STOOPING TO CONQUER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-1-63 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message at the eleven o’clock hour entitled Stooping to Conquer. It is a message based on a text in the ninth Psalm and the twelfth verse: “He forgetteth not the cry of the humble” [Psalm 9:12]. The tenor of the whole psalm is in keeping with that text. It begins:
I will extol Thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will show forth all Thy marvelous works.
I will be glad and rejoice in Thee: I will sing praise to Thy name, O Thou Most High.
He shall judge the world in righteousness; He shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness.
The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in time of trouble.
For the needy shall not always be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.
And they that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee: for Thou, O Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek Thy face.
[Psalm 9:1-2, 8-9, 18, 10]
Then the text, “For God forgetteth not the cry of the humble” [Psalm 9:12]; stooping, bowing, bending to conquer.
There are two kingdoms in this world. One is a kingdom of revolution and violence and war and terror. And the threat of that kingdom, as it spreads over this earth, as it threatens Japan, as it has destroyed China, the threat of that kingdom is never out of the minds of our American government or of our American people. And all of the free world lives in an age of dire foreboding and dread as to what any day and what any future might hold for us; for there is in this world a kingdom that is so proud and self-assertive that their leaders are confident that the wave of the future and the destiny of human history lies in their bloody hands. Their success has been phenomenal beyond any page that history records. There never was a kingdom before that had so many subjects, as they have enslaved. There has never been one before that encompassed or held in grasp so large a vast area of continental expanse as this kingdom of darkness now possesses. There is in this world, and we are conscious of it, a kingdom of war, and force, and enslavement, and revolution. And their leaders boast of their conquests in days passed and of their triumphs in days to come.
There is also another kingdom in this world. And the leader of that empire has also said that the world shall belong to Him, that all authority in heaven and in earth is deposited in His nail-pierced hands [Matthew 28:18]. His prophets have said that the kingdoms of this world shall certainly become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and that He shall reign forever and ever [Revelation 11:15]. We who are gathered in this great assembly this Lord’s Day morning, we who have given our hearts in faith and in trust to the Lord Jesus, we are persuaded that however the turn of history, however its convolutions and revolutions, however its centuries of blood and terror and war, we are persuaded that the future lies in His hands and that someday His kingdom shall process this earth, as His glorious presence now favors heaven, the angelic hosts, the glory of the whole created universe of God.
Now I am to speak of that second kingdom. What is it like? Oh, how different in every aspect from the kingdom of violence that we know in this earth. “He forgetteth not the cry of the humble [Psalm 9:12]. The needy shall not be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish” [Psalm 9:18]. It is a kingdom that is marked in the bowing, in the humility, in the bending of its subjects.
The blessed ones in the kingdom are so different from what we expect and have been taught to look for as being triumphant in this world. These are the blessed ones in this kingdom: “Blessed, blessed, happy are the poor in spirit: theirs is the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 5:3]. Blessed are they that mourn [Matthew 5:4]. Blessed, happy, favored are the meek: they shall inherit the earth [Matthew 5:5]. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness” [Matthew 5:6]. Blessed are they that fill this great auditorium, looking with hungry hearts to the preacher, “Feed us with bread of life, give us from God’s fountain of everlasting goodness to drink to the fill of the water of blessing” [John 6:63].
“Blessed, makarios, favored, happy are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness [Matthew 5:6]. Blessed, makarios, are the merciful [Matthew 5:7]. Blessed are the pure in heart” [Matthew 5:8]. These are the blessed ones in the everlasting kingdom that shall someday possess this earth [Matthew 5:3, 10].
O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!
But what to those who find?
Ah this—Nor tongue nor pen could show;
The love of Jesus, what it is
None but His loved ones know.
[“O Hope of Every Contrite Heart,” Bernard of Clairvaux]
This kingdom is filled with heavenly light and blessedness for the poor in spirit, for those that mourn, for those that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for those who bow, who are humble before God [Psalm 9:12].
Second: the citizens of this heavenly kingdom, these are they who are blessed, these are they who are favored; now, these are they who are great. Who are the great in the kingdom of God? These who are exalted and honored, who are the great? The reason I had us read together the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, the story of the washing of the disciples’ feet by our Lord; you won’t see the significance of what our Lord did except you see it and follow it in a harmony, a collocation of all four of the Gospels as they tell the story of our Lord. When time came for the eating of the Passover, the disciples gathered in the upper room; our Lord in the center.
