The Birth of Spiritual Children
September 26th, 1976 @ 8:15 AM
THE BIRTH OF SPIRITUAL CHILDREN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Isaiah 66: 5-8
09-26-76 8:15 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Spiritual Birth Of Children, The Birth of Spiritual Children, or Travailing For Souls. It has been now about a year and a half, and a little beyond, that I have been preaching through the prophet Isaiah. And today is the last message from the book. There are sixty-six chapters in the Book of Isaiah. And the passage today is Isaiah 66:7-9 and the message comes out of a text in the middle verse, Isaiah 66:7-9:
Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child.
Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.
Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the Lord: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? saith the Lord.
And the text: "For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children." That imagery of birth is used with profound significance in the Word of God. In the third chapter of the Book of John, when our Lord was speaking with Nicodemus, He said to him: "You must be born anothen (‘from above,’ ‘again’).
He added to it further:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born of water (the washing of the word) and the (regenerating) Spirit (of God), he cannot see the kingdom of our Lord.
And then yet again, in the same chapter: "Marvel not that I say unto thee, Ye must be born again." [John 3:7] It is a profound imagery in Holy Scriptures. And it is so used here in my text. The mother is Zion, and the man-Child that is born is the spiritual Israel, the true Israel of God. And the birth is miraculously rapid, suddenly, immediately; it is an astonishing thing in its rapidity.
"Who hath seen such a thing?" He says: "That a nation should be born in a day? That the earth should bring forth at once? For as soon as – rapidly – as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children." Months, years, maybe centuries of longing, and waiting, and crying, and agonizing, and travailing; then a great, marvelous, miraculous intervention of God, and a nation is born in a day.
I, of course, am not able to say that the Lord meant just this – but it means it to me. In the climactic verse of the Revelation, Revelation 22, verse 20: "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come tachu, translated ‘quickly’."
It seems to me that the Lord meant by that, when He said to the apostle John on the Isle of Patmos, "He which testifieth these things saith: Surely, surely I come quickly." He did not mean that: "Tomorrow, I will return. In a few hours I’ll be back." But what he did mean was, at the consummation of the age, after the passing of the tribulation, these things will come immediately. They will come rapidly. They will come quickly, just like that.
So it is in God’s dealing through the ages: it seems to me, God works like that. There is a passage of time and God’s people, the faithful remnant, cry and they agonize, they pray, they plead. Then, when the fullness of vehemence rises to God, there is a marvelous and miraculous deliverance. God seems to work like that.
For as soon as Zion travails, immediately, just in a moment, there is the birth: the man-Child is born; the nation is regenerated; revival comes; deliverance from his blessed hands. I say, it seems to me through the ages, God works like that. The children of ages will cry in Egyptian bondage. And when the height of their crying is beyond what God’s ears can no longer bear, He sends Moses, raises him up; to deliver his people from the bondage of Egypt.
Or as it was in the days of Ahab and Jezebel: the seven thousand who remained faithful to Jehovah, in their crying unto God, suddenly, without announcement – nobody knows where he came from – suddenly, there appears the prophet Elijah. And, on Mount Carmel, he leads Israel out of its apostasy, back in a great revival to God.
Or again in the days of Manasseh, for whose depravity God refused to deliver Judah, when he brought the nation down to depths of sin and idolatry it had never known before. Then arises Josiah, finding the Book of the Law in the temple; renting his clothes in confession to God. And, in the great revival movement that followed, Daniel, and Ezekiel, and Jeremiah came to know the Lord.
It was so in the days of the Babylonian captivity. After seventy years of agonizing and weeping on the banks of the rivers of Babylon. Suddenly, Cyrus, the Persian, and Zerubbabel, and Ezra, and Nehemiah are delivering the people and rebuilding the wall and the temple in Jerusalem.
It was so in the days of Roman bondage: the people so low; and their religion so formal, and barren, and sterile; finally, crucifying the Lord, prince of glory in heaven. But out of it, suddenly – like a great rushing mighty wind – suddenly, the Holy Spirit is poured out from God in heaven. And the great marvelous age of the grace of the Christian faith has begun.
It was so in the days of the inquisition: God’s faithful martyrs, burned at the stake, torn on the rack. Then, suddenly, there stands on his feet – where he’d bent kneeling in that Scala Santa – before Saint John Loran, there stands up Martin Luther. And like a thunderbolt from heaven, the word comes to his soul: "The just shall live by faith," not by genuflection or liturgy. And the great reformation is launched!
