February 16th, 1969 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-16-69 7:30 p.m.
Well, believe it or not, on the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And we are praising God, we are loving the Lord, we are preaching His Word. And tonight it is going to be on something that is dear to the heart of any saint: how to get a hold of heaven, how to bow down God’s ear to hear you when you pray. The title of the sermon is Importunate Prayer, and this is the preacher delivering it, the pastor of the church in the First Church here in Dallas, out of the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Luke. Now if you would like to turn to the place and follow, you can, because we are going to read out loud together the first eight verses. Luke chapter 18, the first eight verses, and as we read it, you will easily see how it lies as a wonderful background for the subject delivered tonight, Importunate Prayer. Luke chapter 18, the first 8 verses, now all of us reading out loud together:
And He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.
And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them?
I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?
Now the Lord is always surprising; and not the least of the surprises that we find in our Lord are these illustrations that He uses. He just overwhelms us by the illustrations that He will use in illustrating some tremendous spiritual fact. For example, I could not think of anything more common than barnyard chickens. If you grew up in a country on the farm or in a little town, you know what that is, barnyard chickens. And yet the Lord, when He would illustrate the providential care of God to those who would respond to His overtures of grace and mercy, He will illustrate it by using a hen: and when a hawk flies over or some unaccounted sound is heard, they all run to the mama hen and get under her feathers, under her wings. I’ve seen old hens spread out, trying to cover all those chickens. And I could never think of anything more quietly, soothingly blessed than to hear the “peep-peep, peep-peep, peep-peep” out of those chickens. Well, that’s what they are; that’s what the Lord uses.
Now this one here is a humdinger. I just cannot imagine the Lord using an illustration like this; but as we go along in the sermon, you’re going to see how apropos it is because He is putting side by side a comparison between somebody here in the earth who is as wretched and as vile and as ungodly as he could be, and He compares him with our Father who is in heaven. Well, this is the story that He tells. There is a judge, there was a judge, and this judge was anything but a man given to righteous judgment. He was a piece of proud flesh; he was a deaf, dumb adder. He was an ungodly charlatan. He did dishonor to his office and dishonor to his appointment to that judgeship. Now that was the kind of a man that he was. And that’s not peculiar, for in that Oriental day—and I presume somewhat to this day—you will find judges like that.
For example, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah, in speaking of the Lord, the great prophet says, “He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears” [Isaiah 11:3]. What he meant by that, there were judges, and they’d be there behind the bar and seated on the bench, and as they continued in the trial, why, he’d catch the eye of some man of political or financial importance, then he wouldn’t render a verdict except according to the eye of that man. Either that man threatened him by looking at him, or that man winking at him that such and such is to be delivered in verdict. But the Lord will not be that way: He will not judge after somebody’s winking of an eye or somebody’s looking at Him with a sign. “Neither will He reprove after the hearing of His ears” [Isaiah 11:3]; that was referring to those judges, who up there trying or seeking or supposing to dispense justice, somebody will come up to him and whisper in his ear and say things to him, either threatening or bribery, that would unbalance the scales of justice.
Well, this rascal was both: he was full of affinities for bribes, and he judged by the looks of those who might be able to recompense what he, the verdict that he delivered. He was a rascal. And Jesus describes him as a man that feared not God, nor regarded man [Luke 18:2]; just about as lowdown a critter as you could find in the city or in the country.
Now, there’s another thing that He says: There was a widow in that city: and she was oppressed by somebody who was wronging her [Luke 18:3]. And that is a most descriptive life of the widow in all of these pagan countries and in ancient days. No one had as difficult a time as a widow. When Carey went to India, they burned her when her husband died. If he was a young fellow and she was young, that was the practice in India: when they built the fire, the funeral fire, in which they placed the husband, they put the widow also, and she was burned up with him, just one way to get rid of her. When I was in India, I visited in the home of a widow, a Baptist widow. And I listened all over again to the sorrows that afflict a widow in India today. She has no rights, she has no open doors, she is to live a certain kind of a life, and it is one of poverty and penury and want and misery, without hope, without any light or encouragement. It is a tragic thing. Well, this widow not only fell into that sorrowful life, but she had somebody who was oppressing her. The Lord doesn’t go into detail, but there was someone who was doing her wrong, oppressing her; and she came to the judge about it [Luke 18:3]. And that judge would pay no attention to her at all, not any relief, not any hope in him.
