THE HEART TO CARE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-16-69 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 The Heart to Care. The sermon this morning, the sermons these immediate Sundays that lie ahead, all of them will be dedicated to the greatest spiritual evangelistic appeal that any church ever made in Christendom. The tremendous Crusade of the Americas is coming to pass this spring. The continents of this Western hemisphere, the southern continent, the northern continent, all of our Baptist churches, thousands and thousands of them, are pouring their finest spiritual resources into an evangelistic campaign. Preparation for that is being extensively made throughout this hemisphere. In that preparation our church has largely entered, and we are in the very heart of it now. And when the springtime comes, there will be revival services, there will be extensive visitation, there will be great and mighty intercessory prayer. But such a thing to be blessed of God cannot be put off until the time for the actual meetings come: our preparation must be now. The warmth of heart and the dedication of spirit, the open soul to heaven that God might bless us, all must be offered unto the Lord now. So the sermon this morning and the sermons that immediately follow in these Sundays will be dedicated to that spiritual preparation.
The message this morning is based—it is very textual—the message this morning is based from the ninth, tenth, and the eleventh chapters of the Book of Romans; the first verses of each one of those chapters. I read the first verses of chapter 9:
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.
And the first verse of chapter 10: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1]. Some of these more ancient manuscripts will read it like this: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved.”
We shall speak first of this text, and we shall call it an agony of prayer: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1]. And to us who are Christian, to us who are accountable to God, this is our prayer today: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my people is, our nation, our own kindred, our city, our people, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1]. Some of the things that have developed in modern American life are spiritually overwhelming, and some of their repercussions touch the very heart and soul of our very existence. One: last year more than one million boys and girls entered careers of crime: violence, bloodshed, murder, rape, theft, robbery. Over a million boys and girls entered careers of crime in one year.
Last Christmas I received a card from a boy that grew up in this church, in our Sunday school, in these services, in one of our devout Christian homes. The letter came from a penitentiary; I published it in my column in the Reminder. The boy was making appeal to me to remember that in our work in the church, while we’re seeking those who are lost and outside this ministry, that we also remember the boys and girls who are struggling against terrific odds in our own congregation. The entrance of tears and grief and sorrow into the life of a family when one of our children goes wrong is indescribable. Yet in this last year, more than a million of our boys and girls entered careers of crime. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my own people is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1].
Again, something has happened to the social fabric of America. Look, look: the great corporations, the tremendous business enterprises of our nation have been indicted by the government time and again and have been brought to court and have been convicted of cheating and defrauding their own clients. Last week, this last few days, the Justice Department of the American government indicted, and they are now facing trial, some of the great brokerage firms and security houses of American financial life. These are companies and corporations and great business institutions that have volitionally, knowingly, plannedly, set down to cheat and to defraud their own clients. Such a development in the life of the American people is unbelievable and inexcusable.
It is not a preacher who said this, it is an experienced politician and I quote from him, “The lack of moral responsibility in American life is undermining the very foundation of our civilization.”
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is that they might be saved.” But as tragic as the disintegration of the life of our young people, our teenagers, that we see splattered across every daily newspaper, and as tragic as is the loss of moral accountability and responsibility of some of the great business corporate institutions of America, to me, the greatest tragedy is the secularization of our American life: cultural, social, educational, and of all things, religious. I am more sensitive, of course, to the secularization of the religious life of our people, maybe because I am a pastor, but I know that it carries with it ultimately and finally the very disintegration and destruction of our nation.
I could not give you a better illustration of that than something that happened here in Dallas a few months ago. There met here in our city the superstructural organization of the great, religious, ecumenical group that represents forty of our largest denominations in American life. And to that group they brought brilliant scholars, theologians, pulpiteers, denominational leaders. I did not attend any of the meetings, but I read of it in our daily newspapers. One of the brilliant professors who delivered addresses to that group said, and I quote, “God talk is meaningless. It’s not even an effective way to cuss.” Then the article goes on to say that this professor has tried creating another word, a fresh word for God: he calls it “Garfel.” And as the article continues, this is one of those theologians who says that God is dead. That’s not an infidel saying that, it’s not a dirty communist saying that, it’s not a bum out of the gutter saying that, it’s not a convict in a penitentiary who has violated all the rights of human life saying that; this is a brilliant professor in one of our theological seminaries who is teaching preachers how to preach! And he says, “God-talk is meaningless.”
