The Responsive Heart
February 8th, 1959 @ 7:30 PM
THE RESPONSIVE HEART
Dr. W. Criswell
2-8-59 7:30 p.m.
In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, Matthew 13, all of us reading together from verse 9 through verse 17. Matthew 13, verse 9 through verse 17. We all have it? The First Gospel, Matthew, chapter 13, verse 9 through verse 17. Now let us all read it together, Matthew 13:9-17:
Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
And the disciples came, and said unto Him, Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.
Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
And I am to speak on The Responsive Heart.
The description that our Lord quotes from Isaiah [6:9-10], which He says is fulfilled in these people who see, but they do not see; who hear, but they do not hear; and because they have closed their eyes, God has shut out from them the revelation of the truth of God; and because they have hardened their hearts, therefore God has closed to them the gates of heaven.
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
[Isaiah 6:9-10; Matthew 13:14-15]
Because they closed their eyes, God closed their minds. And because they hardened their hearts, God took away the open door into the kingdom of heaven. These things that are appointed unto life can also be appointments unto death. That was true of the law. Paul says of the law that, "The commandment was given for life; but sin was revived in me, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death" [Romans 7:9-10]. The same thing he also writes of the gospel message itself:
For we who preach the gospel are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savor of death unto death, ek thanatou eis thanaton, out of death into death, more death, more condemnation; to the other we are the savor of life unto life, ek zoes eis zoen, to life, to more life, to abounding life, to eternal life, to life beyond this life.
[2 Corinthians 2:15-16]
But the gospel is the same in both instances and in both ways: to the one who rejects it, it’s the savor of death unto death, to judgment, to condemnation, to hell, to damnation, death unto death, more death and more death; while it is to those who receive it the gospel of life unto life [2 Corinthians 2:15-16].
That is a truism to be found and to be illustrated everywhere. All of these blessings that come to us are two-faced, they are two-sided: they have in them great promise, they also have in them great, great condemnation. An X-ray, for example, that is supposed to be able to kill cancerous cells, and to heal in many other ways, and by which a physician can look into the very innermost recesses of our bodies, that X-ray can also burn to death. I buried in this church a man who was killed by a reaction to sulfanilamide; these antibiotics that are made and given for life can also be in a reactionary way an instrument of death. So all of these mechanical gadgets that so spur and bless and accelerate our modern living can also be instruments of destruction and death: machines can grind us to pieces. So the gospel message of Christ: it is a two-edged sword, and it cuts both ways. And to those who receive it, it is an instrument of liberty, and of life, and of salvation, and of joy, and of gladness; but to those who reject it and sin against the light, it is an instrument of condemnation and of damnation. When we stand in the presence of the great Judge to give a reason why we turned aside from the overtures of grace and the love and mercy of Christ, just what does a man say? What does he have as a reason, as an excuse? For the Book is plain, and the message is preached, and we have heard it; and when we reject it, it is the savor of condemnation to condemnation, of death to death, of damnation unto damnation [2 Corinthians 2:16]. "It is a fearful thing," as the author of Hebrews says, "to fall into the hands of the living God [Hebrews 10:31]; for our God is a consuming fire" [Hebrews 12:29].
Now, these that he describes in the fulfillment of this prophecy, "Hearing they do not hear, and seeing they do not see, and they do not feel with their hearts, and they do not understand, lest they should be converted and I should heal them and save them" [Matthew 13:13-15]. Now why? Now what? I have several things that come to my mind as I watch these people who listened to Christ Himself, and who pass by the great plan of salvation offered and preached unto them. All right, I see the same thing in us. There are people who know this Word, and know this message, and they pass it by; they’re not saved. Now why? All right, here’s one why: familiarity itself takes away from the power of the message. When we close our eyes, and stop our ears, and harden our hearts, we hear it again and again and again and again, and the preacher makes appeal, and with that appeal is a sense of urgency and immediacy; but they passed it by once, and twice, and three times, and again, and for a year, and sometimes for a lifetime. And the familiarity of the message and the appeal and the invitation song is so accustomed until it makes no impression whatsoever; it is a used and familiar thing, the gospel message.
