STOOPING TO CONQUER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-14-68 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 message entitled Stooping to Conquer. But as it develops, I do not know whether that title fits what I finally I have prepared to say or not. I took the word from a famous dramatic production by Oliver Goldsmith, Stooping to Conquer. It originally was to be a message on the power and the grace of meekness and humility. But as the sermon developed it took another turn, and finally, as it kept on developing, I was able to deliver but the first half of it at the 8:15 service. And as it has kept on developing, I just about decided to present the last half of the sermon at this hour.
But there are some things of the first part that I want to include and shall as I have more time this morning than usual. When Lee Roy Till is gone I always have a lot more time to preach. God bless Lee Roy over there in London today, and God bless us here in Dallas now. As a background for what was originally prepared, there is a beautiful Psalm, number 9:
I will praise Thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will show forth all Thy marvelous works.
I will be glad and rejoice in Thee: I will sing praise to Thy name, O Thou Most High.
God shall judge the world in righteousness, He shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness.
The Lord also shall be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.
And they that know Thy name shall put their trust in Thee: for Thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek Thee.
He forgetteth not the cry of the humble.
For the needy shall not always be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.
[Psalm 9:1-2, 8-10, 12, 18]
And if I were to choose one verse out of the passage it would be number 12: “God forgetteth not the cry of the humble” [Psalm 9:12]. There are two kingdoms in this world, and all of us sense it, and all of us feel it. There is a kingdom of light, there is a kingdom of darkness. There is a kingdom of righteousness [Romans 14:17]; there is a kingdom of evil and iniquity [Ephesians 6:12]. There is a kingdom of God [John 18:36]: there is a kingdom of Satan [Matthew 12:26]. And as surely as one is true, the other also is no less factual. We feel it in our hearts and lives, and we see it everywhere in the earth.
The kingdom of darkness is presided over by Satan [Luke 4:6], and it is filled with all of the hurt and heartache that all of us experience who are oppressed. And as we read not only in our own lives, but as we read in history and in the lives of others, there is a kingdom of war and of violence. There is a kingdom of murder and bloodshed. There is a kingdom of lust, of pride, of ambition. There is a kingdom that is a denial of all of the virtues and graces of God. But there is no less factually certain another kingdom which is presided over by the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is a kingdom of light, and of love, and of glory, and of immortality [Colossians 1:13; 2 Timothy 1:10]. Now we shall speak today of the citizens of that kingdom of light, and there are several things that can be said about them.
First: they are happy ones. That’s why I had you read the passage in the verses that begin the Sermon on the Mount. Because of the way the word is translated, we sometimes miss exactly what Jesus said. You read it like this: “Blessed, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst; they shall be filled[Matthew 5:3-6].
That’s the way you read it. The actual word is makarios, and makarios is just the ordinary, everyday Greek word for happy. Happy, glad: “Happy are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” [Matthew 5:3-4]. One of those diametrically opposite truths that you find so often in the Bible, as “He that loses his life shall gain it” [Matthew 10:39], “He that gives it away shall possess it,” Happy are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” [Matthew 5:4]. “Happy,” makarios, “are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” [Matthew 5:5].
The first characteristic that you would notice about a citizen of the kingdom of light and love is that the people are happy. Now, when I am not that way, I am just that much removed from the blessedness of the dear Lord. And when you see me down and discouraged, I’m not my finest and best self, and I need when I’m like that, I need to have a little talk with Jesus. I need to get to myself and maybe pour out the burden of my heart and my soul before God. I need to get right. I need to be right. And when I am blue and discouraged and sitting under the proverbial juniper tree, I need to get to myself and talk with God.
For a kingdom citizen is to be makarios, happy. And it is this trait of God’s people that impresses the world more than any other trait or characteristic that a kingdom citizen possesses. I’m going to read you a poem. Not because it is beautiful in sentiment, it is that. But I’m not reading it for that. I’m going to read you this poem because it was written by an infidel, it was written by an atheist. It was written by an unbeliever. And I read it to you that you might see what it is that impresses somebody outside of the kingdom of God. It is called “The Washerwoman’s Song.”
Evidently, even though I do not know the background of the poem, evidently this unbeliever daily or weekly had a washerwoman. And her life, though it was difficult and hard, impressed this man to write these words.
In a very humble cot,
In a rather quiet spot,
In the suds and in the soap,
Worked a woman full of hope;
Working, singing, all alone,
In a sort of undertone:
“With a Savior for my Friend,
He will keep me to the end.”
Not in sorrow nor in glee
Working all day long was she,
As her children, three or four,
Played around her on the floor;
But in monotones the song
She was humming all day long:
“With a Savior for my Friend,
He will keep me to the end.”
