ANSWERING GOD’S CALL
Dr. W.A. Criswell
3-29-64 7:30 p.m.
Now on radio, if you have your Bible, as with the great throng of the thousands in this memorial auditorium, turn to chapter 26, the Book of Acts, chapter 26, and we are going to read out loud together. If your neighbor does not have his Bible, share your Bible with him. Chapter 26 of the Books of Acts, the fifth Book in the New Testament, chapter 26, I am going to read the introductory verse.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:
Now we begin with verse 8, and we read through verse 20; from verse 8 through verse 20 in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, all of us reading it out loud together verse 8:
Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?
I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.
And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.
Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
And I said, Who art Thou, Lord? And He said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;
Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,
To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me.
Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
And my text, “Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” [Acts 26:19], and the title of the sermon; Answering God’s Call. The purpose under God of the great convocation tonight is to make a decision and please God, as the Holy Spirit shall lead in our souls, that we make a decision for our Lord tonight.
There are four decisions of which I speak: one, answering God’s call to faith and to trust in Jesus; second, answering God’s call to baptism and to church membership; third, answering God’s call to special service; fourth, answering God’s call in the dedication of our lives to Him. And these are the four things that we find in the life of the apostle Paul from whose lips we take as our text the sublime commitment, “Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” [Acts 26:19].
Answering God’s call, first, to trust and to faith in the Lord Jesus; the conversion of the apostle Paul was miraculous but so is the conversion of any man, any time, anywhere in any season. We are all saved miraculously. Now the outward circumstances of our conversions differ. You have a testimony. I have a testimony. All of us found Christ in somewhat of a different way. The circumstances differ but we are not saved by the differing circumstances.
We are saved by the grace, and the love, and the mercy of the Son of God [John 10:11, 17:23]. And however miraculous may have been the conversion of the apostle Paul, it is no more miraculous than your conversion when God wrote your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 21:27].
Now the apostle Paul was a blasphemer. He heaped reproach upon the name of the Lord Jesus. He persecuted those who believed in our Lord unto death [Acts p:1-2, 26:9-10]. He presided over the execution of Stephen [Acts 7:58]. He even went to strange cities to hale into prison those who called upon the name of the Lord [Acts 26:11].
And it was in the midst of one of those terrible journeys of persecution against the saints of Jesus that the Lord met him in the way and when Paul fell at His feet and cried, “Who art Thou Lord?” The Lord replied, “Saul, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” [Acts 9:1-5].
What an unusual saying. You find it in Aeschylus, the great Greek dramatist. You find it in Pindar, the great Greek poet. “It is hard to kick against the pricks.” And what did Jesus mean when He said that to the apostle Paul? “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
The answer is very plain and very simple. When Saul of Tarsus presided over the execution of Stephen, he saw Stephen’s face as it had been the face of an angel [Acts 6:15]. And when Stephen lay down to die, Stephen prayed, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” [Acts 7:60]. And that tore Saul apart. He had never seen a man die like that man died.
Then when Saul haled into prison and cast his vote of death against the saints of God [Acts 22:20], he never saw the purity of life and faith of those who had placed their trust in the Lord Jesus. And then to hear the sweet message of the Son of God, “It is hard,” said the Lord to Saul, “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” [Acts 9:5].
“There’s a call in your heart. There’s an appeal from heaven in your soul. And Saul, you find it hard to drown it in your life, and in your soul, and in your heart.”
You, you’re that way. You’re that way. You can’t help but be that way. Out in the world and rejecting Christ, you can’t help but find those stirrings in your soul God-ward. And the only way that a man can refuse to become a Christian is to drown the voice of God in his heart, and in his life, and in his soul. All of us are that way.
Every time we see a church and a spire pointing God-ward, it’s an appeal to trust in Jesus. Every time we see a fine Christian man, it’s a testimony to believe in Jesus. Every time we hear a wonderful Christian song, it’s an appeal to trust in Jesus. And every time we bow our heads owning our need of God, it’s an appeal to trust in Jesus, and it’s hard to say no. “Saul, Saul, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks, to refuse the overtures of grace and mercy of the blessed Lord.”
I one time had a young man come to me, and he said, and he said, “I can no longer say no. My father died and as my father lay dying he pled with me, ‘Son, give your heart to Jesus. Be a Christian.’” And he said, “My father died with those words on his lips, ‘Son, be a Christian, be a Christian. Son, be a Christian, be a Christian.’ ”
And he said to me, “I can refuse the appeal no longer. I have come for you to show me how to be saved. I want to know the way. I want to know the way.”
