THE HEART TO CARE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-16-69 8:15 a.m.
On the radio, you who are sharing this service are doing so with the dear and praying people of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Heart to Care. The sermon today, next Sunday, these immediate Sundays that lie ahead, will all have one tremendous purpose: we are preparing for the greatest soul-winning appeal our church has ever attempted. We are dedicating the whole springtime to this evangelistic appeal. Not only are we dedicated to that evangelistic work, we are a part of the Crusade of the Americas; and the entire hemisphere, the western hemisphere, the continents of North and South America, all the nations and our Baptist churches in those nations, all of them, are involved in this Crusade of the Americas. Out of all of the churches that are involved, our church ought to set a pattern, we ought to shine the brightest, and the burden of this soul-winning appeal ought to weigh most heavily upon us. We ought to do in attempt in offering unto God our highest best, we ought to do the greatest work – and I believe we shall – of any of the churches in all of this Baptist world. So the sermon today, The Heart to Care; it is a message out of the life of the apostle Paul; and I read from the ninth, the first verses, of Romans, and the tenth of the Book of Romans. Chapter 9: Paul says,
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,
That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.
For I could wish that my own self were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Then chapter 10: "Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved." In these older manuscripts, you will have it written like this: "Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is that they might be saved." Just to read these passages is to open to public view and to our view the compassionate heart of the great apostle to the Gentiles for his own people: that they might be saved.
It is first an agony of prayer: "Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved." All of us have that same intercessory commitment and dedication to God as we look upon our people and our nation, our country. Last year, more than a million boys and girls entered careers of crime. This waywardness, this new morality that is so blatantly broadcast on the part of our youth of this generation, is so well known that there is hardly anyone but who speaks of it, discusses it, and of course for us who are older, who stand aghast before it. Last Christmas I received a Christmas card from one of the youngsters, a teenager in our church, and I published it in our Reminder. It was from a boy who all of his life had grown up in this congregation, in our Sunday school and in our church and in the activities program of our people. And the card, you remember, was mailed to me from the penitentiary. And the letter was an appeal to me to remember that in our own midst there were youngsters who especially, unusually, particularly, emphatically, significantly needed Christ. And when you think of that young man and a million more like him, who every year enter careers of crime, murder, rape, burglary, assault, theft, these things bring you to your knees. "Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved"; praying for our own.
Not only a burden of prayer for our youth, our young people, but something has happened to the very fabric of the life of America. It is astonishing to me at least to read that the great companies of America, the tremendous business institutions of America, the largest and finest that we have, will be indicted and brought to trial and convicted of fraud, conspiracy to cheat the public. Last week the justice department of the American government entered suits against some of the great security houses, brokerage houses of America, conspiring to defraud and to cheat their very clients. I can see how here’s a man who goes wrong, and there’s a man who violates the laws of God and government; but something has happened to the fabric of American life when great corporations and institutions, business houses, security firms, sit down and ingeniously, volitionally, plannedly give themselves to a defrauding of the people to whom they sell their goods and whom they serve. Something has happened to American life.
It is not a preacher; it is an experienced politician who said, "Lack of moral responsibility in American life is undermining the very foundation of our civilization." Don’t ever forget, after all a home, an institution, a business house is built upon character; not money, not fame, not fortune, but character.
Again, the agony of prayer for his own people, not only our youth, and not only the fabric of the life of the American people, but the astonishing, overwhelming secularization of our institutional life, our academic life, our social life, our personal life, our home life, our private life, and our religious life. The secularization, the leaving of all of the Christian values of God out of it, and the judging of worth, and value, and preciousness, and dearness, and wantingness, and desire, judging it all by material standards. And of course, to me, because I am a pastor, the greatest tragedy that has overwhelmed us in these developments of life as we have lived it is the secularization of the church and of the message of Christ of religious life.
It would be very difficult for me to describe the response in my own heart to a meeting here in Dallas several months ago of the great superstructure that represents forty of the great denominations of American religious life. And they had three speakers. I did not attend; I just read their addresses from the newspaper. One of them, quote: "God talk is meaningless; it’s not even an effective way to cuss." Then in the article, describing him, "This great theological professor, who teaches young men how to preach, he has tried creating another word, a fresh word for God. He calls it Garfel, and he says God, quote, ‘God is dead.’" That was one of the brilliant men who addressed this convocation in Dallas of that superstructure that represents forty great denominations in America.