Now that part of the story could be duplicated ten thousand times in the ancient world and in the pagan world today. But the rest of this story is unique. That woman, that widow, when she came to this rascal of a judge, and could find no hope of justice or judgment in him, she did not give up: she met him at the door of the courtroom and spoke to him; she waylaid him on the way home and spoke to him. When he got up in the morning, when he laid down at night, when he went out walking, when he sat down for the meals, when he went to his courtroom, wherever he was, there was that woman. And finally he said, “I don’t know what this critter may do.” He uses a word here that is translated very innocuously in the King James Version. He says, “Now I do not regard God, and I do not regard man; but because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her of her adversary, lest by her continual coming she,” and you have it translated “lest she weary me” [Luke 18:4-5]. Well, that’s about the most innocent kind of a way to translate that word I ever saw. The Greek word is hupopiaze, “Lest she hit me under the eye, lest she blacken my eye; why, the critter can scratch,” he said, “she can fight, she can claw, she can hit me with her fist. I don’t know what this woman might do.” The Lord is bringing out the grotesqueness of that situation.
So he says, “Though I care nothing for justice, and though I care nothing for man, and I don’t even regard God, yet because this woman is everlastingly at me, and pestering me, and talking to me, and she may bounce me, and hit me, and I don’t know what she may do, I’m going to avenge her of her adversary.” Now, the Lord says, “I want you to look at that woman. She has no clever lawyers, not one. She has no wealth; she’s a poor widow. And she has nobody to defend her case in court. But she got what she wanted, even from a rascal of a judge, because of her importunity.” That’s the illustration He uses.
Now look how the Lord applies it. “If that woman because of her importunity, got what she pled for from a rascal of a judge,” then the Lord sits by the side of that judge, the great Judge of all the earth, “If she by her ceaseless, unwearying importunity got what she wanted, how much more will the saints of the Lord receive from God’s hands what they want, if they will just stay with the Lord pleading their case?” [Luke 18:6-7]. So He puts the two side by side, an unjust judge and our heavenly Father; and this poor widow and we who are God’s children today. And how much more will He, the Judge of all the earth who does right, who lives in a habitation of justice and truth, before whom love and mercy and righteousness always precede, how much more will He do for us what we ask, if we just stay with the Lord and plead with the Lord? [Luke 18:7-8].
Now, I submit to you that is about as hard an assignment that a Christian ever faces: how do you endure the unendurable? And how do you consistently persist in an appeal that is denied and seemingly is never answered? But God teaches us that we are not to cease, we’re not to stop, we’re not to be discouraged. “He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint” [Luke 18:1], not to give up, not to fall by the wayside. We’re always to pray and not to faint. And life is like that. First there is the seed sown, then the blade, then the ear of corn; there is first the ten thousand seeds sown by the plowman and ten thousand steps he takes before there is a harvest. And before there is power in the dam, there has to be backed up and backed up and backed up those millions and millions of tons of water pressure, before it can turn any wheel of power. We are taught that truth by the example of the people of the Lord.
Abraham was a hundred years old, and his wife Sarah was [ninety] years old, and they had no child [Genesis 17:16-17]. Yet God said, “Out of thy loins, out of thy body shall he be born, who shall be the heir of all of the blessings that I promise to mankind through the Savior of the earth” [Genesis 15:4]. And Abraham was a hundred years old, and Sarah was ninety years old; and there was no fulfillment of that promise. And when Abraham complained to God about it, and said, “We are getting old; we are like dry sticks. There is no life, there is no birth. Yet You say out of our loins is he to be born who shall be the inheritor of all of these promises that shall bless the earth.” And the Lord God took Abraham out under the chalice of the sky, and said, “Abraham, count those stars for Me, just count them” [Genesis 15:5]. Thousands and thousands and thousands of them shining up there in God’s blue heaven. Abraham said, “Lord, I cannot count those stars; they are too many for me.” And the Lord said, “So shall it be with thy children that I will multiply out of this land, born out of thy loins.” Then the Bible says one of the greatest verses in the Book: “And Abraham believed God; and the Lord accounted it to him for righteousness” [Genesis 15:6]. And Paul, in speaking of it in the Book of Romans, says, “And he staggered not at the promise of God” [Romans 4:20].
I don’t care what problem you face, there never will be one in your life as apparently impossible a fulfillment as when Abraham was a hundred years old and Sarah was ninety years old, and God says, “Out of your loins,” when they were dead, “out of your loins will he be born, who will bless the families of the earth” [Genesis 15:4], importunate prayer, believe in God, staying with the Lord [Luke 18:1].
I haven’t time to pursue that. It is just God does not honor perfunctory praying, at the fag end of a day. The kind of a praying that most of us do is almost like an insult to the Lord. In real prayer, there is—like the figure of the Old Testament—there is clinging to the horns of the altar [1 Kings 1:51]; or like the story of Jacob at Peniel, “Lord, I will not let You go till You bless me” [Genesis 32:26], praying, agonizing, all night long. That is the kind of prayer the Lord is speaking of here in this parable, when He says, “Men [ought] always to pray, and not to faint” [Luke 18:1].
