Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-13-75 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you have just listened to the Chapel Choir of the First Baptist Church in Dallas; and now if you will continue to listen, it will be a message from the pastor of the church entitled The Volunteer. As you know, I am now preaching through possibly one of the greatest pieces of literature in human language. Not only a mighty book in the Bible, but a book of superlative beauty and glorious language, poetic imagery, flights of oratory. It would be hard to conceive of expression and words and nomenclature, paragraphs and sentences, that could be so exalted as you find in Isaiah.
And in the Book of Isaiah, I am preaching through the sixth chapter. And of all the chapters in this great, great book, there is none that reaches heights of sublimity more celestial than this chapter. We have in it the experience of a young man who was called to be a prophet. Nowhere else in the Bible is such a call so minutely delineated and described as we have in this chapter 6. He says that in the year that the King Uzziah died, that he saw a vision of God in the temple [Isaiah 6:1]. And he described the seraphim who cried, “Holy, holy, holy” [Isaiah 6:3], in reverence and in worship of the high and lifted and holy God. Then he describes how he himself felt, a sinner unclean; then describes his cleansing [Isaiah 6:5-7], and finally hearing the voice of the great mighty Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” [Isaiah 6:8]. And then his response, which is the title of the sermon this morning, The Volunteer, “Then said I, Here am I; send me” [Isaiah 6:8]. Then he described the burden of the assignment. Not one of success and glory, but one of apparent defeat and despair; and in agony crying, “How Lord, how long, Lord, such a message and such a response?” And the Lord replies, “Till there is not a man in the land.” [Isaiah 6:9-11]
His vision of God: that is an increasingly fading dream and fading reality to the modern world. For so many, God somehow is increasingly becoming mythological, like the gods of the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans. He is sort of an imagery that you find in primitivity or in poetry, but He is not real and active today. To some He is an indistinct oblong blur. To some He is actually dead. They say so, they teach so. To some He is far, far away, and untouched and unanswering and unmoved by our human needs. But not this young man: he saw a vision of God, a glorious one [Isaiah 6:1-4]. One of the most marvelous experiences any soul ever had, he saw the glorious God. And in the presence of God, he felt himself so unworthy and undone [Isaiah 6:5]. The nearer a man gets to God, the more he’ll feel that way. The farther he gets away from God, the better he feels in himself.
I one time read of a woman who put out a washing and hung it on the line out in the backyard, and it looked so white. But while the washing hung there, it came a beautiful, heavy snow. And against the background of the pure white snow, the washing looked sort of dirty gray. So it is with us: we think of ourselves as being so fine and so upright, but against the pristine beauty of the holy, heavenly God, we’re all gray, besmirched with our humanity and carnality and sin. And in the consciousness of his sin, he cried out and the Lord did a marvelous thing for him. He sent one of the seraphim to take a live coal from off the altar —fire is judgment, it burns, it purifies; the altar is a type of Christ, who received in His own body the judgment for our sins [1 Peter 2:24]—and the seraphim, taking that live coal, pressed it to his lips, and said, “Your iniquity is cleansed, and your sin purged” [Isaiah 6:6-7]. And then it was, then it was that he heard the voice of God calling for somebody to be God’s messenger and to do God’s work in the earth [Isaiah 6:8].
Isn’t that a strange thing, the equipment and the preparation for the call? Not being unclean, or weak, or carnal, or full of mistake and shortcoming, not “take a bath and put on fine clean clothes, or get a better education, or find some program of self amelioration and self-improvement,” no reference to it at all. But a need of cleansing, a touch from heaven, the hand of God upon him [Isaiah 6:5-7]. Isn’t that an unusual thing? How do you prepare a man to do God’s work? Well, educate him, yes. And give him devotional exercises of self-improvement, yes. And a thousand other things that we could think for; but not God. A touch of the heavenly hand, a cleansing of sin, a purging of iniquity; and having been regenerated by the Spirit of God [Isaiah 6:5-7], he hears the call, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” And the volunteer, “Then said I, Lord, look at me, here am I; send me” [Isaiah 6:8].
