THE SEEKING NOTE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-23-69 7:30 p.m.
You who share the service on the radio, turn with us in your Bible to Luke, the Third Gospel, the Gospel According to Luke, and we shall read the first ten verses, and the tenth verse is our text. The title of the message is The Seeking Note, and this is the pastor bringing the message. You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Turn to Luke chapter 19. I did not tell you the chapter, Luke chapter 19, the first ten verses, and the text is verse 10. Now all of us reading it out loud together, Luke chapter 19, the first ten verses:
And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.
And, behold, there was a man named Zaccheus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.
And he sought to see Jesus who He was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.
And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him: for He was to pass that way.
And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zaccheus, make haste, and come down; for today I must stay at thy house.
And he made haste, and came down, and received Him joyfully.
And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That He was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.
And Zaccheus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.
And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Maybe next Sunday night I shall preach on the passage itself, the story of Zaccheus and the salvation that came in Jesus to his house. But tonight I want to preach from the text a subject message, “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10]. And the title of the message is The Seeking Note. And by that title I refer to the feeling of a tugging and a pulling that you have in a service that I think has God in it. I am referring to an overtone in the message of the preacher that you can’t help but feel if he has it in his soul; the seeking note.
In a theological class in homiletics, in the study of young preachers how to preach, there was a very dedicated and astute professor, a homiletician. And upon a day he did an unusual thing. He had all of his young men to turn to the third chapter of the Book of Genesis and read it. And as he listened to them, they followed through in the Book of Genesis the story of the fall of Adam and Eve [Genesis 3:1-6], and the voice of the Lord God heard as He walked in the garden in the cool of the day. And He could not find the couple that He had made for love and fellowship and companionship, for they hid themselves in the garden. They were ashamed [Genesis 3:8].
And then that verse, “And the Lord God called unto Adam, saying ‘Where art thou? Adam, where art thou?’” [Genesis 3:9]. And as the young men read it, why, some of them read it as though the question were curiosity, “Where are you?” And others read it indifferent, “Where are you.” And others read it rhetorically and in other ways. But one of the young men read that verse with pathos and with agony of heart. “Adam, Adam, where art thou?” And when he did, the theological professor turned to the young man and said, “Young man, you, you will be a great soulwinner and a wonderful evangelist.” And his prophecy proved true. The young man became a great soulwinner and a marvelous evangelist. Now that’s what I am talking about. I’m talking about the seeking note in the services of God, in the church and in the hearts of the people.
First, I want to speak of the church. I made a trip one time some years ago to New York City, and I went for just one purpose. I wanted to hear some of the world-famed preachers who at that time were pastors of churches in our greatest American metropolis.
Now this particular preacher was the president of the then—called Federal Council of Churches, a world-famed minister and author and the pastor of a church and, as I say, the head of that great ecumenical movement. So, I went to church there. I looked around me and I counted about sixty-three people who were present. Well, that astonished me. Then as I sat there in the service, I saw him come in, dressed in his robes and all his clerical garb; and he read a prayer, and then he read a little message of indifference. It didn’t matter what he said; he didn’t have anything to say to begin with, didn’t have anything to say or end with. Whether he said it or didn’t say it, wouldn’t matter at all. He read his little message. Then when he got through reading his little message, he read his benedictory prayer and went out just like that. I wanted to shake hands with the critter, if nothing else, just to say that I’d shaken hands with him. You never got a chance even to speak to him.
And that was the church service. Now that man was pastor in the heart of an island, Manhattan, of over three million people. And of those three million people, I would say two million nine hundred thousand of them don’t know the Lord. They are lost! And he’s a God-called preacher, he says, and he’s pastor of that world-famed church—he was. And in the service he reads a little prayer, he reads a little sermonette, and he reads a benediction and he dashes out. That is what I saw, and that’s what I heard.
Now, about the same time I went to another church in another city. The man who was the preacher was a gifted man, a glorious man. But he wasn’t saved until he was about thirty years of age. And he was too old for all the years of theological training. I went to school twenty-two consecutive years, every year, year after year for twenty-two years. He wasn’t converted until he was thirty years of age and then in his early thirties was called of God to preach and answered that call; never pastored but one church in his life, that church. And I went to the service.
Now the sermon that he preached was not scholarly, nor was it learned, nor was it academic; it doesn’t need to be. I never have the feeling, when I read a sermon of the Lord Jesus, that He is an academician or that He is a university graduate or that He is trying to parade His wisdom, yet He knew everything in heaven and in earth. But you would never know that by a false, pseudo-ostentatious delivery.
Nor would you get that impression from Peter and from John, for when the people heard them preach and they were brought before the Sanhedrin, the Sanhedrin of course, was learned in rabbinical law and Talmudic scholarship; and they looked at those men. Remember about a week ago, preaching at this time? They were agrammatoi kai idiōtai; they looked at them, they were agrammatoi, they were “unlearned,” agrammatoi. They were not grammarians. They were not men of the school; kai idiōtai, they were private men [Acts 4:13], they were not professional men. They were not professional preachers.