All right, another great bishop—world famed, that they had here in Dallas—and he said that, “The Sunday school is dangerous,” and he continued, “There is grave doubt that any Sunday school anywhere is of any benefit.” Then the article continues, and he made it clear that he opposed the Sunday school that teaches the Bible. Now if a Sunday school were to teach pornography, I suppose that’d be all right. Or if a Sunday school were to preach violence, and bloodshed, and revolution, and riot, burning, destruction, that might be all right. But he opposes the Sunday school that teaches the Word of God.
Then a third religious leader that they had here in Dallas speaking to that great ecumenical body, this man is the secretary of the Texas Council of Churches. So he said in his address that his group here had made a study of the devotionals that are being held in seventy percent of Texas public schools. So he says, “We,” now this isn’t O’Hair—that atheistic, infidel, screwball, crackpot woman—this isn’t O’Hair, Madalyn Murray O’Hair. We are not talking about her. Nor are we talking about a communist. We’re talking about the head of the council of churches here in the state of Texas. He says, quote, “We may have to delete devotionals in public schools district by district, school by school, in the courts.” Now I have in my hand an editorial of the Dallas Morning News concerning that. And I read one paragraph out of that editorial. The Dallas News 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 is one of them!” As though one of the terrific lacks and needs and necessities in modern academic life is for a council of churches to stand up and to take our school boards to court, one by one and district by district, because they’re having devotionals in the school for the children. That is what has happened to the disintegration of the fabric of modern religion!
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1]. Teen life, young people life, business life, and even religious life: religion to me appears to be so secularized, so given to material values, until God Himself is read out of it; much less that we call men to repentance and faith, that they might know God in this world, and that they might be saved to heaven in the world that is to come. It’s a new day, it’s a new generation; never in the history of mankind was it ever seen that the enemies of religion should be the preachers of the faith itself.
In my humble judgment, all of the infidels in the world, all of the atheistic communists who’ve ever lived, and all of the attacks of the enemies of God since the creation of mankind have not done as much to hurt and to destroy religion as the liberal in the seminary and in the pulpits of the Christian church. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1].
Second: 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 were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Heaviness and burden of heart.
I read a book one time about a philosopher who lived in the first Christian century, and there is a scene in that book where he is seated in the Coliseum. And there among those tiers and tiers and rising tiers of spectators, he is watching a gladiatorial combat and the crimson stain on the sand on which they fight, down there in the heart of that gruesome arena. And in this book, that philosopher turns to his friend and says, “What is needed, what is needed is 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, when the Christian faith overwhelmed the civilized world, the Roman Coliseum fell into disuse and into ruins, and execution by crucifixion was forever outlawed, the most tragic, and hurtful, and painful of all the ways by which one man could execute another one. What is needed today is that same force that can put back in human hearts that same compassionate sympathy and love that was first preached by the emissaries of the gospel of the Son of God.
There is no doubt but that urban life, modern city life, is dehumanizing American people. About a week ago, after the prayer service on Wednesday night, there was shown a film here in this auditorium, and it was entitled, “I Don’t Want to Get Involved.” And that film began with a thing that all of us have read in the daily newspapers in New York City. There was a girl there, a girl in New York City, and in the presence of more than a score of watchers—witnesses—there was a young man who attacked her, to kill her. And when the girl screamed and cried, the attacker ran away. But when he saw that the witnesses who were looking at it were just bystanders, he came back and he killed that girl in the presence of those scores of witnesses.
A few days ago we read in our daily newspapers of a teenage boy in Kansas City who was fleeing from the bloodthirsty gang that was trying to kill him. And he ran out into one of the great thoroughfares of Kansas City, and pled with motorist, after motorist, after motorist, that he might be taken away. And that gang found him, overtook him, and slew him there, and he died in his own blood in the middle of the street in Kansas City, with motorists passing by, by the hundreds and the hundreds. There is a dehumanization of American heart and soul and life that is appalling. “Who cares? It is nothing to me; I don’t want to get involved.”
How different, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God…that they might be saved [Romans 10:1]. And I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart, for I could wish that I myself were accursed for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” [Romans 9:2-3]; the heart to care.
