Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-18-68 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the evening message entitled The Fire of the Lord.
In your Bible, turn to Luke chapter 12, the Third Gospel, the Gospel of Luke chapter 12. And we shall begin reading at verse 42 and read through verse 53. Luke chapter 12, beginning at verse 42 and reading through verse 53. And when we come to verse and 50 that is the text, The Fire of the Lord. Now all of us reading out loud together Luke 12, verses 42 through 53 together:
And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?
Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath.
But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken;
The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.
And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?
But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!
Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:
For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.
The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
The whole tenor of this passage is one of conflict and of division: "I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened," compressed, held, "until it be accomplished" [Luke 12:-50].
The Fire of the Lord. It is first and manifestly a refining fire burning, and with God’s people the trial and the struggle is toward our purification, our sanctification. It is this kind of a fire when John the Baptist announced the coming of the Lord he said:
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but there cometh One after me mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire –
And the same thing is in the next stanza:
Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
And the verse preceding was exactly like it:
And now the axe is laid at the root of the tree: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
All three of those verses end in the same way; with fire. That is the burning, refining fire of the Lord. This is the same and identical thing as was spoken of by Malachi the prophet, when he announced the day of the coming of the Baptist, the great messenger who preceded the Messiah. And then the day of the Lord:
But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: – like a dyer’s soap –
And He shall sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.
This is the meaning of the text, "I am come to send fire in the earth." It is a refining fire, a purifying fire. There is a reason from God for all of the trials and all of the struggles that God’s people endure in this world. There is a reason for it. God does not allow His people to live except under His watchful eye, and things do not happen adventitiously, meaninglessly, insignificantly in this world. All things are under the hands of God, and what things happen in this world are under His surveillance and they happen in His sovereign will and for His holy purpose. And for us it burns; it is a fire to purge out the dross in our lives, that we might be worthy sons to stand someday in His presence. The fire that burns, and it burns; and it burns and there is no son of God who escapes the refiner’s fire, that we might be worthy children of the kingdom.
I listened to a saint of God today, as it was described in the judgment of this disciple of the Lord that is saved, that God’s children suffer more and now and in this present time than in any other time that we have ever known. Maybe that is because as we become older we are more sensitive to the trials and the troubles that overwhelm people who become our age. But whether that be true or not, this is true: that a child of God, if he belongs to Jesus, is chastened; "For whom He loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth, every son of His" [Hebrews 12:6]. And if you be without chastening, without chastisement, then are ye not sons [Hebrews 12:8]. You don’t belong to God if you are not chastened; and the chastening of God is sometimes grievous to bear. But all of it is like a refining fire, that we might be pure silver and pure gold with the dross burned out of us. "I am come to send fire on the earth" [Luke 12:].
Now this is no different today, in which I stand, than it always has been. In the ancient day, in the days of the judges, when the people wandered away from God, they were afflicted and came back to the Lord. In the days of David when the people sinned there was a great pestilence, and they came back in repentance to the Lord. In the days of the captivity, as I am preaching through in the Book of Daniel, the people were idolatrous. But after the refining burning fires of the Babylonian captivity they never were idolaters again. I could not conceive of a Jew bowing down before a graven image. I can imagine Christian people doing it. They do it by the millions. They do it by the multiplied millions. They do it all over the world. They fill their churches with images and idols. According to the commandment of God, He is highly displeased: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image . . . Neither shall thou bow down before it" [Exodus 20:4, 5].
I can imagine that in a Christian church. It’s all over this earth. But I cannot conceive of a Jew bowing down before a graven image. Nor could I conceive of a Jew placing in his synagogue an idol or a graven image. It is unthinkable. Why? Because of the burning fury of God. And the Jew has never forgotten that lesson to this present day, and he never will; the refining fire of the Lord. And that same burning is in our lives; all of us, all of us. If you have not experienced the chastening of God yet, you shall if you belong to Him, if you belong to Him.
