The Golden Heart
June 4th, 1967 @ 8:15 AM
THE GOLDEN HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-4-67 8:15 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing these services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Golden Heart. It is a message from the third chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, and the reading of the text is the fourteenth and the fifteenth verse:
So the Spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; for the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.
Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel Abib that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.
The text finds its meaning in the background. Just to read it of itself is suggestive, but its full significance can only be realized in the background. That background is one of infinite sorrow. This is the Babylonian captivity. The children of God who lived in that day saw a heathen, pagan, blaspheming, ungodly nation destroy the temple of the Lord where God had said, “My name shall be there” [Deuteronomy 12:11, 1 Kings 8:29]. They saw the Holy City – there is only one city in the Bible called the Holy City, just one, that is Jerusalem; and the holy city, New Jerusalem – they saw the Holy City destroyed. They saw their little ones bashed against the stones. They saw their wives and daughters ravaged. They saw their men sold into slavery. The whole nation was destroyed and carried away into captivity. It would be impossible for us even to imagine the hurt and agony of a disaster like that; we have never experienced it; we’ve never known it; we’ve never approached it.
Now as Jeremiah was the prophet of Judea, so Ezekiel was the prophet of the captivity in Babylon. And while Ezekiel was there in that far away land, the Holy Spirit of God called him and commissioned him as a prophet. The first chapters of the Book of Ezekiel describe his call and the visions of God that he saw [Ezekiel 1-2]. And this third chapter, out of which I have read, begins with the word of God to His prophet. And He says to him, “Son of man, eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel. Eat this roll. Listen to the word of God, devour it, consume it, imbibe it. Make it a part of your very soul. Eat this roll. This is God’s Word. So I opened my mouth, and God caused me to eat that roll. And it was in my mouth sweet as honey” [Ezekiel 3:1-3].
So all of God’s visions and God’s words to us are sweet and precious, and there is no one of us but has had that kind of experience. Somewhere in our lives, if we are Christians, somewhere in our lives we have met God, and it was a sweet experience when we were saved; or those times when we have felt God especially near, or when His Word has been unusually precious to us. The experience is sweet. And Ezekiel in his call, ate the roll – ate God’s Word, made it a part of himself – and the vision of the Lord and the word of the Lord was sweet as honey [Ezekiel 3:3]. But when time came for him to deliver God’s message to the people, the message was full of judgment and condemnation [Ezekiel 3:7-14].
In the Book of the Revelation, which follows a like experience, John was asked to eat the little book, and it was in his mouth sweet as honey, but when he ate it his stomach was bitter as gall [Revelation 10:8-10]. That was the way, in the Apocalypse, of saying he rejoiced in God’s revelation, the words of the Almighty, but when he read the words, saw the words, and was commissioned to deliver the words, they were full of condemnation and judgment [Ezekiel 3:7-14]. And this was the experience of the prophet Ezekiel. His vision of God was holy and heavenly, and the words of the Lord were sweet like honey; but when he came to deliver God’s message it was full of bitterness [Ezekiel 3:7-14].
The house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; said God to him, for they will not hearken unto Me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted . . .
Go thy way to them,and speak unto them, and say to them, Thus and thus saith the Lord God; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.
Now Ezekiel went to the children of the captivity:
The Spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, and in the heat of my spirit, for the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.
[Ezekiel 3:7- 14]
Full of judgment and condemnation! So he came in that bitterness and the heat of his spirit, he came to them of the captivity at Tel Abib that dwell by the river of Chebar, and when he looked at them, they were pitiful beyond compare. “And I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished seven days” [Ezekiel 3:14-15]. Such sorrow, such misery, such agony of souls, the lament, the tears, the crying, the suffering, “and I sat where they sat astonished for seven days.” You can feel somewhat of the sadness of that captivity in the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing unto us one of the songs of Zion.
But how can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her
cunning . . .
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
I say, you feel the teardrops and the blood drops in that psalm.
So when Ezekiel came in the bitterness of his spirit, and with a message of condemnation and judgment and in the heat of his spirit, and looked upon those miserable captives he sat down where they sat, and in astonishment looked upon them for seven days [Ezekiel 3:14-15].
Now that leads to the sermon. I’ve preached like this one time in years and years, but just once in a while something of us, for us; not an exposition, just something of the Spirit of our Lord that I could pray for me, and that I pray for us all.
First, the golden heart: “and I sat where they sat” [Ezekiel 3:15]. First: love and compassion in condemnation. There comes a time, always, there comes a time when we must condemn. There is not a father or a mother, there’s not a parent who rears children but who knows that. There comes a time for castigation and punishment; there comes a time for the whip and the rod; there comes a time for condemnation. And any true minister in any true pulpit in any land will find himself called upon to deliver that message of judgment and condemnation – sin, and unrighteousness, and iniquity, and wrong, and violence, and injustice, and unbelief, and a thousand other things that are wrong in God’s sight – there comes a time for the delivery of the message of condemnation, but it is to be delivered always in love and compassion.