I think of what happened to Uzzah, when the ark was captured by the Philistines and taken down into the land of Philistia, it cursed Philistia [1 Samuel 4:11, 5:1-6:1]. Another instance of this same thing: what was a blessing to Israel was a curse to the Philistines. So to get rid of the curse they sent back the ark; and it was deposited in the home of Uzzah [1 Samuel 6:2-7:2]. Now, Uzzah was in that house as a son; and that piece of furniture was as familiar to him as any other thing in the house. He had seen it, and seen it, and seen it, and seen it. And it was as commonplace to Uzzah, a son in that home, as a table or the chair upon which he sat. Then when finally it was being returned up to Jerusalem, the cart upon which it was being carried hit a rough place in the road, and the ark began to shake [2 Samuel 6:2-5]. God said in the Word that the hand that touches the ark shall die, and that the priests themselves were to carry it with rungs and a rod through the rung, and on the shoulders they were to bear it up; but never to touch the ark, lest they die [Exodus 25:12-14; Numbers 4:15, 7:9]. But Uzzah, to whom it was a common piece of furniture, when he saw the ark begin to tremble as the ox carried the cart over a rough road, he reached out his hand to steady the ark [2 Samuel 6:6]. Just like I touch this desk or that piano, a common thing to him, he reached out his hand, touched the ark to steady it; and when he touched it, he died [2 Samuel 6:7]. And when the people greatly resented it, God answered, "It is written in the Word, and it is the law that no one shall touch the ark, lest he die" [Exodus 25:12-14; Numbers 4:15, 7:9]. Familiarity does that to us. These things that are ordained to life, that are deeply sacred, can become to us so used, and so familiar until they lose their great holiness, and sanctity, and meaning, and power.
Now another thing that I observe in people to whom the gospel message becomes a closed book: they are indifferent toward it; hearing it, hearing it, hearing it, they pass it by in utter indifference and unconcern. For example, those high priests and those scribes and those Sadducees: you would have thought that when the magi came from the East, saying, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?" [Matthew 2:1-22], and they knowing the Scriptures opened the roll of the prophets and read out of Micah, "There in Bethlehem" [Micah 5:2]. I wish you could be in Jerusalem, it would surprise you. "There in Bethlehem" [Matthew 2:1-6]. You can stand in Jerusalem, and see Bethlehem. It is there. It is within five miles. Many of you live much further than five miles from this church. The scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the temple elders and officers, read in the Holy Word that there He is to be born. And when these kings of the Orient came and said, "We have seen His star, where is He?" They said, "There," but in absolute indifference and unconcern; they never bothered to go to see. Why, it’s impossible, it’s unbelievable. No it’s not, it’s the commonest thing that we see in human life: passing it by.
Another thing that I observe: when the eye is closed and the ear is stopped and the heart is hardened [Matthew 13:14-15], another thing, the impression of the gospel message is lessened and lessened and lessened. There is hardly a child who when he comes to talk to me about his soul will not cry. Big tears well up in the eyes of the little girl or the little boy, and their hands tremble, and their little bodies tremble; and they breathe heavily, and their heart is in their throat. They have difficulty even telling me that they’ve come to talk about Jesus and about being saved. Their hearts are sensitive, like the chords, like the strings on a harp. You won’t find many men that way. You won’t find many women that way. For the days in their passing calloused the heart, and hardened the soul, and the impression is less, and it is less, and it is less, and it is less. I can remember in the little church in which I grew up, I can remember our town marshal in a revival meeting, under great and deep conviction; his wife a godly, praying woman, his children godly children, I can remember that man and he stand there and cry, and hold to the bench, and say, "No," and refuse. Then I can remember, in the passing of the years, the day come when we’d have our revival, which is the big event in our little town, and he attended with no concern and no interest whatsoever! Each time he heard, each time he listened, its appeal was less and less and less. And finally it was nothing at all. The eye is closed, and the ear is stopped, and the heart is hardened [Matthew 13:14-15].
And life has a way of crystallizing in final character a set, a turn, a way. We don’t change. Life is a funny thing that way. It’s like a concrete, it’s like cement, it tends to harden. It is soft for a while, impressionable for a while, amenable, malleable for a while, then it turns to rock. A twig can be tied in a knot, can be bent, can be shoved, can be transplanted; but try that with a giant oak! In the passing of the years, we’re that way; our souls are that way. We have a tendency to harden in these paths, and habits, and choices, and decisions that we make.
I’d give anything if I could describe this thing as it happened, and as I shared in it, and as I looked at it, and listened to it. They said, "There’s a man and his wife out here on the edge of town, and he’s an invalid. And they want you to come and visit them, this man and his wife." Well, I said, "I will go." So I went, and I knocked on the door, and the gracious woman invited me in.
And then she said, "My husband has been so eager to see you. He hears you preach every Sunday on the radio. And he wants to see you. Now, he’s invalid. He’s had a stroke, he can’t talk. And he’s invalid, and you’ll have to do the talking."