I buried a little girl, sweet, pretty little thing. And after, from the chapel pulpit, I had said all that I could say of comfort and encouragement, I came out of the pulpit and stood at the head of the casket. And the funeral director brought to the casket the father and the mother for a last look at that sweet but silent little face. And the mother fell down before the casket and began to say sweet and precious words of remembrance and bereavement and sorrow. And she cried and sobbed and said those words, words that would just tear your heart, tears that fell on your very soul. Standing by her side was her husband, the young father of that little girl. He made no gesture of sympathy. He said no word of understanding or consolation. Had he been made out of iron, had he been carved out of stone, he could not have been more untouched or unmoved. He stood there in a colossal, impenetrable indifference. And as I looked at him, and that sweet mother and wife down on her knees, and the silent form of that pretty little girl, I wanted to say to him, “Fella, couldn’t you just kneel by her side? Couldn’t you at least just put your arm around her shoulder? Or at least, couldn’t you just put your hand on her head? Just anything to show sympathy, understanding, compassion?” We buried that little thing in the ground and went away, and he showed no interest, no response whatsoever.
I have often thought, God does not demand of us answers; there are ten thousand areas in life where I don’t understand and I can’t explain. Nor does God require of us solutions. The perplexities of life are so often so complicated and ramified until I can’t see the way through. But God doesn’t expect of us that we know and understand, and God does not expect of us that we have answers and solutions. But I do think that God expects of us that we care, that it is a concern to our hearts how people suffer, and whether or not they are saved and lost, and whether or not there is a possibility that we might help and minister. The heart to care, “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” [Romans 9:1-3]; the heart to care.
And third: the spirit to try. First, the agony of prayer: “My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1]. Second, the heart to care: “I could wish that I were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” [Romans 9:3]. And last, the spirit to try. Now these first verses in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans: he speaks of Elijah, who was running away from the assignment of the Lord. Don’t you remember the Scripture where it spoke of Elijah? And how he said, “Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, and they have digged down Thine altars; and I only am left, and now they seek my life” [Romans 11:2-3].
We will not take time to review all of that story, but it is familiar to you. Elijah lived in a day of great apostasy. He lived in a day like ours, a day of great apostasy, of turning away from the true faith. And while he was in that conflict and confrontation with the forces of evil and darkness and paganism, Jezebel got after him [1 Kings 19:1-2]. And isn’t it a strange thing? He could face five hundred false prophets and win [1 Kings 18:19-40]; he could face Ahab and triumph [1 Kings 18:1-19]; but he quailed and turned to water and dust before Jezebel, and he ran for his life before the threats of that evil queen, and sitting under a juniper tree prayed that he might die [1 Kings 19:1-4]. He had done what he thought was all he could to uphold the name of God, and to deliver the message of the Lord, and to stand true to the faith, and now he quits. He’s done. He’s through, and he prays that he might die [1 Kings 19:4]. The Lord sustained him [1 Kings 19:5-7], and he went forty days and forty nights further into the wilderness and came finally to Horeb [1 Kings 19:8], that great mount of Sinai where God spoke to Moses [Exodus 31:18]. And the Lord said, “What are you doing here?” [1 Kings 19:9]. And Elijah said, “I’ve quit. I’ve resigned. I’ve laid this burden down. It’s too much. I have quit. They have digged down Thine altars, and they’ve slain Thy prophets, and there is nobody left but I” [1 Kings 19:10].
And the Lord said, “Elijah, you stand here. And the Lord went by in a great wind that tore the rocks asunder; and God was not in the wind. And the Lord passed by in a mighty earthquake; Lord was not in the earthquake. And the Lord went by in a roaring, raging fire, liquid lightning; God was not in the fire. And then the Lord spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice [1 Kings 19:11-12]. And Elijah buried his face in his mantle when he heard the voice of God. And the Lord repeated, “What you doing here, Elijah? [1 Kings 19:13]. What you doing here? Way down here in this desert, way out here in this solitude and wilderness, what you doing here, when My people need you and the great work of God calls for you? What you doing here?”
And Elijah said, “It is not any use. I quit! They have digged down Thine altars, they have murdered Thy prophets, and the whole people have turned into apostasy, and there is nobody left but I, I alone am left” [1 Kings 19:14].