I think all of these are harbingers of how it shall be at the end time: the tribulation, and the agony, and cry of the people of God; then suddenly, the consummation of the age, Jesus has come! God seems to work that way. Therefore, therefore, it is right for us to expect and to pray for the intervention of God from heaven.
These great revelations in the Book and these great doctrines in the Holy Scriptures are not just for a moment; there not ephemeral or temporary, but they apply to all time. They are like God Himself, they never change. They are applicable in every situation. And it is so here in this doctrine.
The old-timers that I used to hear preach would quote that verse, and shape it like this: "For as soon [as] Zion travailed, she brought forth her children." The implication always was that when God’s people prayed, when they bowed before the Lord, when they cried before the God of heaven, then revival – children, spiritual children, were born into the kingdom of God.
Nor is that a strange or an unusual doctrine. I see it everywhere in the work and the way of the world. It is in travail that achievement comes to those who labor in any area, or in any arena of life. Here is a musician, and he astonishes the world with the beautiful playing: on an organ, on a piano, on a violin, on a French horn. And the world is just astonished. But, back of a beautiful rendition, there is travail: hours and days of work and practice. It is so in medicine. A great surgeon, or a fine doctor brings healing to the people. But, back of his medicinal ministries, there are years and years of toil and travail.
It is so on the athletic field. These men who are so nobly carrying the banner of their city, or their state, or their school, or – as in the Olympics – their nation: when they are crowned with success, back of it are years of toil, and training, and travail.
It is so in the political freedom of a nation: the blessings that we enjoy, how noble they are. But, back of them lies the blood, the sacrifice of the soldiers who laid down their lives for us. It is therefore, not peculiar or unique that we see that same doctrine in the church. Out of the travail, and suffering, and sorrow of our Lord is born our salvation. We are taken as a people out of His side. We were born in His blood; and, in His sorrows, and in His sufferings, in His tears and sobs, and in His death.
And it is so in the church that continues today, the true Israel of God, the true spiritual people of the Lord. As Paul wrote in that amazing verse in Colossians 1:24, for I must: "Fill up that which is lacking, in the sufferings, in the afflictions of Christ," How could such a thing be? Ah, was His atonement not complete when He died for us on the cross? It was complete! "It is finished," He cried. And there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.
Then what could Paul mean when he says: "I must fill up that which is lacking in the sufferings and afflictions of Christ." What he meant is simply this: that is Christ died for us that we might be redeemed and saved from our sins. There remaineth for us a suffering, a travailing in the church, that it might live; that it might be vibrant; that it might be viable; that it might have the moving Spirit of God in it. And there is no spiritual blessing that will come to us without that travail and that agony, and prayer, and that burden of heart.
Now, let me speak for a minute of why it is that the church must travail; must be burdened; must agonize in prayer. Number one: the worldliness of our own members. I preside over the church as its moderator. I also shepherd the flock as an under-shepherd. And I see it everywhere and all the time: the hearts of my own people out there in the world – not here, not actually, but out there – and the service of God becomes incidental, adventitious, peripheral, never central and dynamic.
Satan over-sows the sowing of the Lord. He over-sows the field of Christ. Satan plows deep and desperately with degradation. The coils of that old serpent have surrounded and enclosed the whole earth and it includes us. How do you break that – the hold of Satan on our lives, and the call and the blandishments of the world? There’s no way to do, but to plead before God.
Why does the church bow in travail? Because of the hardness of the world – the difficulty of winning people to Jesus. I want you to look at this: more than fifty years ago, Billy Sunday – the colorful evangelist – Billy Sunday said, "It is harder to win a fifteen-year-old boy at the end of my ministry, than it was to win a seventy-year-old man at the beginning of my ministry." If Billy Sunday said that more than fifty years ago, what would he say if he lived today?
The difficulty; the hardness of winning people to Christ; getting them out of the world, into the grace of our Lord Jesus; why does the church bow in travail? Because of the tragedy of the lost, however you wish to say it – philosophically, academically, theologically, culturally, politically, scientifically, historically, personally – however a man chooses to say it: this is the one rude, crude, harsh, terrible fact of human history and human life; a nation is lost without God! A faith is lost without God. A city is lost without God. A family is lost without God. A life is lost without God. The human soul is lost without God. And that bows us in travail before the Lord.
