GIVE ME CHILDREN OR I DIE
DR. W. A. Criswell
6-16-63 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled Give Me Children or I Die. It is a message prepared in these days of looking forward toward our Coliseum Crusade for Christ that begins next Sunday evening on the SMU campus in the athletic arena. That place will seat eight thousand people, and we will be out there every night, beginning Sunday night through the following Sunday night, the last week in this month of June. And we are praying God’s infinite, immeasurable, heavenly outpouring upon us now as we prepare and upon those days when they come. We believe all this is of God and that the Lord will abundantly bless it.
The title of this appeal is a heart cry from Rachel in the thirtieth chapter of Genesis and the first verse: "And when Rachel saw that she bare no children, she cried and said, Give me children, or I die" [Genesis 30:1]. The verse also said that she was especially driven to that heartbroken, agonizing appeal because of her sister, Leah. Jacob loved Rachel; for her he worked fourteen years [Genesis 29:20-27]. But Leah, her sister, who had been given to Jacob because of a ruse on the part of Laban, Leah, though not loved, and not wanted, yet Leah had four boys around her skirts. There was little Rueben, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah [Genesis 29:31-35]. Four boys God had blessed in giving to Leah; but He withheld that blessing from Rachel. Rachel was barren and sterile, and no child was laid in her arms [Genesis 30:1].
We live in an altogether different day from that day. As the people, and the culture, and the social order were so framed and put together, the very life of a family depended upon the multiplication of children. I think of our pioneer forefathers who came to this country. For a man and his wife to seek subsistence and life alone meant almost inevitable disaster, and certain want and need in age. For the children helped clear the land and cord the wool, and helped spin, and weave, and bake. It was almost vital for life itself that the family be large.
My father and my mother, both of them, were members of large families; for they were pioneer people who came to the wilderness of Texas before the Revolutionary War against Old Mexico, the same kind of a thing you would find in India today. I stood in one of the temples of India where wives who were sterile made appeal to the god for fertility and children. And when I was astonished at the earnestness of their supplication and at the number who were there, the friend who was standing by my side said, "The importunity of these sterile wives is made doubly urgent and immediate because of the social life of India. The husband is free to leave her if she does not bare." And being left and bereft, she has no social standing; she can own no property, she is not acceptable, and she lives on the verge of starvation as an outcast unless she bares her husband a child. Well, it’s that sort of a thing that lies back of this appeal of Rachel. "And when Rachel saw that she bare no children, she cried, saying, Give me children, or I die" [Genesis 30:1].
This kind of a thing, the cry of the woman to God, is often repeated in the Bible. Sarah was ninety years of age [Genesis 17:16-17, 21:1-3], and yet had no child, though one had been promised of God [Genesis 18:10-14]. Ruth was a widow in the land of Moab and came a widow with a widowed mother-in-law to live in a field near Bethlehem [Ruth 1:1-5, 22]. Hannah was grievously burdened and cried unto God because no child had blessed her home [1 Samuel 1:6-7, 10]. And Elizabeth was aged and stricken in years when God visited her [Luke 1:7, 57]. The earnestness of that cry is not unusual or unique. And Rachel doubly felt it because of her sister Leah. "And Rachel, when she saw that she bare no children, cried and said, Give me children, or I die" [Genesis 30:1].
That has been parodied by one of the great religious leaders of all time. John Knox cried, and said, "Lord, give me Scotland, or I die." And the spiritual meaning of the appeal of Rachel is apparent, it is pertinent, it is apropos. It applies, it refers of course to our cry unto God for souls, for children, for salvation: O God, for a harvest, for a response, that the Lord will honor the sowing of the seed of His Word, the preaching of the gospel of Christ; that God will hear the prayers of His people, that God will give us spiritual children. "O God, give me children, or I die!"
"O God, give me Scotland, or I die!"
"O God, give me Dallas, or I die!"
"O God, may souls be saved, or we perish!"
The heartbrokenness of a cry, I would think, moves heaven itself. That’s why we read together the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Exodus, when God said, "Stand aside, Moses, stand aside, and I will destroy these people. And the wrath and the flame and the fire of My anger will consume them from the face of the earth; and out of thy loins will I raise Me up a people that will do My will. Now stand aside, while the fierceness of My anger, and the burning of My judging wrath consumes the people" [Exodus 32:9-10].
