The Burning Heart
March 20th, 1966 @ 8:15 AM
THE BURNING HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-20-1966 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Burning Heart. The sermon is prepared and delivered as a part of the beginning of our climactic season of revival and soulwinning. The 9:30 hour will bring to us an evangelistic and dedication appeal for our teenagers and for our young people. Their convocation will be in this auditorium. They will gather about 9:45; then our service at 10:50; then the afternoon given to the Lord; then the evangelistic service tonight under the leadership of our Baker brothers, Bo preaching and Dick singing. Then every night this week will be given to some group, and every day will find some organized family circle in our church out working for the Lord. Then next Sunday through the following Sunday, there will be services here every night for the week led by Bo and Dick Baker. Then following that week will be our noonday services at the Palace Theater.
So the message today is introductory to that tremendous period that we have set aside for prayer, and soulwinning, and personal dedication. The Burning Heart ; the subject came to my soul from the coat of arms of John Calvin. The coat of arms of John Calvin is a hand lifting a burning heart unto God.
The phrase is found in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Luke, as the beloved physician describes the journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus of two downcast disciples who, thinking that the Messiah was dead and forever, walking along were so sad, and Jesus came by their sides [Luke 24:13-15]. And as they walked along together He explained to them out of the Scriptures how the Lord must die, and the third day be raised again [Luke 24:25-28], and when He was known to them in the breaking of bread, and then vanished out of their sights, they said the one to the other, “Did not our hearts burn within us, while He talked to us by the way, and opened to us the meaning of the Scriptures?” [Luke 24:30-32].
Now the inquiry is going to be into the life of the apostle Paul; the combustibles, the fuels that burned in the soul of that flaming apostle and evangelist. After the description of his conversion [Acts 9:1-18], the Book says:
Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. And all that heard him were amazed, and said, Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name?
But Saul increased the more in strength . . . proving that this is the very Christ.”
I would like for us this morning to attend one of those services of the apostle Paul. What were they like? And had we been in attendance, what would we have felt? And what experience would we have gone through? What would it have been like to have been present in one of the services conducted by the apostle Paul?
I well remember reading the testimony of a businessman who, in the middle of the last century, was going through upper New York, and he happened to be in a town where Charles G. Finney was holding a revival meeting. And that evening he attended the services and sat on a split log in the back of the meeting ground. And this businessman said, “It seemed to me as I sat there in that service that the very hair on my head would stand straight up!” What would it have been like? What would we have felt and experienced had we attended one of the services of the apostle Paul? Gathering from his writings and from the story of his ministry in the Book of Acts, there are three things about those services that would have been most apparent and manifest.
One: they were full of fervent feeling, emotion. They were filled with tears, and weeping, and prayers. Second: they were powerfully moving. God was there. The Holy Spirit was there. The convicting presence of God was there. And third: they were services of tremendous response. Souls were saved; whole families were added to God. Whole cities were turned upside down [Acts 17:2-6], and as in the case of the Roman province of Asia, the whole earth was moved God-ward! [Acts 19:10, 20] This is the burning heart.
When we attend the typical service held in the name of Christ today, how different! I copied the testimony of a man who went to a typical church today. He said, and I quote him, “I go to God’s house, and find no God. I do not hear His voice in song or sermon. His grip is not in the hand of fellowship. I hear no yearnings for the lost in the message of the preacher, nor see it in the faces of the people. There is no God in the temple where my people worship.” What an indictment! And what a true characterization of the ordinary service held in the name of Christ in His church.
About a week or so ago, there appeared pictures in our daily newspapers of one of the worst blizzards and storms that has ever struck the northeastern section of the United States of America. One of those pictures, you remember, was of a train, one of those fast-tracked trains, stalled and covered over with snow and ice. God’s engines have stopped, and the traffic in God’s kingdom has ceased to flow. One of those pictures, I remember, was of a power line broken down. The wheels have ceased to turn, and the machinery doesn’t move, and the cities are darkened. What a parable of the kingdom of God as our people witness it in the ordinary service of the typical church of today. Where there is no powerful convicting presence of the Holy Spirit, and where the womb of the congregation is not bathed in blood and in tears, and where there is no yearning over the lost, there are no souls saved! A dead mother cannot give birth to a live child. A refrigerator may preserve something dead; it does not create life.
Under the warm feathers and wings of a mother hen, the eggs are hatched. Under the soft, warm breezes of the springtime the flowers bloom, the roses come to life, the jonquils and the Easter flowers turn to flame. Where the Spirit of God has left has left the congregation, the pews are empty, the tears are dried, the burning heart has ceased to exist, and no souls are saved.
Going to the services of the apostle Paul, let us look for the fuel and the combustibles that burn so fiercely in his soul. First and foremost, as I read in his life, and see what he says, and follow the effects of his tremendous soul-saving, evangelistic, apostolic ministry—first and foremost, the combustibles in his soul that burned for God: first was his love for Christ. Do you love God, do you? Or do you love something else? Do you? What do you love? Does Christ mean anything to us? Is He real? Does He live in our souls? Is He in our houses and homes? Is He a part of our daily lives? Do we love God? Listen to this apostle: “All things that were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Indeed, I count all things . . . but dung, but refuse, that I may have Him” [Philippians 3:7-8].
