through those books of God’s saints, oh, you’d think that was just a little acre of heaven out there. In my preparing this message, I came across this: one of the most unusual things I ever read, and it moved me. One of the great and famous preachers of America, "Pastor" we’d call him, he’d have another title, in a very formal church, very formal. Somehow, God spoke to his soul, and plunged him into a civil war about himself. And the Spirit said to that pastor – we’d call him –
You’re a coward. You’re a coward. You wouldn’t dare stand up before that fashionable congregation that worships in your church every Lord’s Day morning and deliver your soul. You wouldn’t dare. You wouldn’t dare stand in that exalted pulpit and plead with men there on the spot to give their hearts to Christ. You wouldn’t dare do it. You’re too bound down to the rituals of the service and to the proprieties of the occasion. You wouldn’t dare do it.
As he wrestled with God, it became such a burden on his heart that he said, "To deliver my own soul alive, to save myself, I had to do it. For the Lord said, ‘He that would save his life must lose it’ [Mark 8:35]. So," the minister said, "the next Lord’s Day I called all of my official family," and I can just see them traipsing in, "I called all of my official family, and I told them what conviction and burden was on my heart and what I wanted to do. And I asked them to pray about it for all that week and come back the following Sunday ready to respond."
The minister said, "The following Sunday when the people crowded into that beautiful church," he said, "the very atmosphere was supercharged with spiritual moving. And after I got through preaching my sermon and making my appeal, I called up to the front all of my official family. And they stood there before me, and in the presence of the congregation I charged them to turn and go back to their friends and their families, and plead with them to accept our Savior there and then."
And he said, "When that official family turned, and those officials in the church began to go up and down the aisles, and into the pews, making appeal for men there to be reconciled to God," the minister said, "I never saw such a service in my life. Strong men bowed down and put their faces on the pews and wept aloud." I can just see that in that formal church with the way they kneel, and the pews; I can just see it. And the minister said, "And that morning more than forty grown men and women came forward, and took my hand, and said, ‘Today, I give my heart to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.’" And he concluded with this sentence: "It was the greatest hour of my life."
Think what would happen, think what would happen, think what would happen to all America if these churches and their pastors would give themselves to a prayer like that and an appeal like that. Why, we’d change the course of the universe; we’d change the very earth in its orbit around God’s central sun; we’d bring heaven down to earth, or we’d lift up earth to heaven. On George Whitefield’s cenotaph is a burning heart. The coat of arms of John Calvin is a hand lifting up a burning heart to God. On the grave of Adam Clark is this seal: a candle burned down to its socket.
O Lord, that we might burn, and shine, and glow, and flame for Thee. That it would be a care to us whether people are saved or not; and that our coming to God’s house was not a matter of respectability, or of habit, or of something that nice people do, but this is the gathering together of God’s sainted people to unite in prayer, and appeal, and intercession, our hearts yearning, our souls burdened for the lost of this city and of God’s world. Oh, what a difference it would make! Make it in me, make it in you, and make it in these whom we seek to reach for Him.
Now, this is the beginning of these days of revival appeal. And our meeting has already started. This morning, when I gave the appeal at the eight-fifteen o’clock service, we had so many respond I could not even conduct our church covenant day service; I didn’t have time. And we were glad. O, if God would just take the whole hour saving souls, we would just not preach at all, just come down here and rejoice in what the Lord is doing. And there are some of you this morning who are ready to come. God bless you as you come. Some of you to reconsecrate your life to Jesus, come. Some of you to put your life in the hands of our Lord, His keeping hands, you come, taking Jesus as Savior. Some of you to put your life in the fellowship of our church; a family you, one somebody you; in the great throng of people, in the balcony and this host on this lower floor, down one of these stairwells, at the back or at the front, or into the aisle here from either side, would you come? Would you make it now? "Take my hand, pastor, as God’s representative, I give you my hand; today, I give my heart in faith and in trust to Jesus my Lord." Would you do it? Some of you to be baptized, however God shall say the word, shall press the appeal, will you make it now? Come and stand by me, while all of us stand and sing.