You know, there is a great difference in how people receive trouble. We all stand in the way of it, all of us. All of us build our houses in the way of a flood. That’s the way the Sermon on the Mount ends [Matthew 7:24-29]. We build our houses in the way of a storm, in the way of a flood. The only difference is this: when troubles come, and when illness comes, and when trial comes, and when heartache comes, the lost man just stares into the darkness of the night. He doesn’t have anywhere to go. He doesn’t have any Lord in whom to pour out the tears and the sorrow and the sobs and agonies of his life. He just stares into the dark, and he faces a hopeless tomorrow.
But when troubles come for a child of God, without exception you will find them down on their faces, down on their faces, praying for strength to bear it, praying that God will make us better Christians because of the sorrows we’ve experienced. That’s the difference: the refining fire of the Lord that makes a Christian a better Christian, makes him a finer disciple, clinging nearer to the Jesus who saved us.
"I am come to send fire on the earth" [Luke 12:]. It is a refining fire. Now, I know from my text as I read it, it is also a consecrating fire. It is something God places in us, the fire of the Lord. "I have a baptism to be baptized with" [Luke 12:50].
The same Lord, in speaking to James and to John, one of them said, "I want to be prime minister and sit on Your right hand" and the other one said, "I want to be chancellor of the exchequer. I want to be treasurer of the kingdom. I want to sit on Your left hand" [Mark 10:35-37]. And the Lord said, "It is not for Me to give those offices. They are for those in that day who shall be chosen" [Mark 10:40]. And I wonder who it will be. Whenever you read that passage do you think about that? Somebody is going to sit in the kingdom of our Lord on His right hand and on His left hand. But it’s not going to be maybe John or Paul or James. It may be some unknown humble child of Jesus that the world never heard of. It is for those for whom it is prepared [Mark 10:40]. Somebody will be there.
But Jesus said, "You, James and John, to sit on My right hand and on My left hand, are you prepared to drink the cup that I drink, and are you prepared to be baptized with a baptism that I am baptized with? I have a baptism to be baptized with. Are you prepared?" [Mark 10:38]. And those sons, not realizing at all how they were answering, those sons said to Jesus, "Lord, we are. We are prepared" [Mark 10:39]. And the Lord looked at them and prophetically said, "Ye shall indeed be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with. You will drink the cup that I drink" [Mark 10:39].
Now what did He mean? When it came to pass, it meant this: a devotion, a consecration, a fire in their souls that led them to be true unto death. James, one of those boys, as you know, had his head cut off by Herod Agrippa I [Acts 12:1-2]. And John, as you know, was sent to the lonely, rocky isle of Patmos to die of exposure and starvation [Revelation 1:9]. "Ye shall indeed be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with, and drink of the cup that I drink" [Mark 10:39]. It is a fire of consecration unto death.
"I am come to send fire on the earth" [Luke 12:]. Now isn’t that a strange thing for a minister to say in the name of Jesus? All of us have the persuasion that when we give our lives to the Lord, everything thereafter is a matter of song and roses and softness and ease and luxury and affluence.
I heard somebody say today that the reason we shall not have a great revival in our time is because God’s people are Laodicean [Revelation 3:14-22]; they live in such affluence. These things, in my humble opinion, as I watch families and as I look in history, these things do not work for a great outpouring of the Spirit of God; but persecution does, and trial does. These things, the fire of the Lord in a man’s soul that commits it unto death – – these things make possible the outpouring of the incomparable Spirit of God.
Paul on the Ostian Way – I’ve stood in that place, have you? – where they cut off his head; Simon Peter, in that same Neronian persecution, somewhere in some Roman province in the East, according to the prophecy of Jesus in the twenty-first chapter of John, was crucified. And tradition says he was crucified with his head down because he said, "I am not worthy to be crucified like my Lord with my head up."
The consecration unto death, the refining fires of God expressed in the lives of His children who lay down their souls for Jesus. And we could just carry that all of the way through the centuries. Those terrible Decian and Diocletian persecutions, and in the sixteenth century; I have stood there at the Lammat River where Felix Manz, one of our great Anabaptist preachers was drowned in the Lammat River that pours out of the Zurich Sea. And when you are over there I hope you all go to that place.
That’s one of the most sacred places in the Baptist world where Felix Manz was drowned. They said, "He likes water. Let’s give him lots of water." And they drowned that Baptist preacher. In the exact spot they can show you. And when I was in Vienna, Austria, I had them take me to the place where Balthasar Hübmaier in March of 1528 was burned at the stake, and in the beautiful Danube River, where they drowned his wife because she refused to renounce our Baptist faith.