And it was then that Moses stood in the breach, and he cried, saying, "O Lord, this people have sinned a great sin; but Lord, if Thou wilt forgive their sin," and he didn’t finish the sentence, choked in sobs and in tears, he finally added:
O Lord, if Thou wilt not forgive their sin, then blot my name, I pray Thee, out of the book which Thou hast written. If they cannot live, I do not want to live. If they are not saved, I do not want to be saved. If to enter heaven empty-handed and alone, Lord, it is too much for my soul and spirit to look upon the destruction, the burning judgment of God upon His people. Lord, if Thou wilt forgive their sin – and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of the book which Thou hast written.
[from Exodus 32:31-32]
And out of the broken-heartedness of that supplication, God for Moses’ sake spared the people [Exodus 32:34].
It is that same heartbroken cry that you will read in the ninth and in the tenth chapter of the Book of Romans, as Paul looks upon the rejection of Christ by His own people. And he says, "I could wish myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" [Romans 9:3]. Then the next chapter, "Brethren, my heart’s desire, and my prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved, that they might be saved" [Romans 10:1]. It is the heart-brokenness, it is the earnest agony of a supplication that God listens to, that God hears, that God blesses, that God answers.
Week before last, as you know, I was in California preaching at the invitation of their executive secretary to all of the pastors of the state. They had set aside a fund to pay the expenses of all the pastors of our denomination in California, to assemble at a Nazarene encampment called Beulah, located south of San Francisco about seventy-five miles, near Santa Cruz, in a beautiful redwood forest. I preached Monday through Thursday. And always – unless there is some kind of an interdiction – always before I am done with a series of messages, I will plan and pray for and preach toward a great consecration service at the end, at the last hour.
So, in those series of messages, preaching twice a day, I had prepared and prayed toward a great consecration hour Thursday night, the last night of those series of messages. But Wednesday night, Wednesday night, while I was preaching, just pouring out my soul to all of those hundreds of pastors in the golden empire state of California, while I was preaching, there stood up a man in the midst of the congregation, and walked to the aisle, and came down to the front, and fell on the mourner’s bench, and buried his face in his hands, and began to sob, and to cry, and to pray unto God. A Nazarene church, as you know, has in it a mourner’s bench; and that assembly had a mourner’s bench from one side of the great hall to the other. And while I was preaching, that man, down on his knees, with his face in his hands, crying unto God; you can hardly describe the intensity of feeling of a holy hour like that.
I just stopped. And without invitation, and without appeal, others began to come, and others began to come, and others began to come. I looked over that throng, there must have been three hundred of them, more than three hundred of them, down their on their faces, crying unto God. Their work is hard, it is difficult; it is the most discouraging of all of the assignments I know in this earth, for the people of California are pleasure mad, they are entertainment mad, they are vacation mad. My impression? They go out there to forget God and these pastors with illimitable obstacles and discouragements – beyond what a man could bear – out there preaching the gospel, trying to build up those churches, oh! My heart goes out to them, my brethren, as they assume those impossible situations and responsibilities. And the feeling, and the appeal, and the cry unto God was just something that came out of the fountain of the deep of the soul of the preacher.
I do not know what will happen. I do know though that God in heaven looks down upon His people when they cry in agony unto Him. And I prophesy, I predict, as a fellow preacher and one who reads and believes the Word, that God will honor that message in the far western state of California, and God will give them souls, and they will build an empire for Jesus in that far western state.
John Knox never cried, "O God, give me success, or I die!" God would not have honored that request. He never cried, "Lord, honor my ministry, or I die!" God would not have blessed that supplication. He never cried, "O God, give me fame, and give me a great name, and give me all of these things that make the world look upon you with envy and with pride!" God would not have been blessed by a knocking at the gate of heaven like that. But when he cried for the souls of men, and when he cried for the salvation of his people, and when he cried for a great national turning to God, "Give me Scotland, or I die!" God answered that message. And I have read where there was no hamlet, there was no family, there was no people in the – at the end of the ministry of John Knox – that had not turned Presbyterian. In the days of the Reformation, he took that entire nation out of the hands of the papal court and laid it at the feet of the blessed Lord Jesus, before men who preached the gospel of the Son of God. And if I were not a Baptist, I would be a Presbyterian. "Give me Scotland, or I die!"
"Give me children, or I die."
Do you remember the amazed cry of the prophet Isaiah, when he looked upon the dissolution of his people? The disease had run riot into decay and decay had run riot into death; and as Isaiah looked upon the dissolution, the decay, and the disaster, and the death of his people, he said, "And there is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee!" An exclamation, an amazement to the great prophet, "There is none that calleth upon God; there is none that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee" [Isaiah 64:7].