All right, a second one: he is a world famed bishop speaking in Dallas, and he called the Sunday school, quote, "dangerous"; and he said, quote, "There is grave doubt that any Sunday school anywhere is of any benefit." Then the article: "He made it clear that he was opposed to Sunday schools that teach the Bible." These are the religious leaders of modern America. Then a third one: this man is the secretary of the Texas Council of Churches, and he said that a study of our public schools revealed that devotionals, devotionals are being held in seventy percent of public schools. Then he avowed, and I quote, "We may have to delete devotionals in public schools district by district, in court action." Then I have here the editorial of the Dallas Morning News. The editorial said, "There are problems aplenty in our man-made world that cry for the attention of Christians; but we can’t believe that devotionals in schools are one of them."
It is the professor of religion, and the preacher in the pulpit, and the denominational leader in the church that is attacking the Bible. The very concept of God, devotionals in schools, prayer, all that is a part of revealed religion; and what they substitute for it is a materialistic speculation and philosophy. "Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is that they might be saved."
Second: not only an agony of prayer, but the heart to care: "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself, my own soul, were accursed from Christ, were damned in hell for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" [Romans 9:1-3]; the burden of heart, that it is a matter, that it concerns. There is a book written about a philosopher in the Christian era, in that first Christian century, and in that book this philosopher is seated in the Coliseum, and he is watching the bloody, mortal gladiatorial combats on the sand there in the center of the Coliseum. And he turns to a friend, and he says, "What is needed is the creation of the heart that would make it impossible to look upon such bloodshed, and the future would belong to that force that could create such a heart." And as you know, the day came when the Christian faith, the compassion of Christ, so overwhelmed like a flood the civilized world, that the Coliseum fell into disuse and into ruins; and the execution of criminals by crucifixion, the most terrible way of suffering that man has ever inflicted upon another man, was forever abolished. We need that in our day and in our generation.
City life, urban life, has dehumanized our people. In this auditorium, about a week ago, there was shown after our prayer service, there was shown a film by our Broadman Press, our Baptist press, there was shown a film, "I Don’t Want to Get Involved." And the film began with an incident that all of us read in the papers: the murder of a girl in New York City when more than a score of people watched her death. She was a girl, a young woman, who cried in agony, screamed in fear, as her attacker sought to kill her. And when she screamed and all the people were looking, the attacker fled away. But when he saw that they were just on-lookers, he came back, and before their very eyes, he slew her, and she died in her own blood. That was the beginning of that film, "I Do Not Want to Get Involved." And then more recently, all of us read of the teenager who ran into the thoroughfare of Kansas City, seeking someone to take him away. He was fleeing from a gang. And car, after car, after car, after car refused; and there on the public street, in a thoroughfare in Kansas City, the gang shot that boy down, and he died in his own blood. These are not unique; they are not unusual; this is modern America. "It is no affair of mine. It is no concern to me."
When I take that spirit that is arising and growing and proliferating in America and apply it to the Christian faith, dear me, dear me, there is a callousness and an unconcernedness in religious life overwhelming our people that makes intercession and soulwinning impossible. "What does it matter to me? What is it of any concern to me? Why should I burden myself, why?"
I held a funeral service for a little girl, a little child, a little girl. And after I had done my best with God’s Word, and in prayer and in word to comfort, I came down out of the chapel pulpit and stood by the side of the little casket, while the funeral director brought to the silent form of that little child, the father and the mother. And as I stood there at the head of the casket, the mother knelt down and looked on the face of that darling little child, and began to weep, and to lament, and to speak words of love and endearment and bereavement, oh those things just tear my heart. And as she knelt there in front of the casket and wept and sobbed in a way that broke your heart, her young husband stood there like an image. Had he been made out of copper or out of iron, had he been carved out of stone, he could not have stood there more indifferent. I wanted to say to him, "Sir, could you not just kneel by your wife? Could you not just put your arms around her? Could you not just say a word? Could you not just put your hand on her shoulder?"
