The Burning Heart
March 20th, 1966 @ 10:50 AM
THE BURNING HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-20-66 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Burning Heart. It is delivered as a part of the very heart of our “Tell Dallas” appeal. We have had two glorious soul-saving services already this morning. God will give us another great soul-saving service this hour. We shall have a marvelously dedicated afternoon to Jesus. We will be back for Training Union. We will be back for the evening preaching hour and we will have another great soul-saving service then. Every day and every night this coming week our people will be involved in this testimony to Jesus.
Then next Sunday morning and every night of that week there will be an evangelistic service here in this great church. Bo Baker will be preaching, Dick Baker will be leading the singing, and every night except Saturday we will be here. There will be a dinner down in Coleman Hall for us to bring our friends to and then at 7:30 o’clock this great preaching, evangelistic, soul-saving, God-blessed hour in the auditorium. Then that will be followed by our week of pre-Easter services noonday at the Palace Theatre and so into the month of April.
Now the subject and the message this morning:
Then was Saul certain days with the disciples at Damascus.
And straightway after his conversion so marvelous, 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.
The subject, The Burning Heart, is taken from the coat of arms of John Calvin. The coat of arms of John Calvin was a hand lifting up a burning heart to God. It is taken from the passage of Scripture that we read. As the two journeyed from Jerusalem to Emmaus so defeated and so sad, the Lord unknown joined them [Luke 24:13-17] and expounded to them the Word and promise of God [Luke 24:25-27]. When He was made known to them in the breaking of bread and vanished from their sight [Luke 24:29-31], they said one to another, “Did not our hearts burn within us, as He spoke to us by the way, and as He opened to us the Holy Scriptures?” [Luke 24:32]
An inquiry into the subject; it is a message concerning how we would have felt had we been in one of the services of the apostle Paul. As we listened to the preacher himself, as we shared in that hour, as you are here this morning, what would you have seen? What would you have heard? What would you have felt? What would you have experienced could we have attended one of the services of the apostle Paul?
I read one time a testimony of a businessman. He was going through the northern part of the state of New York, and he happened to attend a revival service of Charles G. Finney. In the evening he sauntered over there and sat down on a split log at the back of the congregation. And he said, “As I sat there and listened to that man, I thought that the very hair on my head would stand straight up.” As we would attend the service of the apostle Paul, what would we have seen, and what would we have felt, and what would we have experienced?
There are three things that immediately come to my mind as I read the Word of God and follow the life and ministry of the apostle in the Book of Acts and as it is reflected in his epistles. One: the services were fervent and filled with feeling and emotion. Many tears as Paul says, “Serving the Lord with many tears, many tears” [Acts 20:19], so deep feeling. Another thing, they would have been powerful. They would have been meaningful, significant, not routine, not peripheral, not indifferent, but God was there and the convicting Spirit of Christ was there. They were powerful and moving. And another thing, people were saved; souls were saved, whole families were saved. Men and their households, whole cities were turned to God [Acts 17:6], and sometimes—as in the case of the Roman province of Asia—a whole country and nation was moved heavenward [Acts 19:10, 20]; the burning heart.
Now as we go to a service today, how different. As you would attend the typical church hour today—how insipid, and how dull, and how dreary—and how anxious to get it over with, and get out, and get going. I quote from a man who attended a typical service and he said, “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.” And that is typical of the ordinary church service, in this modern day. “Get along preacher, get along. We got things to do. Let’s get this over with.” And finally, of course, never attend at all.
About ten days ago one of the most fierce blizzards of all history struck the northeastern part of the United States. I saw two pictures of it among others in our daily papers. One was a picture of a crack railroad train stalled, frozen over and covered in snow. God’s wheels have come to a non-movement, and the traffic in God’s kingdom has ceased to flow. I saw a picture of the great power lines with ice and snow pulled down. God’s cities dark and the wheels of God’s kingdom immobile. Where there is no presence of the Spirit of God, where there is no yearning over the lost, where the womb of the congregation is not bathed in blood and in tears, souls are not born into the kingdom of heaven.
A dead mother cannot give birth to a live child. An icy refrigerator may preserve what is dead but not give birth to life. Under the warm wings and feathers of a mother hen the eggs are hatched. And under the soft warm breezes of the springtime the flowers come to life; the jonquils, the Easter flowers, the redbuds, the roses. Everything stirs to life under the breath of the springtime. But when God leaves His church, and when there’s no cry from the lost, and when there’s no yearning over the unsaved, and where there’s no convicting presence of the power of God, the temple of the Lord is empty and the people are empty. And they go away starved. Oh, for the burning heart and the burning service!