I am amazed at myself; I am amazed at our people; how long has it been since you ever saw a congregation bowed down in tears because of the burden of the lost? When have you seen a congregation like that? When did you ever sit down in the midst of a great throng of people, whose cry of agony unto God for the lost was more than words could say, and with groanings inexpressible, they just cried before God? When have you seen a congregation like that? How can the church give what it does not possess? How can teachers teach what they do not know? And how can a congregation share with the lost world what it itself does not experience? How should we look upon them that they be moved when we’re not moved; that they bow when we do not bow; that they cry in repentance when we do not cry? Why should we expect them to draw nigh to God unless we draw nigh to God? Is it not true what Simon Peter says? "Judgment must begin at the house of God" [1 Peter 4:17]; it must begin in us, in us, in us, O Lord, in us.
Think what God hath done to prepare for any servant of Christ who will stand up and point to the saving gospel of the Son of God. Think what God hath done. The Lord hath given His Son to die for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And God hath given us the open Book, writ large on the page of sacred story what God hath done in His grace and mercy for us [Ephesians 2:7-8]. And the Lord has sent His Holy Spirit to convict of sin and to woo in the name of Christ [John 16:7-11]. And the Lord hath blessed us with an open door: nobody to interdict, nobody to intervene, nobody to arrest the preacher and put him in a jail or send him off to a Siberia. Everything hath God done, just the Lord expecting, and looking, and waiting for a man of faith to stand up, to take hold of the great promises of God. They have no hedges about them. They have no anything except just, "I will do it," says God, "if you will. If My people will, I will" [Jeremiah 17:7-8, 33:3].
Isn’t it a tragedy? We build churches and don’t fill them. We print Bibles and don’t read them. We talk about God and don’t trust Him. We write about Jesus and don’t believe in Him. We sing these hymns and forget them. We are called to prayer and never attend. Just announce a prayer meeting, see how many of our folks will attend. Out of the thousands and the thousands and the thousands who belong to this church, announce a prayer meeting, see how many will attend.
I heard a man one time say, "Go to church Sunday morning, and you will see how popular the church is. And go to church Sunday night, and you’ll see how popular the preacher is. Go to prayer meeting, and you will see how popular the Lord Jesus is." Oh, oh! The cry of Isaiah, "There is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee" [Isaiah 64:7]. I conclude in these few minutes that remain, oh! If I could just stir up myself, if God would give to me the gift of faith and enlarging persuasion; God is able, and God will do it.
I want to speak in these last minutes of God’s delight in a holy boldness. I don’t know why, but we seek to make things easy for God. So we ask little things, little things, for the most part things we could do ourselves; don’t need God, whether there’s any God or not, still could do them. I often say to my fellow preachers, one of the things you ought to do about your budget, about your giving program, you ought to make it big enough that you have to pray about it; you have to ask God about it. It’s bigger than you can do, bigger than your people can do, but being big it humbles you – bends you down – bows you before God, "O God, without Thy help, we can’t achieve this!" Your budget ought to be like that. If your budget, which is a financial mundane thing, if your budget ought to be like that, think how much our great spiritual programs, and plans, and askings, and intercessions, think how big they ought to be; big, big, don’t make things easy for God; God is delighted with an immeasurable boldness! [Matthew 7:7-11; Hebrews 4:14-16].
Let me illustrate that to you. After these prophets of Baal got through shouting to [Baal] and cutting themselves with lancet knives, and nobody answered [1 Kings 18:22-29], why, at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah gathered together the altar, the stones had been broken down, repaired the altar of God – there’s a sermon there – repaired the altar of God, set the wood in order, put the sacrifice on the wood, then you remember what he did? He said, "Bring me barrels of water"; and they poured on it barrels of water. Then Elijah said the second time, "Bring more barrels of water"; and they poured on other barrels of water. Then he said the third time, "Bring yet other barrels of water"; and they brought out barrels of water! [1 Kings 18:30-35]. Making it hard for God, so that when God answered by fire, it would be to the glory of the Lord [1 Kings 18:36-39]. That’s the way we ought to be. Ask a big thing, a difficult thing! [John 14:13-14].
