The Golden Heart
June 4th, 1967 @ 10:50 AM
THE GOLDEN HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-04-67 10:50 a.m.
Now on the radio, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Golden Heart. It is a sermon such as I would preach once in a great, great while; just something for us that we might reflect more the spirit, the love, the sympathy, the understanding of our Lord Jesus. Now it is a message taken out of the third chapter of the prophet Ezekiel, Ezekiel chapter 3. I shall read the text, but it would be almost meaningless without the context. The text would be Ezekiel chapter 3, verses 14 and 15:
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.
And out of the two verses these words, “And I sat where they sat” [Ezekiel 3:15].
Now the background of this passage lies in the sorrow, unutterable, immeasurable of the Babylonian captivity. God’s people were taken out of their land, away from their city, the Holy City. They saw their temple, their house of worship, destroyed, where God said, “My name shall be there” [Deuteronomy 12:11, 1 Kings 8:29]. And they were wasted, and decimated, and destroyed by a heathen nation. The sorrow of God’s chosen family, as they were taken away into a strange land among the people of a strange speech; it would be sorrowful for us. I could hardly imagine the hurt, the indescribable agony of soul and spirit to see everything destroyed, to see your homeland wasted, to see your little children dashed against the stones, to see your women ravaged, to see the men carried as slaves, sold into captivity. Ah, we have never looked upon anything like that! We have never known it.
And out of that indescribable sorrow of the Babylonian captivity came one of the most pathetic psalms in all of the Word of God, the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm. Do you remember it?
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.
Just to say that psalm is to feel the teardrops, the heart drops of those captive people.
Now, in the captivity, as Jeremiah had been the prophet at home, so Ezekiel was the prophet of the captivity. Daniel was in a high place of political life; he was the prime minister of the nation. But among the captives, Ezekiel was the prophet of the captivity. And the first chapters of Ezekiel describe the call and commission of the prophet as he was sent to speak to the children of the captivity [Ezekiel 2:1-3:27].
And in the third chapter the Lord gives him a roll to eat, “Eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel” [Ezekiel 3:1]. Eat this roll; learn My word; put it in your heart; memorize it; know it. Eat this roll, and go deliver My message to the house of Israel. “So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat the roll” [Ezekiel 3:2]. “And it was in his mouth as sweet as honey” [Ezekiel 3:3]. That is the word of God that came to Ezekiel, and the vision he had of Jehovah was glorious indeed. And all of us experience that. There is no one of us who is a Christian, but that has experienced the exaltation, the infinite indescribable joy of having the Lord come into your heart and God’s Word become meaningful to you.
We have the experience in varying degrees. Some of us get so happy sometimes that we just could shout all over God’s heaven. Some of us just get so full we just burst into tears, our cup overflows. God’s Word is sweet like honey, and the vision of God is precious like heaven itself. Well, this was the experience of Ezekiel, “Eat this roll . . . and it was as sweet as honey” [Ezekiel 3:1-3].
But the message that the Lord sent to Israel was bitter and condemnatory; it was one of judgment. “The house of Israel will not harken unto thee,” even though I send you, “for they will not harken unto Me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted” [Ezekiel 3:7].
A gainsaying and an iniquitous generation, that is why they were sold into captivity. So Ezekiel goes to the captives, and he is sent to a center of the people. They had been there from the ten tribes that were carried out of Samaria in 722 [2 Kings 17:18]. This is now 598, about two hundred twenty-five years later, so some of those previous captives that settled there, and the other captives from Judea came, and there seemingly was a great center there on the river, the canal, Chebar, in a place in a city called Tel Abib. And Ezekiel says, “So I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit: for the hand of the Lord was strong upon me” [Ezekiel 3:14].