And the Lord God said to Elijah, “Elijah, get up and go back; there is work to do for Me! You anoint Hazael king over Syria, and you anoint Jehu king over Israel, and you put your mantle on Elisha to carry on the work of the Lord after you are translated to heaven. Elijah, get up and go back; there is work to do” [1 Kings 19:15-17].
And then God added one more sentence: “Don’t you think, Elijah, you’re by yourself. Don’t you think that. Don’t you ever persuade yourself of that. I have prepared for Me seven thousand in Israel alone, who have not bowed the knee to Baal [1 Kings 19:18; Romans 11:4]. Now you get up, Elijah, and go back.” And Elijah went back in the strength and the power of the Lord to do God’s work in the earth [1 Kings 19:19].
We’re to be that way. I suppose it is a thousand times that some of us think, “Lord, I can’t see anybody that cares, really. And there’s nobody that’s really committed. And I seem to be sort of by myself in wanting to do God’s work, to see the lost saved, and to see a great turning heavenward, and a mighty outpouring in revival.” Don’t you think that? There never has been a time but that God had His own in the earth. Nor has there ever been a time in prophecy all through the years that are ever to come but that God describes that faithful band of saints whose faces are lifted up, who are heaven bound, who are expecting God’s glory someday to appear personally, visibly, actually, really in Jesus Christ [Luke 21:27]. You’re never by yourself. It will surprise you how many prayer partners you have, how many fellow warriors walk step with you, how many love Jesus in the faith; the spirit to try [Romans 10:1].
I have to close, I’m going to close. I have determined we’re going to present this appeal on television today, and I close with this: I do not think that in history any preacher of Jesus ever faced such a superfluage as the apostle Paul did. Oh, it was martyrdom for him, it was prison for him, it was dungeons for him, it was beatings for him, it was perils for him, it was everything [2 Corinthians 11:23-27]. And he faced a hostile and a pagan world, the idol makers opposed him, all of the authorities question him and usually by the courts themselves, he was placed, beat, placed in dungeons in stocks and chains, and, as I say, finally he was beheaded. But, how did he do? Ah, Lord, he spoke to the elders of Ephesus and said, “Watch, and remember, that by the space of three years” [Acts 20:31], that’s the entire course of his ministry at Ephesus:
That by the space of three years I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears [Acts 20:31],
publicly, and from house to house, testifying to the Jew, to the Greek, to everybody, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 20:20-21].
That’s what we’re to do—whether anybody responds or not, that’s between them and God. Whether anybody’s saved or not, that’s between them and heaven; whether anybody hears or not, listens or not, turns or not, that’s between them and God, but my assignment is to witness, to testify, to invite, to appeal with all of the burden of prayer that God will give me, with all of the sweetness of language and appeal by which I could make the invitation attractive, I am to do my best to point to Jesus. Look, look what He will mean to your family, think of that. What He will mean to your children, think of that.
Dr. Bagwell gave me a book this week about teenagers, and I read it. There had been an extensive study, an extensive study of thousands and thousands of teenagers across this nation, and they had computerized the results. And one of the most amazing things that I had already believed—but this scientifically confirms it—wherever there are children that are reared in Christian homes, academically, socially, personally, psychologically, business wise, economically, they are far better adjusted, do better in school, do better facing the problems and temptations and wrestlings of life. They are immersed in every area of life. Why man, you couldn’t do anything for your boy or your girl that begins to rival what you can do for the child if you’ll bring the youngster up in the love and admonition of Jesus [Ephesians 6:4]. Oh, in the best way we can to make appeal to our families to come to God, give your life to the Lord, learn to love Jesus, love the Book, love the church, love the services, and yourself, as we pray God will make us a fellow witness of the glory and goodness and grace of God in Christ Jesus [Ephesians 2:8; 1 Peter 3:15].
Well, we’ve got to sing our song. And while we sing this hymn of appeal, a family you, a couple you, a somebody you, coming down that aisle. “Here I am, preacher. I make it now.” In the balcony round the throng, there’s a stairway at the front and the back and on either side; and there’s time and to spare for you to come. Make the decision now, do it now. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. Do it now, come now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.