Now, I want to exegete a minute. Looking at the passage, this belongs—I wish we were around a table, and we could look at it—this is a passage from there to there; it’s in a context, it’s just not something stuck off out here by itself even though you have a chapter heading there. It starts with a question, the passage does, and it ends with a question. And the question was this: “And when He was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, He answered them and said” [Luke 17:20-21]. Then you have His apocalyptic discourse here [Luke 17:22-18:8]. They were asking Him, as we learn in the apocalyptic discourse in Matthew and in Mark [Matthew 24; Mark 13], and they were asking Him, “Now when are these things going to come to pass? When will be the end of this world, the consummation of this age, the denouement of time and history? And when are You coming back to earth again, and when shall all of these prophecies be fulfilled that are written in that blessed Book? Now when?”[Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:4]. So the Lord delivers this apocalyptic discourse [Matthew 24:4-51; Mark 13:5-37; Luke 17:22-18:1], and He closes it with this word that we’re preaching about tonight. And He is talking about staying with the Lord and believing the Lord in spite of insuperable contradictions and interdictions and interventions [Luke 18:1-7]. So He closes it when He says, “Verily I say unto you, truly I say unto you, verily, when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” [Luke 18:8].
Now, what the Lord is talking about here, the long delay in His coming brings discouragement to God’s people. “Will He ever come? Will He?” Think of the generations that have looked for Him, and they’ve died. Think of the people I have buried here in this church who believed in their deepest hearts that they were going to live to see Jesus come again, God bless them. Now you look at our world, you look at our world. Does it move heavenward? Is it increasingly spiritual, godly, expectant? It’s just the opposite: our world is increasingly pagan and rapidly increasingly so now.
For example, beside the inroads of communism and blasphemous atheism and apostasy; beside these things that we are so familiar with, you look at this a moment: our Foreign Mission Board—and we have more missionaries than any other denomination in the earth. Our Foreign Mission Board last year baptized, won and baptized less than sixty thousand in the whole earth, in the whole earth. At the same time, at the same time that our Foreign Mission Board, with all of its efforts and all of its missionaries, baptized less than sixty thousand, there were sixty-five million and more born into the world last year. Now, I don’t have the mathematical genius to geometrically progress that out to its ultimate, but our minds can imagine it. You multiply sixty thousand, and the next year what that sixty thousand might mean, and in the following year what that sixty-five thousand might mean, and do that for a few years. Then you go on the other side, and you mathematically, geometrically—not arithmetical ratio, because we double, double, double, it’s two, four, six, eight, sixteen—you take a slide rule and mathematically follow that progression out. Sixty-five million and sixty-five million, and that million million, and that million million, and I don’t need to point out to you but that in a few generations, you have the Christian faith an infinitesimal minority in the vast billions that inhabit this earth; that, I say, beside the colossal discouragements that face God’s saints who live in this present generation.
Now that’s what the Lord is referring to in this passage: “Nevertheless when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith in the earth?” [Luke 18:8]. Will it have died out? Will men have given up? It is so long, it is so long, and we’ve waited, and we’ve prayed, and we’ve expected, and God doesn’t intervene, Jesus doesn’t come [2 Peter 3:4]; and these die and are buried, and we apparently are expecting death, and the Lord hasn’t come. Will it be, could it be, are we mistaken in it, in the promise of God? Did the Lord not know Himself? What of the coming of Jesus?
Well, another thing I need not remind you, practically all of Christendom has given it up, has given it up: they don’t look for Jesus. They’re not looking for the personal coming of our Lord from heaven and the intervention of Christ in human history; they have given it up. And that’s what the Lord is saying: in this long period of time, “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith in the earth?” [Luke 18:8]. Will there be those still loving, and watching, and waiting, and expecting, and believing? Will there be? By God’s grace, and according to the revelation in the Book, there will be; there will be. But I think the truth of the Book in another way: they will not be many. They will not be many. Most of them shall have given it up. “A hundred years old and ninety years old, even God couldn’t do that” [Genesis 17:17]; and they’ve given up the promise.