This is the beginning of all true dedication. It is not without pertinency that in the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John, the Lord turned to Simon Peter and asked him thrice, “Simon, Simon, lovest thou Me more than these?” [John 21:15-17]. It is not without pertinency that when the Lord appeared to this curious persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, He asked him “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” [Acts 9:3-4].
And Saul replied, “Who art Thou, Lord?” [Acts 9:5].
And He replied out of the brilliance of the burning of that midday vision, “I am Jesus” [Acts 9:5].
Isn’t that remarkable?
Not “I am the exalted pantokrator of the universe,” and He is. Not that “I am the Word of creation,” and He is. But, “I am Jesus, the lowly Nazarene.”
And He added it, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest” [Acts 9:5, 22:8].
And the fierce antagonist falling, broken at His feet said, “Lord, Lord what would Thou havest me to do?” [Acts 9:6].
First is a burning love for Jesus. Second, as I turn to the life and writings of the apostle: a love for the lost! He never categorized men as murderers, and adulterers, and thieves, and robbers, and attackers, and violent. He had one category for all men outside of Christ. One, just one: they were lost. And listen to him as he says, “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 I myself were damned from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen, according to the flesh” [Romans 9:1-3]. And again, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1].
The burning heart: and look again; the spirit of pleading, of begging, of intercession, of interceding. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord,” he writes, “we persuade men” [2 Corinthians 5:11]. “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God Himself did beseech you by us: we pray you, in Christ stead, come to God, be ye reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:20]. “For He saith, “I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time: behold now, is the day of salvation [2 Corinthians 6:2], come now; come now.” And there is, in his life and in his ministry, a note of tremendous triumph and of victory.
How often did he bow in tears and in sorrow? Even pled with those elders at Ephesus, “Remember that I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears, and have showed you publicly and from house to house, testifying to the Jew and to the Greek, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Serving the Lord,” he says, “with many tears” [Acts 20:18-21, 31]. Again, saying, “In prisons above measure, in stocks, and in chains, and in dungeons” [2 Corinthians 11:23]. Yet there was about him in his weeping and in his crying, in his sobs, and in his tears, in his stocks, and in his chains, in his dungeons, and in his imprisonments, in his beating with stripes, and finally his martyrdom, yet there was about him an indescribable spirit of triumph and of victory.
Did you know that most of Paul’s ministry was spent in jail, locked up behind bars? Wouldn’t that have been enough to discourage any man who was called to be an apostle to the Gentile nations of the world? [Acts 9:15, 22:21] And here he is locked up in prison. But out of that prison came these epistles. And read those letters; they are letters of rejoicing and of triumph, no discouraging note, never, never.
Look again. Chained to a Roman guard. That Roman guard was chained—was changed four times a day. Every twenty-four hours there were four soldiers, four different soldiers chained to the apostle Paul. And he writes, “My brethren, I want you to know these things that have happened to me have happened for the furtherance of the gospel, for throughout this Praetorian Guard the gospel is made known” [Philippians 1:12-13]. Oh, what does he mean? “Throughout that elite palace Praetorian Guard the gospel is known.” Why, imagine being chained to the apostle Paul, imagine it! Imagine that, chained to the apostle Paul! As those soldiers sat or stood by his side, and heard him pray, and heard preach, and heard him plead, and heard him talk, imagine being chained to the apostle Paul; and the whole Praetorian Guard was moved heavenward.
What an amazing and astonishing thing, this man, Paul! And how many times did he fail, fail, fail? At Athens, the intellectual center, the university center of the Greco-Roman world, at Athens they laughed at him openly [Acts 17:32]. Standing before Felix, “I will hear thee again some other time when I have a convenient season” [Acts 24:25]. Standing before Agrippa, “Almost, but not now” [Acts 26:28], and it was never. Yet, he never lost faith, and never lost hope, and was never discouraged. When I fail so many times, it is hard for me to lift up my spirits.
I stumbled into this. Here is an item to keep your defeatism at a low ebb. This man, this man failed in business in 1831. He was defeated for the legislature in 1832. He again failed in business in 1833. He had a nervous breakdown in 1835. He was defeated for speaker in 1838. He was defeated for elector in 1840. He was defeated for Congress in 1843. He was defeated for the Senate in 1855. He was defeated for vice-president in 1856. He was defeated for Senate in 1858, and he was elected president in 1860. His name is Abraham Lincoln. Never discouraged. A thousand people say no to my message and my appeal, but the thousandth and one may be saved. Never discouraged; the burning heart.
Now I have a few things to say about us, then we sing our song of appeal. First, first: remember that God, that Christ, that the Holy Spirit is on our side. Wherever I name the name of Jesus and wherever I present the cause of Christ, I may have that assurance that the Lord is working with me. The Holy Spirit is convicting in that man’s soul. He may say no, and he may be indifferent or hard, but I know I have that assurance that when I make appeal for Jesus, the Holy Spirit is on my side. God is working for me.