Now I am taking this story this morning as a typical experience in any man’s life. If a man has been regenerated, if he has been touched by the hand of heaven, if he has seen a vision of the Lord, he will hear God’s call, he just will. It follows inevitably, as the day follows the night. If a man has a vision of God, he will hear a call of the Lord. It takes many forms and directions. Sometimes that call may be like the vision of the angels on the ladder, as Jacob saw it at Bethel [Genesis 28:12]. Sometimes it may be in a burning bush that flames unconsumed, as Moses [Exodus 3:1-3]. Or sometimes it might be a voice in the dark and stillness of the night, “Samuel, Samuel” [1 Samuel 3:4-10]. Or sometimes it might be an anointing by a prophet, as David [1 Samuel 16:13]. Or sometimes it might be a still small voice, heard by Elijah [1 Kings 19:12]. Or sometimes it might be an invitation to be a fisher of men, as Simon Peter [Matthew 4:19]. Or sometimes it might be a burning in the heart like Cleopas [Luke 24:32]. Or sometimes it might be a meeting Jesus on a Damascus road, as Paul [Acts 9:1-6]. Or sometimes it might be a vision of the glorified, immortalized, resurrected and ascended and reigning in heaven Lord Jesus, as the sainted apostle John on the Isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9-20]. But to every man who has had an experience with God, who has a vision of the Lord, there will also come a call.
I am watching the man who is leading our present building fund appeal. He hasn’t been in the church long like some of us have. I baptized him and his wife. And having given his life to the Lord, he comes to me and says, “Pastor, I have it in my heart to give everything I have to Jesus—what I possess, and my time, and whatever talent God has given me.” That man is typical of a thousand men in this church. “Pastor, I’ve had an experience with God, and I feel God calling me, and I want to be used of the Lord. And if there’s some assignment that could be placed in my hands, or if there is something I could support, send me, use me.” I think those two are inevitably, inter-commingled; they are bound together. I think God puts them together. If a man has an experience with the Lord, if he hears the voice of the Lord, he will find himself called of God.
Another thing, when a man is regenerated, when he’s saved [John 3:3, 7], if he has had an experience with the Lord, if he’s had a vision of God, he’ll not only hear the call of the Lord, he’ll volunteer. And he can’t help it. He will volunteer. For you see, the Bible presents the need as the call, and the call as the need. Why, you see that all through the Book. Do you remember the story of the boy David? He went to take food to his older brothers; he was just a shepherd lad, and the father told the lad, just a young teenager, the father told the lad to take these things, they were food, “Take these things to your older brothers who are in the army” [1 Samuel 17:17]. And there on each side of the vale of Elah, on this side stood the armies of God, cowering, afraid; and on the other side stood the armies of the Philistines. And every day there came down that hillside a giant named Goliath, who stood there at the vale of Elah, and looking across the little dry wadi at the cowering, pusillanimous, fearing children of the Lord, contemptuously insulted Jehovah God and the people of the Lord [1 Samuel 17]. And that boy, that boy listened to it. I would say that’s the first time in his life he ever heard a man cuss God, curse the Lord, first time in his life he ever heard anybody challenge God and God’s people [1 Samuel 17:23]. And the boy looking at it thought that the people of the Lord would rise up. Instead they were just beat down further into the dust [1 Samuel 17:24]. And the lad, just a lad, a teenager, unshaven, “ruddy-faced” the Bible calls him [1 Samuel 16:12], the lad said, “Isn’t there anybody in the armies of Israel to confront a blasphemer like that?” Not one, not one. And the lad says, “Then I will.” The call is the need and the need is the call, “Then I will.” Why, they said, “You are but an unshaven boy without armor, unable” [1 Samuel 17:32-33]. He said:
Tending my father’s flock a lion came, and I delivered the flock out of the mouth of the lion. And a bear came and I delivered the flock out of the jaws of the bear. And the same Lord God that helped me with a lion and a bear will be the same God who will give me the victory over this Goliath.