It’s hard to say no when God says, “Come” [Matthew 11:28]. It’s hard to say no when the Bible says, “Come” [Isaiah 55:1]. It’s hard to say no when the Spirit and the bride say, “Come” [Revelation 22:17].
And I said to the lad, I said, “Sit down here by my side.” And I turned in the Bible, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” [Acts 4:12]. Then I turned to John 14:6, “Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life.” There’s none other name. There’s no other way. There’s none other life. There’s none other salvation. It’s in Jesus.
For if thou shall 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 one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.
For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him.
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
I said, “Son, get down here by my side.” And the young man knelt by my side. I said, “Now let’s call on the name of the Lord. Let’s call on the name of the Lord. Let’s ask God to save us.” And we asked God in prayer. Then I said, “Son, if in your heart, if in your heart you’ll trust Jesus as Lord, take my hand.” And he clasped my hand. Then I said, “The next service that I preach down there at that tabernacle, you come down the aisle and openly, publicly before men and angels say to the world, ‘I do take the Lord as my Savior.’” He did.
That’s the way to be saved. Openly, publicly, having trusted in Jesus in our hearts, openly, publicly to avow that commitment before men, before men, and that’s our first appeal in the name of God and His Holy Spirit tonight. Make a decision tonight. Make a decision tonight trusting Jesus as Savior, ask God to save you. Ask Him in your heart. Ask Him in your heart. Trust Him that He is able and mighty to do it. Then come down that aisle openly and publicly and avow that faith before men and angels, and you’ll be saved. You will be saved. It’s the gift of God and forever [John 3:16, 10:27-30; Ephesians 2:8-9].
Second, second: the call of God, answering God’s call to baptism and to church membership. In the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Acts, in the twelfth verse [Acts 22:12], where Paul describes that same conversion when Ananias was sent to him by the Lord, Ananias said, “And now, why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord” [Acts 22:16]. The first thing, the first thing that a converted soul wants to do is to be baptized.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
And Philip answered and said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And the eunuch answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
Rejoicing; the first thing that one feels in his soul when he’s given his heart to Christ is, “I want to be baptized. I want to be numbered with the people of God. I want to belong to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.” That thing did the apostle Paul when he was converted [Acts 22:16]. Immediately after baptism, he was associated with the church of Damascus [Acts 9:19-22]. Then in Jerusalem, then in Tarsus, then in Antioch, then in spreading the seed of the gospel around the Mediterranean world [Acts 13:1-28:31].
It is normal and natural. It is holy and godly, that thing God has put in our souls. “I’ve given my heart to Jesus. I want to be in the church. I want to join the church. I want to be a member of the fellowship of Christ.” “God loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25].
One of the most moving things I ever looked upon in my life, I was holding a revival meeting in the hill country of Kentucky in a little city. And as I made the appeal one night, there came down the aisle a girl, not a small child, maybe thirteen years old. And when she came there was a moving, deep moving on the part of all the people there. And I wondered at it. It made an impression upon me.
And after the service was over going home with the pastor, I said, “Pastor, there is something unusual about that girl who came tonight on a confession of faith and was received for baptism. For I felt a moving and saw many tears in the congregation. Why was that? For she was just a child, just another little girl who came forward.”
“Well,” he said, “you don’t understand.” He said, “You see here in this church in Kentucky in this hill country and with the background the people have, most of them think you can’t be saved until you’re grown. You can’t be saved until you’ve wallowed in the mire, and dirt, and filth of sin. That you can’t be saved just by trusting in the Lord as a child would trust.”
So he said:
This child, this girl, came down the aisle here at our church at a service in which I was preaching and said God had spoken to her heart, and that she’d taken Jesus as her Savior, and she wanted to be baptized and be a member of the church. And the church refused her. The church refused her. She was just thirteen years old. The church refused her. And her father and mother refused her. ‘You’re not old enough. You don’t realize.’ And the girl became exceedingly ill, and they thought unto death. And as they sat by the side of the child thinking she would die, somebody happened to see a note that was hidden under a piece of porcelain on the dresser, and taking out the note, they read it.
And it said, ‘Dear Daddy and Mother, if I die I want you to know that I’ve been saved and I’m with Jesus in heaven. But please if I get well let me be baptized.’ And the father and mother reading that note by the side of the child they thought was dying made a resolution in their souls. ‘If God spares our little girl, if God spares her, the first opportunity, she shall have the privilege of confessing her faith before men and being received for baptism in the church.’