Second: I have the promise that the Word of God is powerful. Do you remember the verse in Hebrews 4:12? “For the word of God is quick, living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Remember in Jeremiah, “My word is like as a fire, saith the Lord, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces” [Jeremiah 23:29].
In my reading this week, I came across one of the most astonishing things and one of the most typical things. Here is a preacher, and he is writing in his bulletin how he prepares his sermons. And so he goes down and out, and his first point was in a situation there on the road. And his second point was in an auction barn that he attended. And his third point was in another situation on the road. And his last point brought him a text to put all of that stuff together. And I thought, I thought, “How very typical, and how anemic!” When he stands up the following Sunday, they’ll have a rehashing of some experiences that he had as he went out and down a road and down a highway, when what he should have done was to open the Word of God and pray God to give him a burning message from the revealed, and holy, and immortal, and eternal Scriptures.
These are things to remember: God is with us; and second, the Holy Spirit is in that Word, and it is powerful! [Hebrews 4:12]. I was amused listening to the comment program, and they had a man there who heads a syndicate of writers for Hollywood. And that man said, with all of the talent that we can buy, money is no consideration with all of the talent that we can buy. It is almost impossible for any team of writers to keep any program going for more than about two years at the utmost; then it has to be shifted, then it has to be changed. And I thought, “Now isn’t that something?” With all of the writers that genius can produce and all the money dedicated to it that could be offered in Broadway or in Hollywood, in less than two years the entire group runs out. They have nothing else to think of, nothing else to say, and the show has to be changed.
Then I got to thinking here. I’ve been here about twenty-two years, about twenty-two years in this pulpit; one man standing here for about twenty-two years. And I can see no diminution, I can see no lessening, I can see no ebbing in the fervent interest of this congregation; nothing but just more people coming, more people being saved, more people with a listening ear. Now why, were I doing anything else except expounding the Word of God, this ministry would have ceased in ignominious failure twenty years ago. There is power, there is food, there is satisfaction, and blessing, and heavenly manna, and the presence of God in the delivery of His Word.
We must hasten. Things to remember: God is with us on our side; there is power in the Holy Scriptures; a third: Christ can save. Christ can save. We are amazed at the conversion of that Gadarene demoniac [Mark 5:1-20]. What an amazing transformation! “But that happened two thousand years ago”—wait a minute, my brother, wait a minute. I walked among and held a church service with savage Auca Indians who were naked, and violent, and vicious! And as I walked among them and held a service for them, in a few—in practically, in a minutia of time—they have been saved, and changed, and clothed. And I looked upon them with my own eyes, men whose hands had been dipped in human blood all their whole lives; and now sweet, humble followers of Jesus.
We are amazed at the ministry of the apostle Paul at Ephesus when he turned the whole city and the whole Roman province God-ward [Acts 19:10, 21]. Two thousand years—wait a minute, my brother. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, our great preacher in London with his pastor’s college, baptized more than two hundred sixty-five thousand souls in two Baptist churches.
Jesus can save. And when I prepared this sermon, I started to pick out some of you, what God had done for some of you. And I thought, “No, it might be too personal.” I will not mention it, but my brother, look around you. Look around you: monuments to grace and the changing, saving power of God all over this congregation.
And then a last: not only is God with us; not only is the Book powerful, the Word of God; not only can Christ save marvelously, miraculously; but God answers prayer. God answers prayer. I heard one of our men in a group say, “Pastor, didn’t I hear you one time say that Spurgeon had prayed for a man forty years, and he was saved?”
I replied, “You know I hadn’t thought about that in a long time, in years, but years ago, I mentioned here to this congregation not Spurgeon, [but] George Mueller.”
George Mueller said, “I’ve been praying for three men. One was converted after I prayed for him five years; the second was converted when I prayed for him fifteen years; the third,” he said, “I prayed for forty years, and he’s still lost, but I’m still praying after forty years.”
And I read elsewhere in George Mueller’s life that there was a man saved for whom he had been praying sixty-five years, and I thought, “That must be the man that back yonder when I read in his life—and he was still living when I read that—that he had been praying for him forty years, and he still was lost.” Then I read after he had died, I read the story of his life. And he had been praying for this man sixty-five years, and he was saved. God answers prayer.
One of the dear, blessed women in this church came down the aisle with her husband, and said, “Pastor, I have prayed for him twenty-three years, and he’s been saved. Today is the greatest, sweetest day of my life.”
Why, I may close my eyes in death before God answers; it may be beyond this earthly life of mine that God answers prayer, but the Lord hears from heaven, and He bows down His ears to see what His saints are pleading for, asking for. O Lord, what infinite blessings and assurances God pours out upon a congregation, one with a burning heart!
Now we must sing our song, and while we sing that appeal, you, somebody you, a family you, give himself to Jesus, “Here I come. Here I am” [Romans 10:9-10]. In the balcony round, on this lower floor, on the first note of the first stanza, come. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. And God bless you in the decision you make for our Lord and for Jesus’ sake, amen. Come, while we stand and while we sing.