So we are looking into the soul of this apostle Paul. What are those fuels and what are those combustibles that burn so furiously in his life, and in his ministry, and in his services, and in his message? What are those combustibles; the burning soul? They are easily found as you read his life and as you read his letters.
The first and the foremost and the one above all: love for Christ, love for God. Do you love God? Do you or do you love something else? Do you love Christ or do you love something else? Listen to this fiery, fiercely dedicated apostle as he says, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ [Philippians 3:7]. Yea doubtless . . . and I count all things but dung, but refuse, that I may have Him” [Philippians 3:8]. The first and the primary and fundamental question of every Christian life is that. Do you love Jesus? Do you love God? Do you? Do you? Do you? Or do you love something else?
It’s not without pertinency that in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of John the Lord turned to Simon Peter and said, “Simon, Simon, lovest thou Me more than these?” [John 21:15-17]. It was not without pertinency that when the Lord stopped that furious persecutor Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus He said, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” [Acts 9:1-4].
And Paul, falling to the ground said, “Lord, who art Thou?” [Acts 9:5].
And the Lord said, “I.” What did He say? Not “I am the great pantokrator and the Creator of the universe” [John 1:3]. Not “I am the one who held the nations in My hand and look upon them as dust in a small balance” [Isaiah 40:15]. What He said was, “I am Jesus. I am Jesus,” not only that, “Jesus of Nazareth [Acts 22:8]. I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” [Acts 9:5], a personal somebody. And when Paul, at His feet, cried aloud he said, “Lord, Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to do?” [Acts 9:6]. It is a burning, personal love and devotion. Do you love God? Do you love Christ? The combustibles that burn in the apostle’s heart.
Second: it is a love for the lost. Does it matter to you whether people are saved or not? It is any concern to you if we have a service here at the church, and nobody’s converted, and nobody’s saved? Does it matter to you if the thousands and thousands in this city of Dallas, or the millions in this nation, or the billions in this world don’t know God, and are not saved, and will be lost when they die, and never see the face of God, and never go to heaven? Does it ever occur to you as you meet people, as you talk to them, as you work with them whether or not they are converted? Do they know the Lord? Are they saved? Look at the yearning of this apostle:
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscious bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,
That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.
For I could wish that myself were damned, that I were in hell, that I were cursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
And the next chapter: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1]; the combustibles that burn in the soul of that apostle. And here is another: the spirit of invitation and of appeal was in him. Oh, how fervently did he appeal, did he make invitation! “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” [Acts 20:31].
How I kept back nothing that God gave me profitable to deliver unto you, but showed you publicly, and taught and pled with you from house to house,
Testifying to the Jews, to the Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Therefore knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” [2 Corinthians 5: 11]. “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us, as though it were God pleading: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God, come to God” [2 Corinthians 5:20].
We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you that you receive not the grace of God in vain.
For He saith, I have heard thee at 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 6:1-2]
This is the moment. This is the hour. This is the time. God hath set this hour for thee, come, come, come to Jesus. There was a seeking note in his soul.
Then as you read his life and his letters, there was a spirit of triumph and of victory in every message that he delivered, in every letter that he wrote, in everything that he did. And how that life was hurt, and bruised, and imprisoned, and beat [2 Corinthians 11:23]. Yet out of it no note of defeat or discouragement. Did you know most of the life of the apostle Paul in his Christian ministry, most of it was in jail, in dungeons, in prisons? [Acts 16:23; 2 Corinthians 11:23]. What an amazing thing in the economy of God, this apostle to the Gentiles [Acts 22:21; Romans 11:13], sent to the whole Roman world, spent his life in prison and in jail, in stocks and in dungeons. Yet read his letters; and out of those prisons came those glorious letters of the apostle Paul, always triumph, always victory, always God coming and God conquering. Isn’t that an amazing thing? Isn’t that a surprising thing?
And chained, every day he was chained to four different Roman soldiers. Every sixth hour another soldier came and was shackled to the apostle Paul, the prisoner [Acts 12:4]. And he writes, “But these things that have happened unto me have happened to the furtherance of the gospel; for the gospel of Christ is made known throughout the Praetorian Guard” [Philippians 1:12-13], the elite Roman soldiers who were chained to the apostle Paul. Imagine that; chained to the apostle Paul—hear him preach, hear him testify, hear him talk, hear him sing songs, hear him pray—chained to the apostle Paul. And the whole Praetorian Guard, the elite palace guard of the Roman Caesar, came to know the Son of God. That’s the apostle. The spirit of burning, never failure and yet he faced it all of his life.