It’s a song I do not sing,
For I don’t believe a thing
Of the stories that are told
Of the miracles of old;
But I know that her belief
Is an antidote for grief,
And that Christ will be her Friend
And He will keep her to the end.
Just a trifle lonesome she,
Just as poor as poor could be;
But her spirits always rose,
Like the bubbles in the clothes,
And though widowed and alone,
Cheered her with this monotone
Of a Savior for her Friend
Who will keep her to the end.
I have seen her rub and scrub,
On the washboard in the tub,
While the baby, sopped in suds,
Rolled and tumbled in the duds;
Or was paddling in the pools,
With old scissors stuck in spools;
She still humming of her Friend
Who would keep her to the end.
Human hopes and human creeds
Have their roots in human needs;
And I would not wish to strip
From that washerwoman’s lip
Any song that she can sing,
Any hope that song can bring;
For the woman has a Friend
And He will keep her to the end.
[“The Washerwoman’s Song,” Eugene F. Ware, 1885]
What do you think of that? I think this. I had rather be the poor washerwoman scrubbing than to be the finest, richest, most intellectually acceptable infidel in the world. Because I know he has no answer, and I know he is not happy. But I know she is.
I can never forget, in one of these evangelistic conferences through which I preach in the wintertime, there was a pastor in one of our large southern cities, who, in his sermon at the evangelistic conference, was comparing two homes that he had visited on a cold winter afternoon.
The first home was a very beautiful, wealthy-looking, and well-appointed mansion, and he described it. And when he made the visit in the home, the butler opened the door and the servant ushered him in to the woman, the lady of the house. And he described the visit with her, one of complain and complaint, and he described all those complaints: miserable, unhappy, unhappy about everything, unhappy about taxes, unhappy about the government, unhappy about life, just unhappy. And I could feel it with him as he said when he dismissed himself and walked out the door, he breathed an air of relief just to get outside and away and walk down the walk.
Then he said he had another call to make that cold winter’s afternoon. There was a widow in his church, he said, who was very poor, and she took in sewing. She sewed for other women. So, he said, he made a call at that home to see if that poor widow had enough coal to keep the house warm. So he walked up the steps, sidewalk, and into that little humble place where the widow lived, and her many children. And he said, when he came up on the porch to knock on the door, he heard one of the children say to his mother, “Oh, mother, mother, mother, the preacher is coming to see us! The preacher is at the door!”
So the door was opened and he went in, and he sat down with that poor woman and her children, all gathered around. And as he talked to her, why, she said to him, “Pastor, God’s been so good to me. So good to me. I have more sewing to do than I can possibly do. The Lord has been so good to me. I just praise His name, and I just thank Him. He has been so good to me.”
Well, after he had read God’s Word and prayed, he went down the walk, closed the door, and went down the walk. And he said that above the hum of that sewing machine, as she sewed clothes for somebody else, he heard her singing, “Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you. Beneath His sheltering love abide, God will take care of you” [from “God Will Take Care of You,” Civilla D. Martin, 1904].
Then he eloquently described the difference in his feeling as he had walked down the sidewalk from the home of affluence and unhappiness, and the feeling as he walked down the sidewalk of the home of poverty and rejoicing. How are you when the world looks at you? And how do you do? Most of us, I am afraid, most of the times, are poor, poor examples of what it is to belong to Jesus.
Well, God help us. Lord, put a song in my soul, and put a light in my eyes, and put a smile on my face. Lord, I am to be in Thee a makarios citizen, a happy citizen. And I am to be that way, God says, even when I mourn. “Makarios, happy are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” [Matthew 5:4].
Yesterday I had a memorial service for a sweet school teacher in our dear church, and the day before that I had a memorial service for a sweet blessed mother in our church. And as I seek to be a good pastor and a worthy minister of Christ, I am finding myself more and more bringing into those messages of memory and memorial, words of triumph and of victory. Ofttimes I will begin a service like this: “We are Christian people, and this is a Christian service. We have not gathered here to mourn a defeat or a disaster; but we are gathered here in this solemn hour to celebrate a victory, for the trumpets have sounded on the other side of the river, and one of God’s children has gone home.”
Makarios: “Happy are they that mourn: they shall be comforted” [Matthew 5:4]. God has some better thing in store for us [Hebrews 11:40]. Through our tears we are to see the face of Jesus, and through our bereavement and our separation we are to see the glories of the promise of heaven. Makarios, happy are the people of God, and we are to be that way. Lord, help me to be that way.
Now may we quickly summarize? The kingdom citizens, these who belong to Jesus, they are also unusual in how it is they excel. Who is the great among them? I could not present that more effectively than to take an incident out of the life of our Lord with His disciples.