The message that he had to deliver was one of condemnation, and his own spirit, as he was preparing to deliver that message, was one of bitterness, “in the heat of my spirit” [Ezekiel 3:14]. So he comes to them of the captivity at Tel-abib. Tel is the word for mound, and abib means fertility. It was a fertile area, evidently, where the people had settled down by that canal Chebar, and Ezekiel says, as he wept in the bitterness of his spirit and in the heat of condemnation, he looked on those people, and they were pitiful. They were crushed, and “I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished,” overwhelmed, “seven days” [Ezekiel 3:15].
That was a sign of his mourning, his sorrow, as he sat among them, looking at them. And out of that has come this message for this hour. The sympathetic heart, the understanding heart, I have entitled it The Golden Heart, the Golden Rule [Matthew 7:12]. I could wish to do and to be toward others as I could pray that others could do and be toward me. The Golden Rule, the golden heart, that I could sympathize and understand toward others as I could wish and pray others sympathize and understand toward me.
Now, I have these things to say; first: in the golden heart, “I sat where they sat” [Ezekiel 3:15], in the golden heart, love and compassion in condemnation. There comes a time when we ought to condemn. That is correct; all of us know that, especially if you are a parent. The fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah begins, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, show My people their transgression, and Jacob his sins” [Isaiah 58:1].
There comes a time when we ought to condemn, but in our condemnation there ought to be an infinite, compassionate heart. Our Lord was that way. Could any of you tell me how the twenty-third chapter of Matthew ends? The twenty-third chapter of Matthew is the bitterest castigation in human literature. There is nothing like it in speech, ancient or modern, when our Lord says:
Woe unto thee, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. . .whited sepulchers . . . full of dead men’s bones –
Do you remember how that chapter ends? It ends in a sob:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how oft would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and ye would not!
It ends in a sob.
Do you remember in the letter of the apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians the second chapter and the fourth verse? Do you remember Paul writing a bitter castigation of the church at Corinth? Paul wrote, “For out of much affliction and sorrow of spirit I wrote unto thee with many tears” [2 Corinthians 2:4].
Whenever there is condemnation, there ought to be, on our part, infinite love and compassion. And if the condemnatory word cannot be delivered in love and compassion, it ought not to be delivered at all. We ought to hate sin but never the sinner, never! However we may stand up for righteousness and for God and however we may condemn sin there ought always to be, in our hearts and in our spirits, an infinite love for the sinner.
That is why, to me, a man who preaches on hell and damnation ought to, above all things, never to preach on that terrible and awesome subject as though he were glad that these damned souls are being condemned to fire and to the flame. And most of the times when I hear men preach on hell, which is not very often anymore, but most of the times when they preach on hell, I get that impression. They are furious in it, and they give the impression of being glad that these vile sinners and rejecters are to be condemned to eternal damnation. No, if a man is to preach on hell, he ought to do it with a broken heart. It ought to be to him the tragedy of all tragedies, and if you can’t preach on hell with sobs and tears for those who are lost, it is better never to preach upon it at all. Love and compassion in condemnation, “And I sat where they sat” [Ezekiel 3:15], an infinite sympathy for the people.
Second: in judgment, in judgment, understanding and charity in judgment. A professor said to a young man in his class, “Hold the book in both of your hands,” and the young fellow continued holding the book in one hand, and the professor stopped him as he read and said, “Sir, I said to you, hold the book in both of your hands.” And the young fellow made no effort to raise his other hand. And the professor was furious, and he said to him, “Sir, I said to you, hold the book with both of your hands!” And the boy raised a stump of an arm, and the professor looked at him and said, “Oh, oh! I, I did not understand.” Understanding and charity in judgment.
In the years gone by I used to preach often in encampments and at Ridgecrest and in revivals with B. B. McKinney, a songwriter. He had a great deal of homespun philosophy, and between stanzas as he would lead the singing, why, he would so often say little things. They would fit what we were singing about, and in one of those songs, why, he stopped, and he said – and I heard him do it several times – he said, “Don’t ever criticize another man’s limp until you have walked in his shoes. He may have a tack in the sole you know nothing of.” Ah, how true! Understanding, charitable in our judgments.