Do you remember how the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Matthew ends? The twenty-third chapter of Matthew is the bitterest castigation to be found in human literature. There is nothing in any speech in any language in the earth that was ever so bitter and vitriolic and it comes from the mouth of our Lord. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! whited sepulchers . . . full of dead men’s bones” [Matthew 23:27]. That passage, do you remember how it ends? It ends in a sob and in a tear, in a lament and agonizing cry:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thyy children together,
as a hen gathered her brood under her wings, and you would not! Your house is left unto you desolate.
And a part of that agony of Israel is seen today and we read it on the headline of every newspaper. How does that castigation end? In sobs and in tears. Paul wrote a castigating letter to the church at Corinth. And when he wrote it, he said – he did like this, “Out of much affliction and sorrow, did I write unto you with many tears” [2 Corinthians 2:4]. We must condemn; we must stand up for what is right; we must warn the wicked from his ways; we must point out the judgment of God. But when we do it, it must be done in love and compassion with a broken heart.
We don’t hear often a man preach on hell, but most of the time when he does preach on the subject, I have the impression that he is glad these damned ones are going to fall into the pit. “You blasphemers, you rejectors, you Christ-haters, you who pass by the mercies of God, there’s going to be an awful judgment for you!” And he delivers his message as though he were sort of glad that they were going to fall into such a horrible condemnation.
I don’t think I – or do I think any minister – ought to preach on hell and damnation and the judgment of God without a broken heart. Oh, my friend! Oh, my neighbor! Oh, you for whom Christ died, think of the terrors of the judgment of God! With tears and lamentation, love and compassion in condemnation, we ought to hate sin; yes. But we ought never, ever, to allow ourselves to be drawn into hating people, hating sinners. I read this poem:
Anything, O God, but hate,
I have known it in my day.
And the best it does is steal your soul,
And eat your heart away.
O God, if I have but one prayer
Before the cloud-wrapped end,
I’m sick of hate and the wasted makes;
Let me be my brother’s friend.
We may despise sin, and hate iniquity, and stand and rise in judgment upon unrighteousness, but always it must be with a heart of love and compassion.
Second: not only love and compassion and condemnation; but second, understanding and charity in judgment. And all of us are judging all the time, everybody; everybody judging everybody else; everybody weighing everybody else, everybody saying something about everybody else; we all are that way all the time, understanding, charitable in our judgments.
There was a professor in Edinburgh who said to a young man who stood before the class to read, he said young man. “Hold the book in both of your hands.” The young fellow made no gesture toward holding the book with both of his hands; he held it in one hand. The professor stopped him and said, “Sir, I said hold the book with both of your hands!” The student made no gesture toward raising his other hand; he continued to read with one hand. And the professor stopped him again and said, “Sir, I said hold your book with both of your hands!” And the student lifted up a stump of an arm. And the professor looked at him, and said, “Oh, oh, I didn’t understand; I didn’t understand.”
In the years gone by, with that famous and loved song writer, B. B. McKinney, I used to preach often. He’d sing and I’d preach, though he was much older than I, at Ridgecrest, at our southern assemblies there. In encampments and revival meetings I was with him often. He had a way, he’d be leading the singing, and he’d stop and comment on the verse on the stanza. One of his comments that he said so very often was this, “Don’t criticize another man’s limp until you have walked in his shoes, there may be a tack in the sole you may know nothing of.” Understanding, charitable in our judgments.
As you know for years I was a pastor out in the country, and it is such a far different ministry from the one that I have here in the heart of this great city. When I was a pastor in the county I lived with the people; I was as a member of their families; I knew them intimately; I knew everything about them. And upon a day, in the little country church – out in the open country, no highway, no railroad, no anything, just out in the country – one of my deacons and his daughter, and the daughter became the mother of a child without a name.
And if you have ever lived in the country or in a small village, you know how all of that, a long time ago, how all of that was taken a hold of by every family. And one of his fellow deacons was especially bitter. And Deacon Davis said to me – just a kid of a pastor, I was a teenager – said to me, “He ought to be deprived of his deaconship.” And he said to me, “And he ought to be cast out of the church.” And he said to me, “And certainly we should withdraw fellowship from that daughter.” And he said to me, “And I think the whole family ought to be cast out of the church.” Ah, he said many things, many things. Of course I knew the sorrow in that home over there. You don’t need to build the fire; it burns already. You don’t need to say anything; they’re killed; they’re crushed; they’re down.