It is an unusual thing that at the Lord’s Supper, at the last supper, they did not know it was the last supper. Their eyes were holden, that they could not realize it. But the next day the Lord was to be crucified, and that night He broke bread with His disciples. And that night at that table they found themselves in one of those bitter, acrimonious quarrels—and God’s people can surely get into them. That’s one of the strange asides to the kingdom of God. Now you think some of these infidels out here fuss and carry on. Boy, you ought to see God’s people fuss and carry on.
You know why it was caused? Well, I will tell you why. Now those disciples believed that Jesus was going to be a King, and I believe that too; He is going to be King Jesus someday [Matthew 25:31]. And those disciples believed that the Lord was going to reign over a kingdom, and it would include the whole earth and all of God’s creation [Matthew 25:32]; and I believe that too.
But the way of the realization of that kingdom their eyes were holden to, and they thought that that kingdom would come without a cross, without suffering, but it would come as we know the kingdoms of this world. And Lord Jesus was going to mount a throne, and He was going to subdue His enemies. And that they were going to be exalted. Now, I believe that too. Jesus promised them they were going to sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel [Matthew 19:28], and all of us are going to be kings and priests [Revelation 1:6]. We are going to reign with Jesus, King Jesus, someday [Revelation 22:3-5]. I believe all that.
But it just didn’t come about as the disciples were thinking for; so when they sat down at the table, the Lord was placed in the center. Then the fury began. The fussing started. “Who is going to sit on His right hand, and who is going to sit on His left hand?” [Luke 22:24] and that’s where the trouble. “I want to be elected. I want to be exalted. I want to be chosen.” I tell you, and brother, do we have that in the church all the time, and all my life.
“Look at that guy up there singing that solo. They never call on me to sing no solo, and I’m going to get mad, and I’m not going to sing in the choir.” And brother, see, that is just typical of a lot of that in us. Well, they were that way. They were that way. Who’s going to sit here on the right hand, and who is going to sit here on the left hand? And who is going to be greatest in the kingdom? [Luke 22:24]. Now, that’s what they were fussing about. The Bible says so exactly. Who is going to be greatest in the kingdom?
Now in a Jewish home, a fine Jewish home, there was always a servant there who washed the feet of the people who came into the home. A fine, fine, custom, but it had a religious turn. It was a ritual in the Jewish home. They had no servant up there. It was the Lord and the twelve disciples. So the Lord took a basin, he took a basin and He filled it with water, and He unclothed Himself [John 13:4-5]. And, I say, when you are all dressed up, you can be very proud, you know, like a peacock when he struts his feathers; like that. But when you unclothe yourself, it is just amazing how common humanity you are; all of us, all of us. You who are Masons know what I am talking about, you surely do.
When you unclothe yourself, you just forgot all your dignity. You are just taking it off. And the Lord unclothed Himself and put a towel around Him, girded Himself with a towel, and took that basin of water and began to wash the disciples’ feet. And when He had done it, washing the disciples’ feet [John 13:5-13], the Lord said, “If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” [John 13:14].
Now some of these old time Baptists, God bless them, some of the saintliest people that ever lived and do live in the earth, make that an ordinance: washing feet. I have no objection to that practice. The reason it is not an ordinance is the Lord said that the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles in the meaning of what Christ had told them [John 16:13-15]. And the apostles put two ordinances in the church: baptism, the initial ordinance [Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 6:3-5], and the Lord’s Supper, the recurring ordinance [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29]. But washing of feet is never presented in the Word of God as one of the ordinances.
But it was a dramatic lesson for us. “If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye ought to wash one another’s feet” [John 13:14]. And if I knew some way in the church whereby we could show our deference and preference to one another, I would do it. I’ve thought of that for years and years, and I’ve never come up with an answer yet.
But the spirit of washing feet is the spirit of Christ. And, now look at it, “If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” [John 13:14]. Now look at the next verse. Makarios, there is that word again: “Makarios, happy are you”—you have it translated blessed—“Happy are you if, knowing these things, you do them” [John 13:17]. Happy are you.
You know the way to be happy? In honor, prefer one another. You know the way to be miserable? Just be envious or jealous of one another. You know the way to be happy? Makarios, happy are ye if, knowing these things, you do them [John 13:17]. You are a servant for Jesus’ sake. “If I can help, if I can further, if I can be of service, call me.” That’s a kingdom citizen. Oh, the Lord bless us in it!
Now may we continue? How is the entrance into that kingdom of our Lord? How do you become a part of it, how do you get that way? Here I am, all messed up in my life, and in my spirit, and in my heart. How do you get that way? How do you be like that? Well, the Lord is very, very plain. You get that way by humbling yourself before God. There is something in the Lord—and when I am done with this, my time is gone. There is something in God, there is something in God’s nature, and I am going to show this to you plainly from the Word. There is something in God’s nature that stays the hand of the Lord in any judgment, in any threat, if that somebody against whom God has uttered a threat, and who stands in the way of judgment—there is something in God that stays His hand, that makes it impossible for Him to carry it out—if He sees that somebody bow.