Preach in Athens, in the university center of the Greco-Roman world, preach in Athens, and those intellectuals, those sophists, those philosophers, those Stoics and Epicureans laugh at him, laugh at him [Acts 17:32]. Discouraged, failure, preaching before Felix––some other time when I have a convenient season [Acts 24:25], but not now––preached before Agrippa, “Almost you persuade me to be a Christian, but no and never” [Acts 26:28]. We know that. We experience that. How many have we invited and they didn’t accept? How many have we preached to and they’ve gone away lost? How many have we tried to win and they said no? We know that. We know that.
Look at this. Talking about a man, he 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 1836. 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 the Senate in 1858. He was elected president of the United States in 1860. And his name was Abraham Lincoln. When we have invited five hundred times, maybe the five hundred-and-oneth he’ll respond. When we have been turned down one thousand times, maybe the one-thousand-and-oneth time he’ll be saved. The burning heart, never acquiesce, never die, never subside, fed by the fury of the passion and the love of the Lord God, the burning soul.
Now of us, of us: first we have this sublime and heavenly assurance. God is on our side and the Holy Spirit of Jesus is with us. Whenever I talk to a man, I can know that the Holy Spirit is working with me and for me. The Holy Spirit of God is saying “Amen, that is right. That is correct.” God is with us. He is on our side. And when we link ourselves to heaven, to the Holy Spirit, we link ourselves to omnipotence. The Holy Spirit is with us. God is on our side.
Second: there is power in the Holy Scriptures, the blessed, immutable, unchanging, eternal rock of the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12:
For the word of God is quick, is living and powerful and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The Word of God. Or as the prophet Jeremiah delivered, “Is not My word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” [Jeremiah 23:29]; the Word of God.
In my preaching this week, in my studying this week preparing for this sermon, I happened to pick up a bulletin of a pastor. And in this bulletin he is outlining his sermon, where he got his sermon. And he got in his car, he says, and he goes down the road, and he goes down the highway, and he saw this and that was the first point in his sermon. Then he saw that and he found that as the second point in his sermon. And then in an auction barn he saw something else and that was the third part of his sermon. And then as he went on down the road he saw an old mule. And then he saw his text and that was the last part of his sermon. So when the people came to church that Sunday morning and he stood up to deliver God’s Word, that’s what he had for them and their souls; a convocation, an assembly of this, and that, and the other that he saw driving down the road. What should he have done? Is it not, open that blessed Book and pore over those pages? Does God say anything to our souls? Does the Lord speak to us? Is there a message from heaven? Then preacher, tell it to us. Tell it to us if God has anything to say.
Listening to a comment program last week, driving over the city and visiting, listening to the radio in my car, I heard a man who represents a syndicate of writers in Hollywood. And they were asking him to describe how it is that they write the script for these television programs that we see. And he was answering, “We take money, thousands and thousands of dollars, the money is endless and no matter, we take the money and we buy the finest writers obtainable,” he says, “and they are put together in groups. And these teams of writers think up all of those scripts, and all those comedy scenes, and all those funny things that are presented in these televised programs.”
And then as they discussed, it came out that these writers come to the end of their way; they are absolutely dry. They have nothing else to suggest, and nothing else to say, and nothing else to write after they have written about two years. And after about two years the television program has to be changed. It can’t continue on because there is nothing else to add. They have said all that they can say, and they have created every scene that their minds can imagine, and the thing has to be changed or it dies.
And as I listened to that I thought, O Lord! O Lord! Here is a team of writers. And they struggle, and they are the most ingenious of all, and the most gifted of all of the men that America can produce. And after they end their ingenuity and end their gifts; after they’ve done all that they can command, within two years they are washed out. And if they don’t change the program the audience dies. And I thought, “Now, isn’t that an amazing thing?” I’ve been in that church soon twenty-two years, twenty-two years. I stand back of this pulpit three times every Lord’s Day, three times, beside the endless other meetings to which I speak. And I’m out there in my study by myself, just the Lord and I. And I open this blessed Book. I’ve never sought to deliver any other message; never thought to think up or to ingeniously devise something of my own intellectual acumen. Just trying to learn, “What did God say?” and to deliver it the best I knew how what God says. And after twenty-two years, the only difference I can see is that there are more of us coming all of the time. And there are more of us growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. And there are more of us willing to come back oftener and stay longer. Manna from heaven for our hungry souls, water of life for our thirsting spirits; why, it is a miracle in itself. Look around you, that’s God and God’s blessed Word.