That man was like that. And I sat there in the congregation, and every note in that man’s voice, and every chord that he sounded, I had the tug and the feeling in my soul; and when he gave the invitation, I don’t know how many people went down that aisle. And I stood there during the invitation hymn and the tears just fell off my face, just moved by the Spirit of God; that’s what I am talking about, the seeking note. You can feel it in a service when you walk in the church house. There’s something there if God is there. And if God is there, this is what God is like: “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10].
Now I want to speak of us. Not only in the services, but in us there are a lot of reasons why people come to church. Some people come to church for respectability sake. You’re not a heathen. You’re not a Mohammedan. You’re not an infidel; you are a respectable American, so you go to church. In the years of the upbringing of many of us our fathers and mothers and our forefathers went to church, and we’re decent and respectable people, and we go to church. Some people go to church for reasons of respectability.
Some people go to church for social reasons. It gives them an opportunity, especially at Easter time, to dress up. My spouse said to me one day last week, “You’ve got to take little Cris, you’ve got to take him down to the men’s store, and you’ve got to dress him up for Easter.” Well, I don’t know why in the world he has to dress up for Easter. Why doesn’t he have to dress up for today? No, we’ve got to dress him up for Easter. Well, we’re all kind of like that. We just like to dress up, and when Easter comes it gives us a grand reason to dress up. We’re going to church. It is Easter and I’m going to have a new suit, and I’m going to have a new tie, and when you come here to church Easter, you’re going to see my new suit and you’re going to see my new tie, brand new. It’s Easter! Yes sir, and you are going to have so many people here at both services Sunday you can’t get in this auditorium. We’re going to parade down here for Easter, and we’re going to show all of our finery. I don’t have anything against that; I do it myself. So I’m not objecting, except to the bills. We go to church and we dress up and that’s fine. And we go to church for friendship reasons. There are just lots of reasons we go to church.
But the main basic and fundamental reason for going to church is this: “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10]. Lord Jesus, this whole week we’ve testified, and we’ve visited, and we’ve prayed, and we’ve read God’s Book. And we’ve invited and encouraged, and now, Master, we’re here in the presence of God, reading the Lord’s Word and making appeal in the name of Jesus. And Master, bless it, bless it. When the preacher raises his hand and extends the invitation, God honor the Word and our testimony for the week with souls. And grant it, Lord; make it a wonderful hour and a glorious service with a harvest of souls.
When I came out of the baptismal pool tonight, we baptized about ten or twelve tonight, all together with what our missions have baptized. When I came out of the pool, one of the men was standing there in the hallway and he shook my hand and he said, “Pastor, the service this morning was a glory, wasn’t it?” I said, “It was that.” I just got so full this morning, I do most every hour and service, but this morning my heart just nearly broke. I just overflowed, my cup filled and running over. Why, why, bless you, there were decisions made this morning, and there was consecration of life this morning, and there was dedication of home this morning; that is more meaningful than I dare portray here publicly in this pulpit. There were families put together this morning. There were homes that were saved this morning, and there were children that were nigh to being orphaned who shall be brought up in the love and nurture and admonition of the Lord this morning. That’s glory. That’s heaven. And that’s the great purpose.
I’m not saying these other things for why we come to church are not fine things, they are—for friendship, to meet together for sociability’s sake, to be nice, to be respectable—all of these things are fine. I have no judgment in them at all. But I’m just saying that down underneath, fundamental and deep, there ought to be a mighty purpose. We are giving our lives, our energies, our love, our devotion, our testimony, our witness; we are giving it all to Jesus. And may the Lord honor it by saving souls through us.
This is a melodramatic story and whether the thing could ever have happened or not, I don’t know. But one of our wonderful preachers who is now in glory, one of our wonderful preachers at a convention told, right after the Second World War, he told about a soldier boy, an American boy, who had been grievously hurt and wounded and was brought back on a ship to America. And his old mother met him at the dockside. And when the boy was taken off the ship and down the gangplank and came to the pier, he was in a wheelchair and his old mother saw him and ran up to him and said, “Son, stand up. Stand up, son, and greet your old mother.”
And the boy replied, “Mother, I can’t stand. My feet are gone.”
And she knelt down by the wheelchair and said, “Then, son, just put your arms around your old mother.”
And the boy replied, “I can’t, Mother. My arms are gone.”
And the mother said, “Then, son, just look into the face of your old mother and say you are glad to be home.”
And the boy replied, “I can’t see you, Mother. My eyes are gone.”
And the mother cried, “Oh son, you have lost your feet, and you’ve lost your arms, and you’ve lost your eyes; this cruel, cruel war!”
And the lad straightened up in his wheelchair and said, “Mother, lost them? No, no, I gave them away.”
I don’t know whether we have many men like that left in our country or not, but he was one if that thing ever happened, defending our homeland, offering for the salvation of our country his feet, and his arms, and his eyes. And I think that same deep, underlying commitment ought to run through every soul in this church. See these feet, dedicated to Jesus; these hands belong to the Lord, these eyes and ears, my mind and heart and soul, all of it for Jesus; and when we gather together, and when we are out in the vineyard of the Lord in a great dedicatory purpose, seeking, saving that which was lost.