And the pastor said to me, “That’s why the moving in the hearts of the people when the little girl came.” That’s a part of God. That’s a part of being saved. The first thing that a man wants to do who’s given his heart to Jesus is to join himself and to identify himself with the people of Christ. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]; answering God’s call, placing your life and your membership in the fellowship of the church.
Third: answering God’s call to special service. “Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” [Acts 26:19], answering God’s call to a special service:
And the Lord said…
Rise, rise, stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of those things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee.
And the Holy Spirit said unto the apostles, and prophets, and teachers at Antioch, “Separate Me Paul and Barnabas for the work whereunto I have called them” [Acts 13:2]. And God sent them out [Acts 13:2], “Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision,” answering God’s call to special service [Acts 26:19].
Spurgeon, whom I admire beyond any preacher I ever read after, Spurgeon read, Spurgeon wrote to his son,
I should not like you if meant by God to be a missionary to die a millionaire. I should not like it were you fitted to be a missionary that you should drivel down to a king. What are kings, and nobles, and diadems compared with the dignity of winning souls to Christ?
The greatest commitment that a man can make is to answer the call of God. I am not a profound egotist when I say I would not trade my place, my calling as a pastor and a preacher of Jesus, for the prime minister ship of England, or for the presidency of the United States, or for any kingdom since God created this earth. To me, the highest calling that a soul can receive is for God to say, “I want you in the ministries of My dear church,” a youth, a boy, a girl, a man, or a woman. When President Calvin Coolidge asked John R. Mott, great missionary statesman, asked John Mott to be ambassador to Japan, John Mott replied, “Sir, sir. I am an ambassador of the great King, and I am deaf to all other calls.”
When the Standard Oil company picked out a young missionary in the Orient and said, “We want you to represent the Standard Oil Company, and your salary would be fifteen thousand dollars a year.” He said, “No.” His salary was a thousand. And the Standard Oil company said, “And your salary will be twenty-five thousand dollars a year.” And the boy said, “No.” And the Standard Oil company said, “And your salary will be fifty thousand dollars a year.” And the young man said, “No.” And the Standard Oil company officials, amazed said, “What’s the matter? What’s the matter?” And the boy replied, “Sir, your price is all right, but your calling is too small. God has sent me here to be a missionary.”
We’re not all called. Some are called to be preachers. Some are called to be missionaries. Some are called into denominational work. Some are called to be singers. Some are called into various activities ministering in the church of Jesus. Those that are called, oh how complimented! God hath looked upon you. How complimented you are and what a high privilege to answer with your life. The rest of us will hold the ropes while you go down into the well. “Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” [Acts 26:19], answering God’s call to a special ministry. If He calls, if He calls you, “Here I am, Lord, send me” [Isaiah 6:8].
And the last: answering God’s call to a dedication of life. And the Lord said, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” [Acts 9:16]. “I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” As Paul said to the elders of the church at Ephesus:
The Spirit witnesseth in every city, that bonds and afflictions await me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry of Christ Jesus, to preach the gospel of the Son of God.
And then he described his afflictions. “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with Roman rods, once was I stoned and dragged out for dead at Lystra in pain, in hunger, in cold and in nakedness, in perils of the wilderness of mine own country of false brethren” [2 Corinthians 11:24-27].
“But, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” [Acts 26:19]. At Damascus when they sought his life, and he was let down over the wall in a basket and thus escaped [Acts 9:25], “I was true to the heavenly vision.” And when in Jerusalem they sought his life [Acts 9:29], and they sent him away to Tarsus [Acts 9:30], “O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” And when in Philippi they imprisoned him and beat him [Acts 16:23-24]. “O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” And when in Ephesus they fed him to the wild beasts [1 Corinthians 15:32] and only God delivered him, “O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” And when in Rome they imprisoned him and he came to martyrdom [2 Timothy 4:6], “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith [2 Timothy 4:7]. O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” [Acts 26:19].
Oh the tragedy of this awful hour, this awful hour, this awful hour! Unless there is a turn in the trend of history, the day will come when the name of Christ will be almost obliterated, drowned in this world. Increasingly it becomes atheistic, and secular, and materialistic. Increasingly it renounces the faith and especially in the spearhead of that awful system of unbelief and atheism called communism.