I live an altogether different kind of a life now than I did when I was the pastor of a little country church. In those days – and I was a pastor of those dear people for ten years – I lived and worked out in the country about ten years. In those days, I knew the families so intimately, so very intimately. I was as though I was a member of every family in the little congregation in the little country church. Well, anyone who was reared in a rural community, in a small, small community, can know and do know how sometimes viciously critical people are of one another, families, people.
Well anyway, it came to pass that the daughter of one of my three deacons had a child without a father. And in a country community like that, you can know how things were said, and one of the other deacons in the church especially – ah, with what wrath and with what judgment! And he said to me, and I was just a teenager, and he said to me, “That man ought to be put out of the church!” And he said to me, “He ought to be taken off of the deacons!” And he said to me, “That family ought to be excluded!” Oh, the harsh things he said about that deacon and about his family because his daughter had a little baby without a father! Oh, those vicious things he said!
And upon a day – he had two daughters; one of them was married, and the older one was not right – upon a day, his younger daughter had come home with her young husband to have a child. That was going to be their first child in the family. And while that son-in-law and younger daughter were there, this older daughter, the older daughter, became in a family way by the son-in-law. When that child was born, I met the deacon, walking down the road; I was walking down the road visiting among my people, walking. And I met him by the side of the field. He came out of the field where I was walking down the road. And I haven’t heard any man cry and sob in my life as I heard that man sob and cry. And he said to me, “It would not be so hard, had it not been for those terrible things I said about Deacon Will.”
Compassion, and charitable, and understanding in our judgments. My brother, “but for the grace of God there go you” to any one of us, to any one of us. It is by the mercies and goodnesses of the Lord God that any one of us stands.
Then a third one, “then I sat where they sat” [Ezekiel 3:15], the understanding heart, the golden heart. A third thing: prayerful and helpful in misfortune. In a little rule in a mechanic’s book is this sentence: “Remember the warmth of the hand will increase the diameter of the shaft.” Look at that. Look at that! “Remember,” the rule said to the mechanic as he worked at the lathe, “Remember the warmth of the hand will increase the diameter of the shaft.” Cold steel and cold iron change its very size and diameter just by the touch and the warmth of a human hand, cold steel. How much more so we, who are made out of flesh and blood.
I don’t suppose I could count the number of times I have lived through and thought through this scene in the life of our Lord. He is thronged on every side by a great crowd, pressing, pressing, pressing the marvelous Prophet of Galilee, thronged on every side [Matthew 8:1], and then the next sentence says, “And, behold, a leper came unto Him” [Matthew 8:2]. Well, just exactly how, thronged on every side, could a leper just walk up to the Lord Jesus? Why, those four men, who were seeking to bring that paralytic to the Lord had to climb on top of the house and undo the roof and let him down at the feet of the Savior [Mark 2:3-4], but the leper had walked right up to Him [Matthew 8:2]. Well, the reason is very obvious. Wherever that leper turned, wherever he walked, as you know by the law, he had to cover his lips with his hand, cover his mouth with his hand, and to cry “Unclean! Unclean! Unclean!” [Leviticus 13:45]. And around him always, that chilly circle. The people, fell away, fell away, fell away, and he walked right up to Jesus through that crowd. They fell away, fell away, always that chilly vacant circle. They all fell away, the throng, the crowd, the multitude, the disciples. All of them drew back, all except the Lord Jesus, and He just stood there, and that leper walked straight up unimpeded to the Son of God. And he asked that he might be clean [Matthew 8:2]. And the next verse says, “and Jesus touched him,” put His hand upon him, “and Jesus touched him” [Matthew 8:3]. I can just hear the crowd gasp as the Lord touched him, “Oh! Oh!” I would not think that that poor leper had felt the pressure and the kindness and the warmth of a human hand in memory, in memory. It was half the cure. “And Jesus touched him and said Be thou clean, and he was clean” [Matthew 8:1-3].