Well, what of us? What of us? Dear sweet and precious friends in Jesus, oh how the Bible would encourage us to stay with the Lord and to believe the promises of God; whatever the vicissitudes and fortunes of life and however the turn or course of history, we still look to Jesus. If I had an hour, we’d go over here to the Book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk lived in a tragic time: he lived in the face of the Babylonian captivity. And as he saw the hordes of those Chaldeans pouring toward Palestine and Judea and Jerusalem, and the holy temple of God, he said, “Lord, I do not understand. Thou art of purer eyes than to look upon evil; and yet these come, uncircumcised, blaspheming pagans to destroy Thy temple, and take away Thy people. Lord, how is it, and how could it be” [Habakkuk 1:13]? And the Lord replys, “You write the vision, make it plain, that even the man that runs can read it” [Habakkuk 2:2]. Then His answer closes, “For the just shall live by his faith” [Habakkuk 2:4]. That’s a great text of the Book of Romans, “For the just shall live by his faith” [Romans 1:17].
No matter what the course of history, or what the developments in life, or how dark or foreboding the outlook, God’s people are to live by the promises of the Lord. “The just shall live by faith” [Romans 1:17]. And some day, some glorious day, it says over here in the Book of the Revelation, “Behold, I come quickly,” that’s in the third chapter [Revelation 3:11]. And when I turn to the last chapter, He will repeat that three times, “Behold, I come en tachei” [Revelation 22:7]. And again, “Behold, I come en tachei” [Revelation 22:12]. And then last, “He which testifieth these things, saith, Surely, surely, I come en tachei” [Revelation 22:20]. Now there are two ways you could say that, translate that. One is that He is coming right then, right then. But the other is that when the day comes, when the hour strikes and when Jesus returns, these things that are prophesied in the Bible are going to come to pass immediately, quickly, speedily, one after another. When the final time does come, it will come immediately and quickly.
And by the learning of two thousand years of Christian history, I know that that’s what tachu means: that when this day comes, when the final hour comes, that these things that are prophesied in this Book are coming to pass rapidly, speedily, one right after another. And when I look at time, and tide, and life, and experience, and history, all of it is that way, all of it. Look for just a moment. The children of Israel stayed slaves in bondage in Egypt four hundred years [Genesis 15:13; Exodus 12:40]. But when they were delivered, they were delivered in one night, one night! God took them out in one night [Exodus 14:30]. In the Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah sent them word and said, “The captivity is going to be a long time, it’s going to be a long time. Now you plant vineyards, you build houses, and you rear your children in that land, far away land, a heathen land” [Jeremiah 29:4-6]. And that’s why it says that they hung their harps upon the willows, and they sat down by the rivers of Babylon, and wept [Psalm 137:1-2]. Their eyes would never see a home, never. They would die, and their bones would be left in that land. Jeremiah the prophet told them so. But when they were delivered, how were they delivered? In one night, in one night. When Belshazzar the king of Babylon was drinking and feasting in a wild orgy, God wrote his doom on the plaster of the wall of the palace; and he was slain that night! [Daniel 5:1-30]. And the next day, [Darius] was crowned king of the civilized world [Daniel 5:31]. And Cyrus sent the captives back home, in one night, in one night [Ezra 1:3].
He to whom a thousand years is as a day, a thousand years is as a day [2 Peter 3:8], to Him the time is brief; it passes so rapidly. To us it is long and wearisome. Will it ever come? Will we ever see His face? Are these who die in the Lord, are they dead forever? Is this the end of Christian life, a grave, and a funeral service, and a benediction, and ashes to ashes, and dust to dust, and then nothing beyond? Is that it? No! The Lord God in heaven marks the place, and the Lord God in glory writes it in His book; our names are up there [Luke 10:20], and He knows us [John 10:3]. And some day, some triumphant and heavenly and glorious and resurrection day, the Lord shall come; and these things that He has promised in the blessed Book will happen immediately. “In the twinkling of an eye, in the length of the sounding of a trumpet” [1 Corinthians 15:50-53], just like that, just like that. And He may be long in His coming, as the Lord speaks of here in the passage, but when He comes, may He find us faithful, watching, waiting, ready, loving, adoring, praising [Titus 2:13].
And you know what I think will absolutely be true? When the Lord comes and the victory is ours, we’re going to say to one another, “Why did we ever doubt it? Why did we grow discouraged? We knew the Lord was faithful and would keep His word.”
Oh, bless us, as we cling to the horns of the altar [1 Kings 1:51], as we pray importunately [Luke 18:1], as we treasure the promise in our hearts, as we keep the faith! [James 1:6].
Now Lee Roy, we must sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, you to give yourself, all of you, your heart, your soul, your mind, your life, to give your whole self to the blessed Jesus, you come and stand by me. A family you to put your life in the fellowship of our dear church, you come. Or a couple you, as the Spirit shall speak the word to your heart, shall make the appeal, come, decide now, do it now. And on the first note of the first stanza, stand up coming. God be with you in the way as you respond, while we stand and while we sing.