Why does the church bow in travail? Because it is God’s purpose to work fullness of grace in our lives. And without travail, that fullness of grace is never achieved. When our first parents fell, the Lord turned to the woman and said: "In sorrow," in labor, in pain, in travail, "shalt thou bring forth children." [Genesis 3:16]
Then he turned to the man and said: "In the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread – all of the days of you life – till you turn back to the ground from which you came." [Genesis 3:19] I wonder if there’s a reason in that. There is! If you could buy that child at a dime store, flippantly, indifferently, you might acquire the youngster. But they don’t come from the dime store! The child is nurtured beneath the mother’s heart. And, when the child is born, it is in pain and labor and travail. And it is an unusual mother and an unusual father that would take the child of their love and deposit it, indifferently, and leave it on a doorstep.
There is a purpose of God in it. And it is no less so with us. In our spiritual birth, we come through prayer, and tears, and intercession, and travail. And it is a way God has of placing upon us those beautiful and precious graces that so marvelously live in the life of our dear Lord.
You see, in travail, and in tears, and in intercession, and in praying the church is cemented together. How could I be full of critical grudges, and bitterness, and hatred when I’m kneeling down by your side, praying, pleading with God for lost souls? And how could the church be rent and separated when it is agonizing before God for the outpouring of the spirit of revival?
It is exactly with us as it was with the congregation of the Lord in Jerusalem when He was crucified, buried, arose, ascended back to heaven. He said: "Tarry till you receive the promise of my Father." [Luke 24:] And in one place, with one accord, there they were praying to God and the great visitation came.
It binds us together as a people as nothing else in the world will: our common sacrifice; our common praying; our common travailing before God. And another thing: it centers our souls upon the main thing in the worship in our Lord. What is the tremendous and great thing when we assemble ourselves in the house of the Lord? Well, could it be litany? Could it be decorum? Could it be eloquence? Could it be peroration? Could it be magnificence? These things are so incidental. Even the architecture of the building is trifling and peripheral. We can meet on a floor, on a sawdust floor and have God with us just as powerfully and as gloriously. It centers our hearts upon the main thing which is love and compassion, sympathy and understanding, intercession and pleading; asking God to save the lost and to build us up in the faith of our wonderful Savior.
I must close. If you saw a church in travail, what would it look like? What would it be doing? According to the Word of the Lord a church in travail would, first of all, be burdened for the lost. That’s why I had us read the tenth chapter of the Book of Romans and the first verse: "Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved." Or again in the ninth chapter of the Book of Romans: "Brethren, I could wish myself were accursed from Christ," were damned, were in hell, "for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh."
A burden of heart – if there is no burden of heart; if there is no longing, and crying, and praying for people to be saved, you will not see a church in travail, and you will not see people born into the kingdom of God. When Zion travailed, children were born into the kingdom.
If you find a church in travail, what would it look like? What would it look like? What would it be doing? It’ll be a church with a burden on its heart that they might be saved. Second, it will be a church in a new kind of praying – not formal, not cold, not removed; but it will be a church, begging God in agonizing tears in travail.
"Ah, Lord, shall it be that Christ died in vain? That these are lost? That there’s no fruit to bring before our Lord, and must I go empty handed? Must I meet my Savior so, not a soul with which to meet Him? Shall I see my Savior without souls?" Ah, Lord, that is a church in travail praying earnestly for the Lord.
What would a church look like that was in travail? It would be a church that surrendered itself to mediate the mind, and heart, and love, and grace of God in Christ Jesus. The Lord multiplied the loaves, but He gave it to the disciples and they gave it to the people. So the Lord mediates His love and grace through us. It comes from Him, not from us; but He gives it to us and we spread it abroad, testify it abroad, witness it abroad to all the people. We are used of God, surrendered to the Lord. "Lord, this voice, and these hands, and whatever I can do, ah, God, I am dying to use!"
What would a church look like, what would it be like, if it bowed before God in travail? It would be a church of moving compassion, and sympathy, and outreach, and invitation, and appeal. It would be that kind of a church. It would a church with a seeking note, and you would feel it when you came into the congregation. There would be a pull in it that you couldn’t deny, way down deep in the heart.
This last week, as you know, we had the inauguration of Dr. Patterson as our president of our Center for Biblical Studies. And there were men here from all through our academic denominational world: presidents of the seminaries, head of our education commissions, president of our Southern Baptist Convention. They were all here. And, in a little group, we began talking about these giants who headed these seminaries in these years gone by. And the conversation came around to Lee R. Scarborough, who was the president for so many years of our seminary in Fort Worth. And those younger men had never seen him. They had never heard him. So they said to me, "What was he like? What was he like?"
I said: "My brethren, Lee Scarborough was a man, first of all and above all, of grace and moving compassion. I have sat, I don’t know how many times, and listened to Scarborough and just cried – the tears that rolled down my face as I listened to him preach."