Or in the next century, in the seventeenth century, they had two great fires in the world at that time. One was the fire of London that burned the city off the map. And the other was the fire that burned in that tinker’s soul who was in Bedford Gaol for twelve years and wrote Pilgrim’s Progress; our Baptist preacher, John Bunyan. "I am come to send a fire in the earth" [Luke 12:], a consecrating fire that God puts in the souls of His saints who lay their lives down for His names’ sake.
Or come to the next century, the century of the 1700s, and here is William Carey with his cobbler’s last on one side, reading the Bible, and on the other side looking at the maps he had made of the world, and asking Andrew Fuller to hold the ropes of the little Baptist missionary society that they organized, a little group of maybe a dozen men who took up a collection among them of all that they had, less than sixty dollars. And William Carey went out to India.
No small part of the pride that wells up in my soul for our faith and our church and our communion is when I walked around Saharanpur and Calcutta and looked upon the work of William Carey. Ah, what a man of God; a diminutive little fellow, very small and very short, but a man who changed the destiny of that subcontinent.
As I visited along the sacred Yamuna River that runs into the Taj Mahal, and as I walked up and down the banks of the Ganges River, here and there and there and in every village and every town you will find those burning ghats. All of their dead they burn. And then the flesh that is not consumed they throw in the river. I never saw such enormous turtles in my life as there are in those sacred rivers. And I asked some of the missionaries, "Where did such turtles come from, and what are they like, those vicious looking creatures?" And they said they feed on the human flesh that is unburned when the body is poured out from the burning ghat into the sacred river. And as I looked at those burning ghats, I remembered that when William Carey came, every time a man died who had a wife, the wife was burned on that ghat with him. William Carey, when he’d lie down at night, and get up in the morning, would hear the cries and the wails of those poor, benighted, wretched, doomed young widows many times, and wives left behind as they were bound and thrown on those burning pyres.
His heart burned within him, and he gave his life to the whole message of Jesus Christ for all India. And I went into the library at Serampore, the college that he founded for the evangelization of the nation, and looked at the enormous, unbelievable, incomparable work of that missionary William Carey. He translated that Book, this blessed Book, into thirty-four different languages and dialects. He made the gospel message known in that Book to more than two hundred million Indian people. And he had grammars and lexicons all through that library that he himself had made. He manufactured the paper it was written on, and made all of those endless translations and lexicons and grammars.
What a glorious disciple of Christ! Left England and never returned, and died there. I went to his grave, and just stood there with bowed head in the presence of so great a servant of God. The fire of the Lord in his soul, in his heart, and out and out and away to bear the good news of the message of Christ; and I haven’t time to speak of our generation and of our time.
At one of the services this morning, 8:15 service it must have been, missionary Lawton knelt here in this sacred place and prayed. And in his prayer he prayed for friends that he knew behind the bamboo curtain in China, and for friends that he knew that spoke, who speak Chinese, where he was a missionary for a generation, asking God’s blessings upon those people who suffer today for the cause and name of Christ.
One of these days we will be privileged to present here in this church the great Southern Baptist film that depicts the life and martyrdom of Dr. Wallace of China, who laid down his life a few years ago before the Communist hordes in the name of Jesus. This is the fire that burns, a consecrating fire, loving God unto death.
I saw the martyr at the stake,
The flames could not his courage shake,
Nor death his soul appall;
I asked him whence his strength was given,
He looked triumphantly to heaven,
And answered, "Christ is all."
["Christ Is All," W.A. Williams]
"I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?" [Luke 12:]. Burning now, and burning till He comes again. We must hasten.
There is another fire of the Lord. There is a refining fire to cleanse us. There is a consecrating fire that God puts in our souls to make us love Him unto death. There is a transforming fire, a transforming fire making us in this life new men, new people, new somebodies, and glorifying us in the world that is yet to come.
There is a transforming fire that burns in this earth, is burning now. Why, bless you, that is the most amazing thing in the earth. I don’t know of anything in God’s world that is as overwhelming and astonishing and amazing as the transforming fire of the Lord; what God is able to do.
