BLOOD ON OUR HANDS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-26-78 8:15 a.m.
There are thousands of you uncounted that are listening to this service on radio, and we welcome you. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Blood on our Hands, Blood Guiltiness. It is not an exposition; it is a textual message. It is a message from a text in Acts 20:26. In the address of the apostle Paul to the elders who came down to Miletus from Ephesus [Acts 20:17-18], he said, “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” [Acts 20:26-27]. And the text, “…that I am pure from the blood of all men” [Acts 20:26].
The imagery of blood representing God’s created life is found throughout the entire Word of the Lord. In the fourth chapter of Genesis, God says to Cain, “Where is thy brother Abel?. . .For the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground” [Genesis 4:9-10]. Does blood have a voice? Does blood cry? Does blood speak? God says so: “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground” [Genesis 4:10].
In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Leviticus, verse 11, the Lord said, “The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your sins: for it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul” [Leviticus 17:11]. Isn’t it a remarkable thing how the Word of God always will be congruent with the latest knowledge, true science? It was not until the 1600s that William Harvey, a British scientist, discovered the circulation of the blood. But here in Leviticus, written one thousand four hundred years before Christ, God says, “The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your sins: for it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul” [Leviticus 17:11]—the imagery of blood representing life.
In the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Isaiah, the last verse, the Lord God is presented there as coming to judge the nations of the earth. And the verse says that when that day comes, the great judgment day of Almighty God, “the earth will disclose her blood, and no longer conceal her slain” [Isaiah 26:21]. This earth is a vast illimitable Akeldama, a field of blood in which to bury strangers. Also, in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Pontius Pilate, when he saw that he could not placate the angry mob, took water and washed his hands, saying, “I am innocent from the blood of this just Man” [Matthew 27:24]. And the people replied, “His blood be upon us, and upon our children” [Matthew 27:25]—blood, the imagery of life itself.
Blood is also used in the imagery of spiritual life. In the first chapter of Isaiah, God says to the people, “When you pray your many prayers, I will not hear; because your hands are filled with blood. Wash you, and make you clean” [Isaiah 1:15-16]; then that famous [eighteenth] verse, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” [Isaiah 1:18]—blood representing spiritual life.
You have that beautifully presented in our recurring church ordinance. The Lord said, “This cup, this crushed fruit of the vine, is the blood of the new covenant, shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:28]. And there is not a more beautiful picture in the Bible than in the seventh chapter of the Apocalypse and the fourteenth verse, when John sees the uncounted redeemed of the Lord in heaven, and the elder says, “These are they who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:14]—the imagery of spiritual life.
Next, will you notice that the text assumes that we are accountable before God for the life of other people? The apostle says, “I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men” [Acts 20:26], accountable for the welfare of other people. In the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul, having witnessed to the Jewish people in Corinth, when most of them refused, he said, “Your blood be upon your own heads” [Acts 18:6]. And here in the twentieth chapter of Acts, speaking of the Gentile world, and especially of Asian Ephesus, he says, “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” [Acts 20:27]. “For I am clear, I am free now from the responsibility, blood guiltiness, the responsibility of the soul welfare of all men. I have delivered God’s message; I am free from their accountability” [Acts 20:26]. That is a remarkable thing in human life, how God has framed it and woven it together: that we are accountable for the welfare of other people.
In this story of Cain and Abel, when God asks Cain, “Where is thy brother Abel?” And Cain replies, “I do not know: Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:9]. Is there a responsibility that I have before God, created by the Lord Himself, for the accountability of other people? Am I my brother’s keeper? Somehow God has so made our lives that we are, and we cannot escape it. For example, suppose I know that in that house there is a man who is fast asleep, and I see that house begin to burn down, am I responsible to awaken that man and tell him to flee for his life? Am I? Or am I free if I stand there and watch that house burn down and he lose his life in it? What is there that God has done that makes me responsible for that man’s life, a man whom I may not even know, whose name I could not even call?