Then a contention arose about the seating arrangements—that sounds so modern—and a contention arose about the seating arrangements. Who’s going to sit on the right side of our Lord? Who’s going to be seated on the left side of our Lord? And in the kingdom that is to come, who is to be prime minister? And who is to be honored and favored and exalted? Who are the great in the kingdom of God? “And there arose a contention among them, as to who was greatest” [Luke 9:46]. It was then that our Lord took off His robes [John 13:4] —which is the humblest thing that a man can do; however proud a man may be in gold braids and brass buttons and all of the trappings of uniform, when he’s naked, there’s not a more humbling experience in humankind than to be unclothed—“And the Lord laid aside His raiment; girded Himself with a towel, and began to wash the disciples’ feet [John 13:4-5]. If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye ought to wash one another’s feet” [John 13:14].
The reason it’s not an ordinance in the church is because the disciples, interpreting the message and meaning of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, promised, wrote in the letters of the New Testament and in the Acts of the Apostles what were the ordinances we were to keep; and they interpreted the act of Jesus not as an ordinance in the church, but as the spirit of humility and preference that each one who belongs to the kingdom of God should show for the other, “In honor preferring one another” [Romans 12:10]; washing feet, washing feet, bowing, stooping, bending, these are the great ones in the kingdom of God [Psalm 9:12].
I went to Calcutta. I was so interested in that city. There is not a greater panorama or a more poignant one of human need than Calcutta. It is indescribable, the masses of millions, you never forget it. But I was interested mostly in William Carey’s attendance upon Calcutta. In 1793, he landed in Calcutta, the first missionary of modern times and the father of modern missions. Finding his work impossible there under the oppression of the East India Company and under the oppression of the government, he went up one of the mouths of the Ganges River eighteen miles to Serampore, and there in a Danish settlement spent the rest of his life.
So I went up the tributary, the mouth of the Ganges, eighteen miles, to go to Serampore, to look upon the work of God’s greatest modern missionary. I was overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed. He had built a great college, a big, big institution; teaching those young Indians the way of God, a marvelous work. And I stood in his pulpit where he preached the gospel of the Son of God. Then I went to the library, and as much as I had read and had understood of the vast and extensive labor of the great missionary, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw.
That man, that one man, William Carey, had translated the Word of God, the Bible, into twenty-six different languages. And there they were in that library, twenty-six different languages, twenty-six, one, two, three, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-five, twenty-six! Twenty-six different languages: that man had made the gospel open and available to more than three hundred million people! And as though that were not gigantic and colossal enough, I looked in the library, and I kept looking in the library, and here were grammars of the languages that he’d written, and here were lectionaries, and here were lexicons, and here were dictionaries, and here were explanations of the language and how to use it and to speak it and to preach it. I was overwhelmed! I could not believe that one man, though a genius, that one man could accomplish so much for God.
Then I walked to the cemetery, the little place where Christians are buried, to stand at the grave of God’s great missionary. And to my amazement, to my amazement, I read the inscription he had prepared for his tomb. It was this. Listen to it: “A poor, miserable, helpless worm; on Thy kind arms I fall.” What that man has done, founding the whole modern missionary movement, what that man wrought for the millions of India, what he had done through the great college, and his itinerant preachers changing the very course of time and history; yet bowing before God, pleading the mercies of heaven: “A poor, miserable, helpless worm; on Thy kind arms I fall.” These are the great ones, God says. These are the great ones in the kingdom of heaven [Psalm 9:12; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6].
I have spoken of the blessed ones, “Makarios, the meek, makarios, the mourning, makarios, the hungering and the thirsting” [Matthew 5:4-6]; I have spoken of the great ones, these who bow, who stoop to conquer [Psalm 9:12]; I now speak of the acceptable ones, these who approach the throne of God, and the Lord opens wide the gates of glory. Who are they? Who are they? Ah, this is a reversal of everything you would ever think; this is an opposite of man-made religion, look, look, look. These are the acceptable ones: not the elder brother, not the elder brother who said to his father, “At no time did I ever transgress thy commandment; I have stayed here and worked on the job, never disobeyed thee. At no time, no time did I ever transgress thy commandment. You never had a son like me! No father ever had a son like me! I have been better and finer and truer and more faithful and loyal than any other son, I! But you never killed any fatted calf for me! You never put any ring on my finger, you never put any robe on my shoulders, you never gave a party of gladness for me. Look at me, how I am forgot, and abused, and not appreciated, me, me. But the one you do accept is this filthy prodigal, who wasted his substance in riotous living. And for him you kill a fatted calf. For him you bring out the best robe. For him you put a ring on his finger. For him there is gladness, gladness” [Luke 15:25-30].