Sympathy, prayerfulness, helpfulness in misfortune: if I were old and feeble, to remember me. If I were sick and in distress, to stand by me. If I were facing death, and the home visited and torn by death, to remember me.
A little girl came to her mother from school and said her little friend at school was so sorrowful that day.
And the mother said “Why?”
And the little child replied, “Her mother has died.”
And the mother said to her little daughter, “Well, what did you say to her?”
The little girl replied, “I did not say anything.”
Well, the mother said, “Surely, you did something. What did you do?”
And the little girl said, “I just sat down by her side and cried with her.”
Don’t need to say anything if you have a prayerful and a sympathetic heart.
And, oh, what things can come! Coming back from Miami from the convention this week, I sat by the side of a young pastor who was coming back from the convention. As we sat together, he said to me, “May I ask your especial remembrance in prayer? Would you pray for me?” He said: “I’m returning home, and I don’t know how I have strength to face it. We have two boys,” he said, “two boys, and they are big, strapping fellows, both of them. They are over six feet tall, and they are very athletic. My older son,” the pastor said to me, “is in the university, and he is a four-letter athlete. He excels in them all. He is on an athletic scholarship. He is a wonderful boy. Fine, tall, strong, and very successful in the world of athletics.” He said, “My younger boy is in high school, and he is growing up. He is already over six feet,” he said, “and he is very athletic. He is going to be just exactly like his older brother. But,” he said, “I received a telephone call from my wife. I knew that there had been something wrong with that younger boy, but we could not know what it was.” He said, “My wife telephoned me and said, ‘Dear husband, our younger son has a form of leukemia.'” And the pastor said to me, “I’ve just sat down there and cried and cried and cried, and I’m on my way home. What shall I say to my wife, and what shall I say to that boy, that son? What shall I say? I don’t know what to say, and I don’t know what to do.” He said, “Pray for me. Just pray for me.” I said, “My pastor friend, I will pray for you.”
Oh, oh, oh! And there is no family, there is no life, there is no home but that has its sorrows and its heartaches. This is a part of human life. Shall I, therefore, walk up and down these avenues of the days and the years in self righteousness? In judgment? In condemnation? No. “I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit” [Ezekiel 3:14], but when he looked upon those miserable captives, “I sat where they sat, astonished” [Ezekiel 3:15], the sympathizing heart.
Dear Lord, help me to be like that. Our Saviour, weeping over the city [Luke 19:41], weeping at the tomb [John 11:35], dying for the people, “Father, forgive them: they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34]. “Blot me,” said Moses, “out of the book which Thou has written” [Exodus 32:32], if these cannot be spared, I do not want to be spared. If they are not to live, I do not want to live. I am identified with my people. Oh, how a loving, sympathizing, understanding spirit reflects our Lord and blesses us all! May we pray?
The Great Physician surely is here,
The sympathizing Jesus;
He speaks the heart to cheer,
Oh, hear the voice of Jesus.
[“The Great Physician,” by William Hunter]
The sympathizing Jesus who knows all about us.
And our Lord, out of keeping with that promise, not only I, but every heart in divine presence and everyone who has heard this simple and humble message would pray for that pastor as he seeks to be strong in the presence of that tall young boy who is cut down at the very threshold of a wonderful life.
Ah, Master, ten thousand things we don’t understand! Surely God will make it plain by and by. So strengthen all who sorrow. Encourage all who face great difficulties. Have mercy and pity upon us, Lord. “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” [Psalm 103:13-14]. We lean on Thy kind arm. Lord, sustain and strengthen in Thy goodness and mercy. Now, may we turn to Thee, some to accept Thee as Savior, some to place their lives with us in this dear church, and all of us to regive our souls to Thee in love and affection, in faith in truth. In Thy dear name, amen.
Now, let’s sing our song, and while we sing it, to give your heart to the Lord, to come into the fellowship of His church, a family you, a couple you, one somebody you. On the first note of this first stanza, you come and stand by me, while we all stand and sing.