So I said, "Well, I’ll be happy to do the talking." Oh, man, that’s a privilege always to let me do the talking! So I went in, and I said, "How do you do?"
And he said, "Goldang." Well, I wasn’t prepared; somebody should have prepared me. I said to him, "I’m glad to see you." He nodded his head and said, "Goldang, goldang."
I said, "I’m the minister of the church. And you hear me preach, your wife says, every Sunday on the radio, and that you wanted me to come and visit you."
He said, "Goldang, goldang, goldang."
Well, somebody should have prepared me, I said. I mean, I say to you now. I talked to him. That’s all he ever said to me was, "Goldang." So I started to leave; it upset me, I wasn’t prepared. And I started to leave. And he pointed his hand up to heaven and repeated fast, "Goldang, goldang, goldang."
Well, I turned to his wife in utter perplexity and frustration, and she said, "He wants you to pray before you leave."
I never was asked to pray in that language, never in my life. So I said God help me, I knelt down by the bed, and I started to pray, and as I would pray, he’d say, "Goldang. Goldang." And then when I got through and said, "Amen," he said, "Goldang." And when I shook hands with him and bid him goodbye, I say, "Goodbye," he says, "Goldang."
Now, I found out what happened. That was a by-word with him. It was a familiar word with him. It was a used word with him. He’d said that all his life, as a by-word. And when the stroke came and he was made an invalid, his speech was gone except for one word in his vocabulary. Can you imagine being left with that word? In all the rest of your life, that’s all you could say. I don’t need to tell you it made an impression upon me that is as vivid as the day I experienced it; and I say, I wish I could show you how the thing was because this isn’t the beginning of the thing as it actually happened. To pray and have a man say that while you pray, that’s all he could say, that’s the only word he could pronounce. That’s the word he’d used all his life as a by-word, and he lives with that word the rest of his life. Character has a tendency to solidify, and habit has a tendency to turn to rock and to iron chains and iron cables. And it’s true with the Lord: "No, no, no, no" until finally it becomes a negation yourself; "Having eyes they do not see, and having ears they do not hear, and having a heart they do not understand." They are lost [Matthew 13:14-15].
My father was an old time Baptist and an old time Christian, and he had a whole lot of old time ideas he got out of the Bible. And one of them was this: he believed in the unpardonable sin [Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:22-30]. And the way he interpreted the unpardonable sin was this – and I’ve heard him talk it many times as he’d talk about people that he knew – my dad said, "There is a time in a man’s life when he has the opportunity to accept Christ for the last time, and if he does not do it, he is forever lost!" He said, my father said, "He has committed the unpardonable sin, he has gone over the line, over the line." Now, I don’t agree with that theology, though when he’d point it out to me in life from the standpoint of down here below it sure looked that way. I remember one man that he pointed to, and he said, "That man will never be saved. I was present at church when he had his last opportunity, and he said, ‘No,’ to God. And he will die lost!" That’s what my father said to me. I left that town when I was a teenage boy. And the years passed. And when I was a grown man, after the passing of many years, I saw the widow of that man. And I asked her, "Was he ever saved?" And she said, "No, he died a lost man." My father said that he would. The unpardonable sin: you say no, and you say no, and you reject, and the day comes when you will never say yes. It is hardened into rock; the twig is now an oak, and the life and character are forever turned. O Lord, what a text, what a text.
What is needed? What is needed? Do we need another sermon? No. Do we need another argument? No. Do we need another appeal? No. Do we need another explanation? No. Do we need another Sunday? No. What do we need? This is what we need: we need to move for God, that’s all. We need to move for God. "But preacher, I don’t feel it." Not talking about feeling. "But preacher, this isn’t the time." I’m not talking about a right time; I’m talking about the only time God ever gives us, which is now, which is now. We need to move for God, and trust Him for anything else that is lacking. If my heart is hard, Lord I trust Thee to break my heart. If I can’t pray, Lord I trust Thee that I can pray. If I can’t weep, Lord, I trust Thee for tears. If I’m not burdened, Lord, I trust Thee for a burden. Lord, if I go to hell and I’m damned, I’m going to hell and be damned clinging to Thee. We need to move for Christ, we need to walk an aisle for Jesus.