The service was over, and we buried the little thing in the ground. No mark or gesture of concern on his face or in his words; I cannot understand.
God does not require of us answers; there are ten thousand things I can’t answer, I meet them everyday. I don’t have answers in many areas in our lives. I do not have answers in many areas in death, or in grief, or in sorrow, or in illness. God does not ask of us answers. Nor does God ask of us solutions. There are so many problems inexplicable, insoluble for us. God does not ask of us solutions. But God does ask of us that we care, that it is a concern to us, that it moves our hearts. The Lord moved with compassion is His enduring name [Mark 1:41]. "Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved,I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I could wish that I were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" [Romans 10:1; 9:1].
Third: the spirit to try, the spirit to try; in the eleventh chapter, these first verses: "Do you not remember what the Scriptures saith of Elijah, when he said, Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, and digged down Thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. Now Lord, let me die. I am no better than my fathers." We haven’t time to follow that pertinent story that is so apropos to our own lives. "Lord, I don’t believe anybody cares. Lord, it seems that I stand alone, the whole world has blinded itself to Thy grace and glory." And so Elijah, running away from his task and his assignment, asked for himself, that he might die [1 Kings 19:4]. And do you remember the end of the story? The Lord spoke to him, and sent him back, and said to him, "You are to anoint Hazael king over Syria. And you are to anoint Jehu king over Israel. And you are to lay your mantel upon Elisha to carry on the work after you are translated to heaven [1 Kings 19:15-16]. Now Elijah, what you doing here? Get back and into this assignment and task that I have given you as a prophet of God." Then He said to him, "You say to Me you are by yourself. I have reserved for Me seven thousand in Israel alone who have not bowed the knee to Baal" [1 Kings 19:18]. You’re never by yourself in the work of the Lord. It may look as if the whole earth has turned material or atheist or indifferent; that’s never true. When the Lord comes again, when Jesus descends from heaven in glory, when God in Christ appears, He is going to find a band of saints in this earth whose faces are turned upward, whose hearts are filled with expectancy, who are faithful unto death.
So the Lord says to Elijah, "Get back, Elijah, get back. There is work to do." And that is the spirit of the apostle Paul. Oh, the world in which the Christian faith was launched! If we had hours, it wouldn’t suffice to describe the darkness of that world: heathenism, paganism, idolatry, indescribable immorality and violence and bloodshed. But Paul, as in the great city of Ephesus, "Remember and watch that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day, with tears, publicly and from house to house, testifying to the Jews and to the Greeks, to everybody, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:20, 21, 31]. God is not pleased with us when we lay down our task, when we quit our work, when in discouragement we cease to witness and to testify, to speak. God is pleased when we rise out of our disconsolation and our discouragement, assume these mandates, and responsibilities, and tasks, and assignments God hath given to us.
So my dear people, let’s rise and do it. If nobody’s saved, that’s in His prerogative. We don’t save; the Spirit of God saves. We cannot convict of sin, we cannot regenerate the heart; that is the prerogative of God. Our task and assignment is to witness, to testify, to invite, to point to the Lamb of God. Let’s do it. And we’ll leave the harvest to Him.
All of us are familiar with the life of John Wesley. He was not allowed to preach in any pulpit in the Church of England. The whole church, without exception, the whole Anglican Church, the Church of England, refused him entrance into their pulpits. And John Wesley said, "Then the world is my parish." And in the commons, and on the streets, and on the riverbanks, and wherever men would listen, John Wesley testified to the grace of the Son of God. It is not that we ask that God make things easy for us, we follow in a trail stained with blood and hardship and suffering.
Set us afire, Lord,
Stir us, we pray!
While the world perishes
We go our way,
Day after day.
Set us afire, Lord,
Stir us, we pray!
[Ralph Spaulding Cushman]
This is our commitment as a people and as a church, and may that stream run deep into which we pour out our lives in compassionate love for the lost of our people and for the ministry to which God hath called us in Christ Jesus.
Now we must sing our hymn of appeal. A family you to respond, a couple you, or one somebody you, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, down one of these stairways, into the aisle and to the front, "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." Make the decision in your heart now, do it now, this moment. Then when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. Do it now. God bless you in that decision now, while we stand and while we sing.