Well, they said, "How was he? What did he say?"
"Well," I said, "he was like this: my roommate, in Baylor, was ordained to the gospel ministry at the Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth. And I went up to have a part in his ordination. I delivered the charge to my young friend, who is now in heaven. And Dr. Scarborough led the ordination prayer. And, when Dr. Scarborough knelt on the floor of the church at the altar and prayed that ordination prayer, he said, ‘And dear God, bless that prodigal homeless boy who is sheltered under my roof tonight. And Lord help me to win him to Jesus before he goes on his way in the morning.’ I found out what had happened was he had picked up that boy, a prodigal boy, a hungry boy, on the streets of the city; had taken him home with him; had him for supper at the table; had given him a bedroom for the night and was praying over him that God would help him lead him to Jesus."
What was Scarborough like? After this first morning service, Dr. Hershel Ford came up to me, and with many tears said, "You brought back memories of my old teacher Dr. Scarborough." He said, "Dr. Scarborough came to Asheville, North Carolina, to hold a revival meeting and was pastor just beginning at the First Baptist Church in Hendersonville."
And he said, "I have made arrangements for Dr. Scarborough to eat dinner with me in Hendersonville after the morning service."
Well, he said, "When the service was over, it was pouring down rain so I had Dr. Scarborough with me under the umbrella, walking down the street. And there in the middle of the street was a policemen directing the traffic. And Dr. Scarborough said to the young pastor Hershel Ford, ‘Let’s walk over and talk to him about Jesus.’ And there in the middle of the street, in the pouring down rain under an umbrella, Dr. Scarborough led that policeman to the Lord. That is Dr. Scarborough."
And I said, in those meetings, that I would be privileged to attend. Dr. Scarborough would say things like this on the train, before an airplane, "On the train, a young man seated facing me, so sad. And the Holy Spirit said, ‘Talk to that young man.’ And somehow I refused to do it." Then he said, "If I could unravel all of the years, with their toils and their trials, I would do it. If I could go back to that moment and speak to that young man about Jesus." Then again, listening to him, he said, "Up in Missouri, in the days of the World War I, a mother and a father came and said, ‘You’re from Fort Worth?’ And the mother turned to the father and said then, ‘Our boy, our soldier boy, is in training in a camp near Fort Worth.’"
And they asked Dr. Scarborough to go see the boy for he wasn’t a Christian. And when Dr. Scarborough kind of hesitated, the mother asked him, "Dr. Scarborough, do you care for lost souls?" And Dr. Scarborough, in his sermon, said, "I had written books about winning the lost to Christ. I had been teaching for years in the chair, up high, at the seminary on evangelism. I had been holding revival meetings since I was converted and in the ministry, but never did that question so search my soul. ‘Do you care for lost souls?’"
That was Dr. Scarborough. And at the end of the service this morning, Dr. H. H. McBride, a denominational worker, retired in our church, he came to me with many tears this morning. And he said: "I’m going to Missouri today to begin a revival meeting. Would you kneel down here and pray with me that I might have a double portion of that compassionate spirit of Dr. Scarborough? You see, he was my teacher also and I was just moved as I listened to the man preach the gospel of Christ."
Where is that in the church today and in the pulpit today? Where is that seeking, compassionate note in the sermons today? We are talking about many issues; talking about many things of the day; problem sermons; many, many things. But where is that man in the pulpit with the compassionate spirit of D. R. Scarborough? That is what I mean when I say if you saw a church and it travailed for souls, what would it look like? It would look like that.
I cannot remember when I have seen a congregation bowed before the Lord, weeping because of the burden for the lost. It has a difference. But the great doctrine is forever. It does not change for as soon as Zion travails, she brought forth her children. And without it, people are not born into the kingdom of God. As we were saved in the love and sobs and travails of our Lord, so the gospel of grace that is mediated to others is intellectual, it is academic, it is forensic, it is disputable, it is debatable, it is dialectical until it assumes blood, and life, and agony, and care, and tears and heard in prayer on us who ministers the grace of the Lord before His blessed throne of love.
O God in heaven, grant to us that seeking note, that compassionate spirit and that heart that cares.
We are going to sing our hymn of appeal and while we sing it, a family to come to the Lord and to us; a couple or just you in that balcony round on this lower floor, down a stairway, walking down an aisle, "Here I am pastor. I have made that decision in my heart and I am on the way. This is my wife. These are our children. We are all coming." Or just one somebody you on the first note of the first stanza when you stand up, stand up walking down that aisle. May angels attend you in the way while you come as we stand and as we sing.