All right, an example; this is just an example, the whole Bible is like this. When finally the Lord God converted Jonah from his obstreperous and incorrigible ways and sent him to Nineveh, he preached what God told him to preach. He said it exactly as God told him to say it. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed!” [Jonah 3:4], according to the Word of God Almighty. Now that’s the way he preached, and he went through that city crying to the top of his voice, “Forty more days, forty more days, and the rain and judgment, and fire, and fury, and brimstone of heaven will fall! The judgment of God will descend on this city. Forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed” [Jonah 3:4]. Well, the whole city, the whole city was shaken. And the king stepped down from his throne, and he took off his royal raiment, and he put sackcloth on his skin and sat in ashes. And he made it a decree that his nobles and his people, even their beasts, were to be clothed in sackcloth and cry unto God day and night [Jonah 3:5-9]. And it came to pass, when God saw it, that God repented Him, God turned! And He did it not [Jonah 3:10]. Isn’t’ that something? Here the Lord God has said, “I am going to destroy this city in forty days” [Jonah 3:1-4]. Then the last verse I said, “When God saw it, God turned. God repented,” and He did it not [Jonah 3:10].
Isn’t that the Lord for you? There is something about the cry of the humble that God cannot overlook. Do you remember in the life of the Lord Jesus when He was on His way to see Jairus’ daughter, a little twelve year old girl, who had died? [Luke 8:41-42]. Thronged with people on every side, pressed in a multitude, as He walked through the streets of the town, He suddenly stopped and said, “Somebody touched Me.” And I don’t blame Simon Peter for saying to Him, “Lord, somebody touched You? Lord, look, they throng Thee and press Thee on every side, and You say ‘Somebody touched Me’?” [Luke 8:41-45]
And the Lord said, “Yes, somebody touched Me, for I perceive that virtue, healing power, godly strength has gone out of Me. Somebody touched Me” [Luke 8:46]. And He turned around, and a suffering woman who had been afflicted for twelve years in a woman’s affliction, when she saw that she was discovered, bowed before the Lord and said, “Lord, I said in my heart if I would but just touch the hem of His garment I would be healed. And I touched the hem of Your garment” [Luke 8:47; Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5: 27-28], one of those tassels, blue tassels, one of the fringes that a rabbi would wear.
Now isn’t that something? That’s God. Somehow there is something in God that when somebody bows and somebody cries, God stops, God stops the whole engine of judgment, as He did in Nineveh—“and He did it not” [Jonah 3:10]. And God stops whatever God is doing to run this universe, to pause, to bless, and to heal somebody who cries in need and in humility. So I am saying the key to the kingdom, and the key to the heart of God, and the key to the blessing of God is not in our all-sufficiency, and in our pride, in our human adequacy—but it lies in our insufficiency, in our inadequacy, in our lack, and in our need.
Makarios, happy are those who are poor in spirit; Makarios, happy are those who mourn; Makarios, happy are those who hunger and thirst [Matthew 5:3-6]; Makarios, happy are those who in need, sometimes in ultimate despair, look up and cry to heaven. That’s the way to be saved: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:13], and that is the way to be blessed.
Happy are those—makarios—who bow, who look up to God’s face, who need God’s blessing and God’s presence, God’s forgiveness, God’s grace, God’s strength. Happy are those who lean on God’s strong arm [Deuteronomy 33:27].
Well, that was somewhat of the sermon that I was thinking about, reading God’s Book, praying in His blessed name, and loving you and the church. Brethren, that would make a sweet, precious fellowship anywhere, anywhere. And that is what has made this a glorious fellowship; to prefer one another; to pay deference to one another—not to shove, but that gracious spirit. If there is a clique in this church, I don’t know it. If there is a group in this church trying to lord it over God’s heritage, I don’t know it. There is a sweetness and a fellowship in this congregation that, to me, is like a little bit of heaven, and that is where it comes from: loving one another, praying for one another, helping one another; you’re a servant for Jesus’ sake. Makarios, happy are you, knowing this, if you do it [John 13:17].
Now we must sing our hymn of appeal. In the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; a family, a couple, or one somebody you, while we sing this appeal, come and stand by me. “Here I am, pastor. This is my wife, these are our children, all of us coming today.” Or just you, as God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Make it this morning. Come now, and the Lord will bless you if you will. Open your heart to Jesus. Accept Him as your Savior. Do it. Bring your life and home to the feet of the blessed God. Come, put your life with us in this dear church. As God shall say the word, do it, make it now, do it now. On the first note of this first stanza, decide now, and when you stand up, stand up coming. Welcome, in Jesus’ name. Welcome, while we stand and while we sing.