[1 Samuel 17:34-37]
Isn’t that a wonderful thing? A volunteer, “Here am I; send me” [1 Samuel 17:32]. King didn’t call him, army didn’t call him. His brothers scoffed at him, “Such a kid” [1 Samuel 17:28]. But the call was the need, and the need was the call.
Isn’t that the same thing that happened to Nehemiah? When he heard from his brother what had happened to the walls of Jerusalem, he wept. And being the prime minister of the Persian Empire, he asked the king for help to build the walls of the holy city [Nehemiah 1:4-2:8]. The need is the call, and the call is the need.
That’s what happened in the story of the life of Paul. In the night he saw a vision of a man in Macedonia, saying, “Come over and help us” [Acts 16:9]. Then the next verse says, “And immediately we sought to cross over the Hellespont,” and the exact word, “assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel unto them” [Acts 16:10]. And the whole turn of history was made. Instead of it being east and east and east, it was west and west and west to continental Europe and the British Isles, and finally to us in America. Nobody said anything to him from heaven, just he saw that man from Macedonia saying, “Come and help us” [Acts 16:9]. And the need is the call, and the call is the need. And he volunteered, “Assuredly gathering that this is God’s will for us” [Acts 16:10]. Paul and Silas and Dr. Luke.
You know it’s a remarkable thing, that rising of the human spirit to answer a great need. I was standing one time, the first time I was ever in Europe, long, long ago, just right after the Second World War, I was standing in a long line at a desk of immigration, to cross over from Folkstone, England, to Bologne, France. And in front of me there was an English woman, who had a little girl about like that, and from her passport, as she held it in her hand, I could read her name: Emma Jensen. So, the line going so slowly, I began to visit with her. The baby, the child, the little girl there at her side had been born in an air raid shelter, and had lived practically all of her life in an air raid shelter. And she said to me, “We just did great until almost the last days of the war, when there came a rocket bomb and exploded over us.” She said, “My husband was killed.” And then, taking the hair of the little girl by her side, she pulled it back, and across her forehead and practically across the head of the child was a deep, deep, ugly scar. And she said, “God helped me to minister to my little baby girl, and the child survived. And we lost everything that we had, everything.” Well, I began to commiserate with her, “Oh, how sad to lose your husband and everything that you possessed, and the little child so deeply scarred and hurt.”
“No,” she said, “Don’t sympathize with me. Don’t sympathize with me. I’m doing just fine.” She said, “There are thousands and thousands of others who are far worse off than I. For,” she said, “there was one thing that was spared out of the explosion of the rocket bomb: my typewriter.” She said, “I got a job for a professor of law at Cambridge University. And,” she said, “When I put the little girl to bed, I type for the professor until the wee hours of the morning. And I’m making a living, and I’m supporting my little girl, and I’m doing just fine.” Isn’t that a wonderful thing? Isn’t that a marvelous spirit? “Don’t sympathize with me. I’m doing just fine. I can work most of the night typing. And I’m supporting myself and our little girl, doing just great.” The nobility of the human spirit in hours of crisis and need, it’s just like God. Well, that’s the way it is with people who love the Lord: it is a marvelous and a wonderful thing how they will do.
Now I want to show you this in the brief moment that remains. “And the Lord said to him,” when he volunteered, “You go and tell this people” [Isaiah 6:9], and then the most tragic assignment, for this is his people, this is his city, this is his nation and land, Judah and Jerusalem and the Jewish people:
You go and deliver this message to them: That hearing they do not hear, and seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not understand, lest they be converted and be saved. And then I said, Lord how long? How long? And the Lord said, Until there be not an inhabitant in the land, that is how long.