I have one other thing, things to remember. One: God is with us. The Holy Spirit is on our side. And when we make an appeal to come to Jesus, I can always know the Holy Spirit is out there saying “Amen, that is right. Let us go to Jesus.” Second: I know the power of the Holy Spirit of God in His Word. O Lord, it is a miracle in itself!
Why, I’m going to have an extra service this evening at 6:00 o’clock as though with all the services today, I’m going to have another one at 6:00 o’clock over there in Embree Hall. Now I’m not a prophet in the sense that I am a prognosticator. I don’t look in a crystal ball. But when I get there at 6:00 o’clock that auditorium will be filled. That auditorium will be filled. “Well, preacher, we’re just going to see. You’ve been here all day long. You’ve been preaching all day long. Been in these meetings, we just go over there and see.” I invite you to come. I invite you to come. At 6:00 o’clock this evening come and see if that auditorium is not filled––and the power of the Word of God.
And I have another one: Jesus can save, Jesus can save. We read the story of this violent demoniac in Gadara [Luke 8:26] and we say, “What a marvelous thing! What a transformation, what a conversion, what an unbelievable thing! This man, naked and fierce, now clothed and in his right mind and loving God” [Luke 8:27-35]. What an amazing thing—“Oh, but that was two thousand years ago.” Oh? Two thousand years ago, but not today?
Why, men, when was it? September of last year I walked among those savage Aucas in the Amazon valley in the Amazon jungle? These men all their lives had bathed their hands in human blood. And there I am conducting a church service for them; sweet, gentle, primitive, humble, childlike disciples of Jesus, converted, changed, clothed. Jesus can save. We read of the great revival of Paul in the city of Ephesus and the turning of all Asia toward God [Acts 19:10, 20]. What a marvelous thing, and we say, “Oh, how it was two thousand years ago!” Why, my brother, in the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, our incomparable preacher in London and in Spurgeon’s College with those men that he taught, they baptized in the Baptist churches more than two hundred sixty-five thousand saved souls. Jesus can save. Jesus saves!
And in preparing this message I started to pick out some of you. There’s that man, a little while ago he was vile and blasphemous. Look at him, one of the finest Christian laymen in this city; look at him. Here was this woman indescribable and despicable. Look at her now; sweet, precious child of Jesus. I didn’t do it because I thought it might be too personal. But my brother, look around you, look around you, monuments to grace everywhere. In this balcony, on this lower floor, in this choir Jesus can save.
And God answers prayer [Romans 10:8-13]. Oh, that we had an hour to speak of it! God answers prayer. My eyes may close in death before heaven answers, but He never forgets, not our Lord. When I got through preaching at the 8:15 service this morning, one of these godly men in the church came up and said to me, he said, “Preacher, you know my mother, my mother prayed for her boys. There were nine of them. My mother prayed for us; seven of us saved, and two of them lost.” He said to me, “You know, one day my mother called me to her and said, ‘Son, I’m not going to live, and two of my boys are still lost.’” She said to him, “I have taken as my promise the Word of God, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved’” [Acts 16:31]. Then she said, “I have seized upon the promise of God, and thy house; ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house’” [Acts 16:31]. She said, “Son, those other two boys will be saved. I have taken hold on the promise of God.” And the man said to me, “We laid our mother away, and we buried her.” And he said, “I saw both of those boys come to Jesus, both of them.” God answers prayer. I may not see it, it may be beyond the days of my life, but God answers prayer.
These are combustibles for a burning heart. In us they flame, and glow, and magnify, and mount up to God. These are the victories of the soldiers of Jesus and the disciples of Christ.
Now while we sing this song, you somebody you, “Preacher, today I’m coming to Jesus, and here I am. I’m accepting the Lord as my Savior. I have opened my heart to Him and here I come [Romans 10:8-13]. Here I am. God bless me and God save me.” A family you, “Pastor, my wife, my children, all of us are coming today. Here I am. Here I come.” A couple you, “Pastor, this is my wife, the two of us are coming.” Make it now. As the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, on the first note of the first stanza, come. When we stand up in a moment, stand up coming. And God in heaven glorify Himself, clothe Himself today with us. “Here I come, preacher. Here I am.” Down that aisle, down one of these stairways here to the front, “Here I come, pastor. Here I am.” Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.