What an astonishing reversal. Wonder why? Just to say it, just to see it, for the prodigal was down on his face, down in the dust, bent low, broken in two; and coming to his father, said, “I am not worthy to be a son. No longer call me a son. Make me a hired servant. But I want to come home. Feeding the hogs, living in the filth and dirt of the pen, I want to come home. Make me a servant” [Luke 15:18-19, 21]. And the father lifted him up and exalted him, “This my son,” notice emphasis, “my son, this my son was dead, and is alive again. He was lost and is found!” [Luke 15:22-24]. What an amazing reversal.
And I could stay here all day long and preach that gospel. It’s clear through the Word of God, the acceptable ones, who are they? Not the proud Pharisee, “Lord, I thank Thee I am not like other men. I do this, and I do that, and I do the other thing; I thank Thee I am not like other men.” But the publican would not so much as raise his face to heaven, but bowed before the Lord and beat on his breast, and said, “Lord, be merciful to me” [Luke 18:9-13], and there never was an article in the Greek language that meant so much as that one there. In English you have it translated, “Be merciful to me a sinner” [Luke 18:13]. What he said was, “Be merciful to me the, the sinner,” as though there were never another in the earth but I, but I: “Be merciful to me the sinner!” [Luke 18:13]. And the Lord said that “he went down to his house justified” [Luke 18:14]. These are the acceptable ones.
Not Simon the Pharisee, who gave the feast for Jesus in his pride; but the harlot, the prostitute that came in off of the street, and bathed His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. This is the woman that Jesus sent away blessed and favored and accepted [Luke 7:36-50].
Not the scribes, and the learned, and the Sadducean, and the Sanhedrin as they marched up and down before the cross in all of their glory, and all of their religion, and all of their rabbinical lore and might and learning, no [Matthew 27:42]; but the malefactor, the thief, the robber, the culprit, the criminal who said, “Lord, when You come into Your kingdom, remember me, remember me” [Luke 23:42-43].
Not Simon Peter boasting, “Lord these other disciples may, they may renounce Thee and deny Thee, but not I, not I” [Matthew 26:33-35]. And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon, when you go through the experience, and you are broken in two,” and the King James Version has it translated, “and when you are converted,” let me say it another way, “and when you turn, and when you turn, strengthen thy brethren” [Luke 22:31-32]. Stooping to conquer; when you’re broken; the acceptable ones before God [Psalm 9:12].
I had never heard this before. In my preparing this message this week, I came across a poem, not in a religious book, in a book of poetry. At the early service, one of my members came to me and said, “I heard a preacher quote that one time.” I had never heard it before, but when I read it, oh, the impression it made upon my soul! The man who wrote it is not a Christian, but I want you to see the effect of this washerwoman’s song upon his soul. It is entitled “The Washerwoman’s Song”; listen to it, listen:
In a very humble cot,
In a rather quiet spot,
In the suds and in the soap,
Worked a woman full of hope;
Working, singing, all alone;
In a sort of undertone.
“With the Savior for a friend,
He will keep me to the end;”
Not in sorrow nor in glee
Working all day long was she,
As her children three or four,
Played around her on the floor;
But in monotones the song
She was humming all day long;
“With the Savior for a friend,
He will keep me to the end.”
It’s a song I do not sing,
For I scarce believe a thing
Of the stories that are told
Of the miracles of old;
But I know that her belief
Is the anecdote for grief,
And that Christ will be her friend
Who will keep her to the end.
Just a trifle lonesome she,
Just as poor as poor could be;
But her spirits always rose
Like the bubbles in the clothes,
And, though widowed and alone,
Cheered her with the monotone,
Of a Savior for a friend
Who would keep her to the end.
I have seen her rub and scrub,
On the washboard in the tub,
While the baby, sopped in suds,
Rolled and tumbled in the duds;
Or was paddling in the pools,
With old scissors stuck in spools;
She still humming of her friend
Who would keep her to the end.
Human hopes and human creeds
Have their root in human needs:
And I would not wish to strip
From that washerwoman’s lip
Any song that she can sing.
Any hope that song could bring;
For the woman has a friend
Who will keep her to the end.
[adapted from “The Washerwoman’s Song,” Eugene Ware]
I believe that. This is the kingdom of heaven, its glory, its crowning goodness. God bless us who belong in the train and in the faith of the gentle Jesus.
While we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus, come into the fellowship of the church, however the Lord shall speak the word, shall open the door, make it today; make it today. There’s a stairway at the front on either side. There’s a stairway at the back on either side. There is time and to spare. In the press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, while we sing our song of appeal, come to the Lord, come. Make it this morning. A family you, one somebody you, as God shall invite, come, as we stand and as we sing.