So the days passed. And Deacon Davis had two daughters, a younger and an older one. The older one was not bright. The younger one married, and she came home with her young husband for her first child. And in those days, Deacon Davis’ older daughter came to be with child, and the father was Deacon Davis’ son-in-law. So I, walking down the road, I visited the people in my little church, I was walking down the road. And I passed by the field where Deacon Davis was plowing. He pulled up his team, wrapped the reins around the plow handle, crawled over the fence, began talking to me in the middle of the road. And after words of lamentation, then he said to me, it wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the terrible things that I had said about Deacon Will.
Whenever you see someone walking down a road of sorrow, there goes you but for the grace and mercy of God. And it ill behooves me to raise myself in self-righteousness above them; it is just in the kindness of God that I am delivered. Understanding and charity in our judgments; and I have a third one; “I sat where they sat, and remained there for seven days” [Ezekiel 3:15]; prayer and helpfulness in misfortune.
In a mechanics rule book, to the men that work at the lathe, in a mechanics rule book, little rule book, is written this sentence, “Remember the warmth of the hand will increase the diameter of the shaft.” Talking about cold iron and steel, remember mechanic, lathe operator, that the warmth of the hand will increase the diameter of the shaft. And if the touch of the human hand can do that to cold steel, think of what the warmth and the pressure of the human hand can do to flesh and blood.
A thousand times I have imagined in my mind, this scene in the life of our blessed Lord. The Book says, “He was pressed on every side, surrounded by a great throng [Matthew 8:1], all of them eager just to touch the hem of His garment, or to look into His face, or to hear His words, this marvelous man of Galilee.” Then the next verse says, “And there came up to the Lord Jesus, a leper” [Matthew 8:2].
Well now, that’s unusual. Thronged, thronged, throng, thronged on every side, and yet this leper just walks up to the Lord Jesus. Well, how does he just walk up to the Lord Jesus? Well, that was very plain of course; according to the law, every leper had to cover his face, his mouth, with his hand, and cry, “Unclean! Unclean! Unclean! Unclean!” [Leviticus 13:45]. And whereever he went, the people fell away from him just as we would today. They fell away from him. Always that chilling circle and he standing alone in the middle of it. So he just walked up to the Lord, the people fell away. Even the disciples fell away. All of them fell away except the blessed Jesus. He stood there and the leper came up to Him, and the leper said to him, “O Lord that I might be clean [Matthew 8:2], that I might be clean.” And the next verse says, “And Jesus touched him with His hand, put His hand upon him” [Matthew 8:3].
I would suppose that unclean leper had forgotten how it felt, the pressure, the warmth of a human hand. It was half the cure just for Jesus to touch him, the lowly and sympathizing Jesus. Prayer and helpfulness in misfortune. If I am sick – oh, for somebody to be good to me! If I am old and feeble, for somebody to be good to me. If I were an orphan, for somebody to be good to me. And if I face hurt and sorrow, for somebody to be thoughtful and prayerful and loving to me.
Coming back from Miami Beach, Florida, this week, from the Southern Baptist Convention, I sat on the plane by the side of a pastor. And as I sat by his side he began talking to me, and this is what he said: “I have two sons. They are both big strapping fellows, and both of them are wonderful athletes.” The older son, the pastor told me, is in the university on a scholarship, a four-letter man, a wonderful athlete. And his younger brother is in high school and will certainly excel his older brother in athletics. He said, “My boy in high school is already over six feet tall, and he is still growing, and one of the finest contestants in the school.” Then he said, “I received a telephone call from my wife. We had known something was wrong with our younger boy, but we didn’t know what. My wife called me long distance at Miami, and she told me and said our younger boy has leukemia.” And the preacher said to me, “I’m on my home now. What shall I say when I see that boy, and what shall I say when I meet my wife? Oh!” he said, pray for me, pray for me, pray for us, pray for our boy.”
Can you imagine such a thing? What do you say? What do you do? Look around you, look around you; there is no home, there is no heart, there is no life without these tears, and heartaches, and sorrows.
“And I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit . . . and I came to them of the captivity . . . and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished . . . for seven days” [Ezekiel 3:14-16], the compassionate and sympathizing spirit. This is our Lord toward us.
“O God,” cried the prophet, “If Thou shouldst mark iniquities, who could stand?” [Psalm 130:3]. If God doesn’t forgive us, how could any of us live?
Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.
For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust. He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.
[Psalm 103:13-14, 12]
It is in the mercy and love and tender care, in the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus that we live. O Lord, that we, in our hearts, might reflect some of that merciful, loving spirit of our Savior, a little bit like Jesus.
Now while we sing our hymn, somebody you, give himself to our Lord; a family you, coming into the fellowship of our dear church; a couple you, as God would say the word to your heart, lead you in the way, come, make it now. Do it now. There’s a stairway on either side. Come down that stairway and to the front, into the aisle, and there is an aisle near you, into the aisle and down to the front. “Here I am, preacher, here I come.” Do it now, make it today. In a moment when we stand, stand up coming, “Here I am.” Do it now, make it this morning, while all of us stand and sing.