I have copied here a letter that an American boy in Old Mexico attending the University of Old Mexico in Mexico City—the boy had become a convert to communism, and he was writing to his sweetheart in America explaining why he was breaking off their coming marriage. And this is what he wrote:
We communists have a high casualty rate. We’re the ones who get shot, and hung, and lynched, and jailed, and fired from our jobs. We live in virtual poverty. We turn back to the party every penny we have above what is absolutely necessary to keep us alive. We’ve been described as fanatics. We are fanatics. Our lives are dominated by one great overshadowing factor, the struggle for world communism. We communists have a philosophy of life which no amount of money could buy. We have a cause to fight for; a definite purpose in life. We subordinate our petty personal selves into a great movement of humanity, and if our personal lives seem hard, or our egos appear to suffer through subordination to the party, then we are adequately compensated by the thought that each of us in his small way is contributing to something new, and true, and better for mankind. There is one thing in which I am in dead earnest and that is a communist cause. It is my life, my business, my religion, my hobby, my sweetheart, my wife, my bread, and my meat. I work at it in the daytime and dream of it at night. Its hold on me grows not lessen. I cannot carry on a friendship or even a conversation without relating it to the force which both drives and guides my life. I evaluate people, books, ideas, and actions according to how they affect the communist cause. I’ve already been in jail because of my ideas, and if necessary I’m ready to go before the firing squad.
No wonder the communist cause is sweeping this earth. There is not in the Christian faith, the dedication to match the dedication of those who preach the gospel of atheism and infidelity.
O God, if ever was an hour, if there ever was an hour for God’s people to be counted, to be counted, to stand up to be dedicated to the cause of the Lord Jesus:
What though I stand with the winners
Or perish with those that fall?
Only the cowards are sinners,
Fighting the fight is all.
Strong is my foe—who advances!
Snapt is my blade, O Lord!
See their proud banners and lances!
But spare me this stub of a sword!
[adapted from “Battle Cry”; John G. Neihardt]
Keep me from turning back!
The handles of my plow with tears are wet,
The shares with rust are spoiled, and yet, and yet,
My God! my God! keep me from turning back.
I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back. No turning back.
Though no one join me, I still will follow.
No turning back. No turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me.
No turning back. No turning back.
The cross of Jesus I’ll gladly carry.
No turning back. No turning back.
[“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” William J. Reynolds]
“Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” [Acts 26:19]. May we bow our heads? May we bow our heads? While our heads our bowed, while our heads are bowed, search your soul, search your soul. We’re going to spend just a little time in this decision period of prayer searching our souls. Does God ask that you confess your faith in the Lord Jesus, take Him as your Savior? Does God call for you? Come. Come. Answer. Does God call for you to put your life in the fellowship of the church? Come. Does God call for you to be baptized? Come. Does God call into a special ministry? Come. Does God whisper before men and angels, “Dedicate your life. Dedicate your life to the Lord Jesus?” Pray. Search your soul. And blessed, blessed Jesus, if we know our hearts, if we know our souls, it is the deepest, deepest commitment of our lives to follow Thee unto death.
With our heads bowed, if you made a decision for Jesus, in a moment come and stand at the front to give your heart in trust to the Savior, to place your life in the fellowship of a church, to answer a special appeal for full-time service, to rededicate your life to the Lord; if you’ll answer the call of God, come.
And our Lord, may the Holy Spirit lead as in this holy, heavenly moment we decide for Thee. In Thy name, amen. While we stand, while sing, come. While we stand, while we sing.
I. To accept Christ as Savior and Lord
A. Conversion of Paul a
miracle; but so is the conversion of any man
B. Paul had rejected
the Lord with a vengeance
C. “Hard to kick against
the pricks”(Acts 9:5)
1. Testimony of
Stephen, faith of the believers tore Saul apart(Acts
C. It is always hard to
say “no” when God says “come”
1. Young man, “I
can no longer say no”
Showed him there is no other salvation but Jesus (Acts
4:12, John 14:6, Romans 10:9-13)
Make an open, public commitment
II. To baptism and church membership
A. Immediately to be
baptized (Acts 22:16)
1. First thing
converted soul wants to do is be baptized (Acts
B. To be identified
with the people of God(Acts 9:19, Ephesians
in Kentucky – young girl had been turnedaway by church
III. To special service(Acts 26:16)
Spirit called the apostles (Acts 13:2)
letter to his son
a high privilege to answer with your life (Isaiah
IV. To a dedication of life(Acts 9:16)
A. God showed Paul how
greatly he would suffer for Him(Acts 9:15-16)
commitment has gone out of the modern Christian religion
from young American student who converted to communism
“Battle Cry”; hymn, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”