Or look again, suppose I’m standing on the shore of the sea, and there is a man out there who is drowning, and he calls for help. And there on the shore is a great coil of rope, and all I have to do is to pick up that rope and throw it to that man in the sea who is drowning. Am I accountable if I don’t try to rescue and save that man? Am I? I may not know him, a stranger to me; his name I could not call. But am I accountable to God to try to save him? Has God made this world and put it together in a fashion that I am responsible for his life? Am I?
Take again, here is a man driving down the road, and I know that the bridge is out just ahead. That man is speeding to his certain death. Am I responsible to try to stop him and to warn him that the bridge is out just ahead? Am I accountable for that man whom I do not know, whose name I could not call? Am I?
Here are two of us walking down a pathway in a wood. And I see in the path, and this friend is walking in front of me; I see a rattlesnake coiled and lifting its head ready to strike. Am I responsible to warn my friend, “Wait, stop, look!” Am I? Am I accountable? Am I responsible?
Or again, on the shelf in a store there is a canned meat, and it is full of botulism, the bacterium botulin that is deadly poisonous, found once in a while when food is canned improperly. And I know that on that shelf is that food, filled with deadly botulism, and I see a man who takes to buy from that shelf. Am I responsible to tell that man? “This is deadly poisonous. You eat to your destruction.” Am I? Has God put this world together in such a way that I am responsible for the welfare of other people? Am I? Did God do that? And can I escape it? Is it something God has done?
Not only that, but am I also responsible for the welfare of other people? Am I? In the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord comes in His glory, and before Him are all the nations and peoples of the world [Matthew 25:31-32]. And He says to these on His left hand, “I was hungry, and you did not feed Me. I was thirsty, and you never gave Me to drink. I was naked, and you did not clothe Me. And I was in prison, and sick, and you did not visit Me” [Matthew 25:41-43]. Well, am I responsible for the hunger, and the thirst, and the nakedness, and the lostness of the people of the world? Am I? If there is a man who is starving and I have bread to eat, am I responsible to share with that man, to feed him? If there is a man who is thirsting, and I have water to drink, am I responsible to give him to drink also? If there is one who is unclothed and naked, and I have clothing, am I responsible to put clothes upon his back? If there is one who is lost and I know the way, am I responsible to guide him in the way? Am I? Has God made this world and put it together in such a way that I am responsible for my fellow man? Am I?
And the same great doctrinal truth concerns no less our responsibility for the spiritual welfare and the souls of other people. Look at this doctrine. This is God speaking. In the thirty-third chapter of Ezekiel, the Lord says:
Son of man . . . When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman: If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;
Whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood—
there is that same imagery—
his blood shall be upon his own head.
He heard the sound of the trumpet; he took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.
Now you look at the other turn of that:
But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood, but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand. So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman. . .thou shall hear the word at My mouth, and warn them from Me. And when I say unto the lost, O lost man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn that lost man from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at your hand.
That is an inescapable doctrine in the Bible. And that is an inescapable truth by which God has framed us in this human family. I am accountable for the welfare of others. And I am spiritual responsible for their salvation.
When I apply that doctrine to us and to our dear church, it comes out in a very poignant and factual reality. We are not here just for the beauty of the service or for the spiritual uplift alone that it means to us in our souls. We are not here just to be brought into a wonderful and happy and glad relationship with the Lord God. But we are also formed and organized into a living body for the purpose of speaking to the world about Jesus our Lord, who is the only way, and the only truth, and the only life [John 14:6]. The burden, the responsibility, of the entire world is on our hands; blood on our hands.
We are responsible as a church for the salvation of the world. It is something God has done. That is why so long time ago, now almost thirty-five years ago, I led by God’s grace and in the loving cooperation and sympathy with our people, I led our people into a vast and increasingly vast mission program in our city. We have something like twelve chapels. And we’re adding because of the ableness by which we can do it through our Bible Institute. We are adding to those preaching places throughout the city. It is impossible for us to read the Bible, and to be sensitive to the call and Spirit of the Lord Jesus, and to hide our eyes from the spiritual welfare of our city. Here in this place, this sanctuary, doing all that we know to do to persuade men to come to Jesus; in all the organizations of our church, if they were true to their calling, daily visiting and witnessing among the homes of the people, this is our God given assignment, and we cannot escape it. That’s the reason I had you read the passage from the tenth chapter of the Book of Romans:
Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?