I heard one of those former students, when the Southern Seminary was located at fifth and Broadway, before it was moved out on Lexington Avenue. I heard one of those former students describe a great fire in Louisville, downtown in one of those tall buildings. And he said, "After the firemen were fighting the blaze and thought everyone was out," he said, "To the horror of all of us gathered there on the street, way up in one of those tall stories, there was a woman who came to the window, and holding out her hands, cried, ‘Save me, save me.’" And he said, "The firemen got a life net, and they stretched it taut and tight, and called back to the woman, ‘Jump! Jump!’" And he said the woman would go back into the burning building and then come to the window and cry, "Save me." And they’d cry from the street, "Jump! The life net is spread, jump!" He said, "That woman never jumped; and she burned up in the burning building." And the only explanation they could give was that she was afraid, she was afraid. And her life was lost in her fear and trepidation. We need to move into that aisle, down to the front, "Preacher, maybe I don’t feel it, maybe I don’t understand it, maybe I, maybe I, maybe I can’t in myself. But God can, Christ can. And I’m trusting Him. I’m turning it, I’m giving it solely to Him. May God see me through." We need to move. We need to move. We need to move.
I’d like to make my appeal in two ways. First, to people who are already saved, and who are Baptists, and they belong to some other church, and they belong to some other congregation, they belong to some other little place, maybe, or a little town, or back home where mother and father is, or where there is a cemetery, oh, the things that crowd into the hearts of God’s saved Christian people that are difficult. "But my mother is buried there, but my father is buried there, but my husband is buried there, but my children are buried there, and that’s where my membership is; or the little church back home, or the only tie I have with a loved one is in the membership of that church." Oh, my friend, my friend, the Christian religion is a hope for our beloved dead; it is a thanksgiving to God for the memories of childhood, it is a gratitude to the Almighty for the gracious home and family that God did give us and into which we were born. But the Christian faith is a marching. The Christian faith is a serving. The Christian faith is a doing. And I cannot do it back there; I’m living now. Nor can I serve away and away, I am here. And where my life is, and my heart is, and my words are, and my influences are, here I must be, I must be! That’s what it is to belong to Christ. And this is your place, this is your hour, this is your time, this is your church. Why don’t you come? Come, come, maybe by baptism, maybe by statement, maybe by promise of letter. But, come, come, come.
And then to these who are lost, who’ve never accepted Jesus as Savior: come, "The Spirit and the bride say, Come. Let him that heareth say, Come. Let him that is athirst come. Whosoever will, come, come, come" [Revelation 22:17]. There’s no way to be saved without it. Jesus Himself said, in Matthew 10:32-33, "If any man shall confess Me before men, I will confess him before My Father which is in heaven. Anyone deny Me before men, him will I deny before My Father which is in heaven." There is no other way. I must publicly, openly, step out, stand up for Christ. That is salvation itself: the public committal of your life to Jesus.
Paul, who preached the gospel, wrote in the Book of Romans, Romans 10:9-10, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall 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." That’s one of the plainest, simplest ways God writes in His Word how a man can be saved. I want you to repeat that with me. Aren’t there enough of you who know it to repeat it with me? Romans 10:9-10, all of us say it together, "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." I need to do something. I need to respond. I need to step out and to trust God for the rest. And any man who has ever been saved, has been saved in doing what he could to publicly, openly, commit his life to the Lord. The thief who was crucified by our Savior, nailed to the cross and dying, couldn’t do anything but turn his head and ask forgiveness and remembrance; but he did that. He turned his head, and said, "Lord, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." And the Lord replied, "Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:42-43]. What he could, he did.
Bowie, at the Alamo, when Travis drew the line across the church, and said, "These who are willing to stay unto death and fight with me, cross the line," and he was sick, and he asked his companions and fellow soldiers to lift up his cot, and to carry his cot across the line. What we can, what we can, I will do.
And that’s the appeal of this pastor tonight. To give your heart to the Lord, come, come, come, and we will trust Jesus for the rest. To put your life into the fellowship of the church, come, come. In the balcony round, on this lower floor round, in the choir, as God shall say the word and make the appeal, come. "I’ve heard many sermons, but tonight I am coming. I’ve heard many appeals, but tonight I respond. There are many, many things I could, I could read, arguments I could hear, explanations that are to be made; I’m not looking for an argument, I’m not looking for an explanation, I’m just looking for God. And the Lord save me, here I jump. I cast my soul upon Him; may God save me." And in that trust, we possess our lives and our souls. While we sing the hymn, would you make it now? In this balcony round, down these staircases, on this lower floor, into the aisle and to the front, "Pastor, I give you my hand tonight, the best I know how I give my heart to God." Or, "Tonight, I’m coming into the fellowship of His church," while we stand and while we sing.