It’s what Isaiah said to Ahaz, Ahaz, a weak, vacillating, spineless, pusillanimous king in a day of Israel’s dire calamitous need; Isaiah doing his best to persuade Ahaz to believe in God and to lead out for God, and Ahaz refusing, lack of faith, lack of confidence, lack of persuasion that God would answer. Finally Isaiah said, "Ahaz, ask a sign, ask a sign, ask anything in the heaven above, or anything in the earth beneath! Ask, Ahaz, anything!" [Isaiah 7:10-11]. And still Ahaz refused [Isaiah 7:12]. And Isaiah saw the nation disintegrate and decay for lack of great spiritual taking hold of the Lord God. "There is none that calleth upon Thy name; there is none that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee" [Isaiah 64:7].
Make a big thing; ask a big thing. Trust God for a gigantic, marvelous, wondrous thing. Compliment God, asking. Compliment Him with a request as though, "Nobody can do it but Thee, God, but we do ask of Thee." See what God does.
I don’t want to leave this like that. When [God] saw the nation fall into disaster, and decay, and captivity, He called Him a prophet by the name of Ezekiel, and took him to a valley of dry bones, and said, " Ezekiel, these are My people" [Ezekiel 37:12, 13, 23, 27]. That’s what the Book says. You turn to the chapter and see; "These are My people," that’s what it says, exactly. Just turn to the thirty-seventh chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, "These are My people, dead, these are My people, these heaps and mountains of dry bones, these are My people. Now Ezekiel, stand up there and prophesy to them" [Ezekiel 37:4]. What a discouraging prospect! "Prophesy to this heap, and this mountain, and this valley of dry bones, yes." says the Lord. And he could have replied, "Well Lord, there’s nothing come of that. Why, that’s beyond what could be expected of any man’s faith. Preach to dry bones? to mountains and heaps of the dry, blistered, bleached, dead? Why, Master?"
"No matter," says God, "preach to them, prophesy, and say to these bones, Thus saith the Lord God, Live, live!" And bone joined to bone, and they were covered with sinew and muscle and flesh. And when he continued to prophesy and to preach in the faith of the power of God, the Lord breathed into them the breath of life, and they stood on their feet, an exceeding great army for God [Ezekiel 37:4-10]. That pleases the Lord. That pleases the Lord. For it honors Him, it honors Him.
The impossible, that’s what God is. He changes the church impotent into the church militant; the church powerless into the church powerful; the people of timidity, and indifference, and unconcern, into the people of warmth, and power, and glory, and salvation. And that’s what we pray God shall do again, "Lord, give us children, or we die." We are that earnest, Lord, give us souls or we perish [Genesis 30:1]. "O God, give us Scotland, or we die." O Lord, give us our country, our state, our city, and our people.
And the Lord answers prayer. He blessed Rachel [Genesis 30:22-24]. He blessed Sarah [Genesis 21:1-3]. He blessed Hannah [1 Samuel 1:20]. He blessed Elizabeth [Luke 1:57-63]. He blessed Ezekiel [Ezekiel 37:4-10]. He blessed John Knox. He blessed George Whitefield. He blessed Dwight Moody. He blesses Billy Graham. He will not forget us. He will bless us. We ask Him; we’re expecting. Do it, Lord. Make it great for Thee.
Now while we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody this day, somebody this hour, to give his heart to the Lord, you come and stand by me. A family to come, or a couple to come, "Pastor, this is my wife, and these are our children; all of us are coming today." Or one somebody you, as the Spirit of God shall lead in the way, as the Lord shall press upon your heart this appeal, make it now. "Today, I give my heart to Christ. This day I give my life to the Lord." Or, "We are putting our love, and prayers, and tears, and all we have and are into the circumference and the fellowship of this beloved congregation, and here we come." Would you? Would you make it now, while we stand and while we sing?
GIVE ME CHILDREN OR I DIE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Jacob’s wives; Leah and Rachel
1. Leah bore the first four children, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah
2. Rachel was barren but Jacob loved Rachel
3. Rachel’s heart was broken
1. In the past, family survival depended on having children
2. Woman’s status depended upon having children
3. Cries of women to God in Scripture; Rachel, Hannah, Sarah
III. Need for agonized supplication
1. Isaiah 64:7
2. Congregations need to be on their knees before God
IV. Looking in faith to God
1. Think of what God has done for us sinners
a. Our Lord Jesus given for our salvation
b. Holy Spirit given
c. Word of God for our instruction
2. God is delighted with faith
3. Go to God with boldness in faith
4. God answers prayer