Why, bless you, not very long ago Gorgeous George sent me a message [George Raymond Wagner, professional wrestler]. You know who Gorgeous George is? You know who he is. As I say, he knows everything. Do you know who Gorgeous George is? All God’s people know who Gorgeous George is. We may not know who Hezekiah and Amos is, but we all know who Gorgeous George is.
Well, Gorgeous George sent me a message and I nearly fell out of my chair. The only time I ever saw Gorgeous George was when I ought not to be looking at him. I was amazed. Gorgeous George sent me a message, and do you know what the message was? The message was he knew me, and had heard of me, and you, and this dear church. And Gorgeous George wanted us to know, and he wanted me to know, that he had been marvelously, gloriously saved, and that every Lord’s Day he gathers up all of those hoodlums, and whoever they are that are doing all that, and he brings them to church, lines them up there with him on the pew. Isn’t that an amazing thing? Would you ever have thought for that? Would you?
Did you know I have looked on television, and out there in Los Angeles there is a football player on the Rams team – the Rams, and I want you to know that is the meanest looking football player I ever saw in my life, the meanest looking one. And those fellows that play against him say, "He is the meanest football player we ever played against in our born days." He’s got a pug nose like it had been mashed all over his face forty dozen times. And he’s the captain of one of those offensive or defensive units. I’ve seen him. His name is Maxie Baughan or something; the meanest looking guy I ever saw in my life. He just looks it.
Well, law me. When I went down there to the Valley, the Rio Grande Valley to hold a revival meeting in the auditorium there in Harlingen for all of the Southern Rio Grande Valley, why, they had some of those football players to come down there and help me. And whom should I see walk out to give his testimony from the Lord but that guy, Maxie Baughan, from the Los Angeles Rams. Why, I nearly fell out of my seat.
What you all are doing up here saying things about me like you do, is nothing compared to what I have seen and heard in other places. You’d never guess it. You’d never in the earth think for that. That guy out there busting heads and going through all of that rough, all those fellows; why, it just makes me shiver just to think about what is happening out there, all that goings on. Yet standing down there, giving his testimony for Jesus, and one of the dearest, sweetest boys in this earth, and one of the finest Christians. The transforming power of the Lord, it’s an amazing thing. It’s an astonishing thing.
Why, I was over there in Lee Roy’s state where all the pollywogs, and crawdads, and web feets and all the rest of them over there live in the mud. I was over there where he came from, and I was speaking at a banquet. And I sat there, and on this side sat a former governor and on this side sat the governor. Why, God bless them. And the former governor, on this side led the singing. That’s how come him to know how to do it. That former governor was sitting on this side and he led the singing for the meeting. And the present governor on this side stood up and made one of the sweetest, finest Christian addresses you ever saw in your life.
Why, you just don’t look for that in those politicians. What you think about those politicians is they are always trying to get us to drink. They are always trying to make it easier for us to do it. It’s stuff like that you think out of the governor, yet those godly men standing up there; why, just an amazing thing, the transforming power of the Lord.
"I am come to send fire on the earth" [Luke 12:]; the transforming fire of Jesus. And it’s possible in any man’s life anywhere. The vilest sinner you ever saw in your life tomorrow may be God’s shiniest saint. I’ve seen some conversions here in this church that were startling and amazing; what God can do.
If we had another hour here we might testify what we’ve see God do in changing men’s lives, the transforming fire of the Lord. Well, our time is gone.
Well, Lee Roy, let’s sing us a song. And while we sing the song, somebody you give himself to Jesus; come. Come. Come. A couple you, "Preacher, we are coming together tonight." A family you, "Pastor, the whole lot of us, we are here tonight and here we come." Or just one somebody you, if God presses the appeal to your heart, if it’s of the Lord, if He bids you, come. Trust Him for the rest, for whatever it shall mean. Decide for Jesus now. Do it now. And in a moment when you stand up to sing, stand up coming. Down that stairway, down this aisle, "Here, pastor, is my hand. I’ve given my heart to God. How ever it shall mean, whatever struggle or war is involved, here I am. I am trusting God for it." Do it, and come. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.