Isn’t that a strange thing how God does in the earth? Why doesn’t He give His ministers such success that overnight we win the whole world to Jesus? It’s just the opposite, just the opposite. The world gets darker and darker and darker every day.
This last week I have been preaching at a convocation called the National Association of Evangelicals. It’s a communion, it’s an association, it’s an organization composed of thirty-three denominations, all of them fundamental. Like the National Council of Churches is an association of liberal denominations, well, this is the association of thirty-three conservative, fundamental, Bible-believing denominations. Well, I’ve been this last week preaching to those delegates. And on an evening, before I brought the message, they had a report from Vietnam. They had a slide projection there, and the picture was of a monument in Vietnam to missionaries who had been martyred. And on this side of the monument in the picture stood a Vietnamese pastor, and on this side of the monument stood another Vietnamese pastor. And the man who was showing the picture said, “We have just learned that both of those pastors have been martyred. They have been slain by the overrunning communists.” Then the next thing they did was to call upon a doctor, and he had just come from Vietnam. And hour by hour, the way he made his report was by the hour, he described the fall of the highlands and the coastal cities in Vietnam, and the indescribable suffering and tragedy that came with the overwhelming flood of the hordes from the north. And then there was presented pictures and lists, plural, of our missionaries who have been slain in these last few days in Vietnam. And last of all, we stood up in silent prayer for the remnant who are now suffering under the heavy hand of the invading atheists, communists. That’s happening this minute. It’s happening now. Wouldn’t you think in the days of so disastrous an assignment that the Christian spirit would be, “Let’s surrender, let’s quit, let’s give it up. The world is too much for us, and the devil is too mighty. Let’s surrender. Let’s give it up.”? Wouldn’t you think that? It is just the opposite. As you’ll be listening to the pastor expound this book, the next chapter and the next verse Isaiah is standing there to confront Ahaz the king [Isaiah 7:3], and for fifty years, for fifty years, standing in the name of the Lord, declaring the word of God. And isn’t that a remarkable thing, about how people in Christ are put together?
Bear with me just a minute to show you that, how God’s people are put together in the face of difficulty and maybe martyrdom. There came a missionary from Africa, and he was on this university campus to call for volunteers to go to Africa. He belonged to an old line affluent denomination. As he stood before the student group, he said, “You will find a fine welcome for you in Africa. You’ll have a splendid salary, and a magnificent pension. And you’ll find housing that is as fine as you know here in America, and it’ll be in an American compound” I’ve been in them half a dozen times. “You’ll find a great compound stored with American food, and you’ll have cars and transportation, and you’ll be taken care of all of your life. It will be a magnificent way to live. How many of you will go?” There was one, there was maybe another, there was possibly a third, and that was all. To that same university campus there came another missionary from Africa; he represented a denomination, poor, going into the heart of that Dark Continent where there was nothing. And he said to the young men and the young women, “Come, come, I offer you disease, and hardship, and sacrifice, and death! But God calls.” And when he extended the appeal, he was thronged by young men and young women ready to go. There is a lesson there that we ought always to remember: it isn’t the ease in Zion that gives power to the church, nor is it a small and insignificant thing to which a man will respond with his heart and soul and life; it’s a sacrifice, it’s a need, it’s a challenge. That’s God and that’s the way God made us:
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
so near is God to man
When duty, when God calls, “Thou must,”
The Christian replies, “I can!”
[from “Voluntaries,” Ralph Waldo Emerson]
God’s volunteer [Isaiah 6:8].
Sweet people our time is much gone. When we sing our hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, if God has spoken to you, come, come. Down one of these stairways from the balcony, down one of these aisles on the lower floor, “Pastor, I’ve decided for God, and here I am. I’m giving my heart to the blessed Jesus.” Or, “I’m putting my life in the circle of the dear and wonderful church.” Or, “I’m answering some call God has given to me.” As the Lord shall press the appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.