And last, in that dedication and in that commitment, I can tell you something on the authority of this blessed Book. When you give yourself to that kind of a ministry and that kind of a church, and that kind of a life, you’re going to have Jesus by your side with you all of the days. I have that on the promise of the Word of God. We’re familiar with it:
And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and make disciples, make Christians of all the people, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
Teaching them to observe the things that I have commanded you to remember: and, lo, I am with you all the days, until the consummation of the age.
You do that; you be that way, and Jesus will be with you, and He will be in this presence, and He will meet with us in these services, and we can almost feel the touch of His benedictory hands of blessing upon our heads; down here at the house of the Lord, preaching the gospel, out in the field of the Lord witnessing and testifying to Jesus, calling to repentance and faith in His blessed name, baptizing our converts, and meeting here, learning in class, in union, in a thousand ways the mind of Christ Jesus. You do that and God will meet with you; and you will feel His presence. Jesus is here.
Once again, in the discouragement of the apostle Paul in Corinth, a great, wicked merchandising city; in the days of his ministry in Corinth, Paul became discouraged. The work is hard; it’s always hard, always has been, will be. He became discouraged, and that night there stood by him the Lord. That night there stood by him the Lord, and the Lord said unto him, “Paul, I have much people in this city. Don’t you be discouraged. Don’t let your spirits drag or droop. There are many, many souls I have in this city. And in your faithful preaching, and delivery of the message in your witness and testimony, they will turn and they will be saved” [adapted from Acts 18:9-10].
That same thing is true with us. God has many souls for Him in this queenly city of Dallas, and if I’m faithful, and you; if we are faithful and our church, God will give us these trophies of grace to lay at the Lord’s blessed feet. Don’t be discouraged. “I have much people in this city [Acts 18:10], for there stood by me this night the Lord Himself with us” [Acts 27:23].
And in the Revelation, in the last of the Revelation, John begins it saying that “I was in the isle of Patmos.” Why? Do you remember it? “For the word and the testimony of the Lord Jesus” [Revelation 1:9]. He was there on a lonely, rocky island for the word and testimony of Jesus. And I supposed he’s been sent there to die of privation, starvation, necessity; old man, John the sainted apostle. And I suppose he thought he was there by himself. Wouldn’t you think he thought that? Sent over there from his beloved congregation at Ephesus, on that little pinpoint of a rocky island, to die in exile, in separation, and he thought he was by himself.
And while he was there he heard a great voice like the sound of a trumpet [Revelation 1:10], like the sound of many waters. He heard a great voice, and he turned to see the voice that spake unto him, and being turned he saw seven golden lampstands, and the seven golden lampstands are the churches of the blessed Jesus, the churches of our wonderful Savior [Revelation 1:11-12]. And in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, he saw the glorified Son of God [Revelation 1:10-13]. By himself? He might have thought so, but there standing behind him was the blessed Lord, the wonderful Jesus. For the word and testimony of Christ, he was there, and back of him was the Lord [Revelation 1:9, 13].
If you ever go to Mel’s [Carter] Boston, you ought to go to Trinity Church. There is one of the most moving statues you’ll ever see in your life: the incomparable Phillips Brooks is standing there in bronze, with an open Bible preaching the Word of God. And right back of him is the Lord Jesus, and He has His right hand on the shoulder of Phillips Brooks. You couldn’t look at that and not be moved; that is the Lord. That’s the Lord. When we do God’s will, when we are seeking lost souls, when we are preaching God’s Word, standing by our side, in this congregation and moving in our hearts, is the blessed Jesus. He saith, “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10], our message, our appeal, our loving invitation to you.
And while we sing this song, in the balcony round, you, in the lower floor, you, a family you, a couple you, or one somebody you, stand before men and angels to give your heart to Jesus, come tonight [Romans 10:9-10]. To put your life in the circle and the circumference of this wonderful, wonderful church, come tonight. As the Spirit of God shall make invitation, press the appeal to your heart, down one of these stairways, at the back, at the front on either side, and there is time and to spare, come. If you’re in the last topmost seat of that balcony, come. If you’re on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the pastor, come. Make the decision now, right now, where you are seated. Decide for God now. Then in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up coming. “Here I am, pastor, I make it tonight.” Do it, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE SEEKING NOTE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. An overtone you can’t help but feel – the seeking note
B. Not an indifferent sovereign or wrathful deity, but a broken-hearted Father (Genesis 3:8-9)II. The difference in churches and church services
A. World-famed preacher read his prayer, his message and benediction
1. Small number of people there
B. Humble, uneducated preacher, spoke with a seeking note (Acts 4:13, Luke 19:10)
1. Large response in the invitationIII. The need – purpose
A. Why do we go to church?
B. The man reason is to seek and save
1. Like a soldier giving his life in warIV. The presence of God
A. When you give yourself in that kind of ministry, Jesus is by your side (Matthew 28:18-20)
B. Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:9-10)
C. John on Patmos (Revelation 1:9, 12-20)