This is our assignment before God. And our Jerusalem is our city. And from one side of it to the other, we ought to be dedicated to witnessing to the grace of God in the Lord Jesus that they might be saved [Ephesians 2:5-9].
This is responsibility of our parents for their children. God in the Book says that we parents are to rear our children in the paideia and nouthesia of the Lord. What is paideia? Paideia is training and instruction and education. From the time of that child’s acknowledgement of sensitivity to you, awareness, from the time the child is able to know and to understand, it is the God mandated responsibility of the father and mother to paideia, to instruct, to educate, and to train that child in the Lord [Proverbs 22:6]. And that other word, made up of two words, nouthesia is the word for “mine,” tithēmi is the word for “place,” so nouthesia, literally is “to place in the mind,” translated “admonition of the Lord” [Ephesians 6:4]. You are to admonish the lad, admonish the boy, plead with the boy, guide the boy, instruct the boy, make exhortation to the boy; that’s the assignment from heaven of the father and the mother. We are responsible for the spiritual welfare of that child. And we cannot escape it. God made it that way.
And the same truth no less holds for our relationships in all of the concourse of our lives. Our friends, our neighbors, these with whom we work, our fellow workmen; it would be unthinkable before God for one of us, who has found refuge and life in Christ, to work with someone or to be with someone and there never come from our lips any word of the testimony of God’s goodness and grace to us in the Lord Jesus. I think of that story in the seventh chapter of 2 Kings, when those four lepers stood before the gate in Jerusalem [2 Kings 7:3-8]. And the Syrian host had surrounded the city, and they were starving inside the city. And those four lepers were outside. And in the night, God had made the Syrian host to hear the sound of uncounted thousands of horses and chariots, and the Syrians fled, thinking that they had, that the Israelites, the Judeans, the Jerusalemites had hired the Hittites and the Egyptians to come and to battle by their sides; and the Syrians fled. And those four lepers said to one another, “If we stay here we shall die. If we go inside the city, we shall die. They’re starving to death. Come, let us fall to the Syrians. All they can do is kill us, and we are going to die anyway.” So those four lepers went into the camp of the Syrians, and there was no man to the uttermost part of it. The whole camp with all of its treasures, gold and silver, the Bible says, and raiment, all of it was theirs [2 Kings 7:3-8]. And as they were eating and feasting and enjoying the riches of that whole encampment, they said one to another, “This is a day of good tidings. Let us go into the city and tell them this good thing. Why abide we here by ourselves?” [2 Kings 7:9]. And they went into the city and told the king, and the people came out; and there was food and raiment for all [2 Kings 7:10-16].
That is a true picture of us: how would it be possible for us to have in our hearts the news, the good news of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, and we never speak of it, we never share it, we never witness, we never testify? It is unthinkable! That’s the way God has made us: that we pour out of our hearts the praises of the Lord for the goodness by which He has enriched our souls and saved our lives. And my friend it is also yours. There is more and enough and to spare.
Now briefly, and last, so Paul says, “I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. I have done my part” [Acts 20:26-27]. As David said in Psalm 51, the only place in the Bible the word is used, “O God, may I not be guilty of bloodguiltiness, bloodguiltiness, blood on my hands; the responsibility of others [Psalm 51:14]. Now first, if they respond in our testimony, in our witness for the Lord, how happy and how glad we are; when we witness to Jesus and testify for our Lord and invite others to find in Him also a refuge and a Savior, how happy it makes us, how glad.
I heard Dr. Wallace Bassett, pastor of the Cliff Temple Baptist Church, speaking to our men’s Brotherhood upon a day. He said, “The first time I was invited to accept Jesus as my Savior, that day I did it; the first time!” Oh, that’s so wonderful! That’s so wonderful. I went to see a couple, a man and his wife, and talked to them about the Lord Jesus; we knelt and prayed. I asked them, on their knees, if they would accept Jesus as their Savior. They said, “Yes.” And the following Sunday, down that aisle they came, publicly confessing their faith in the Lord, dedicating their home to the blessed Jesus, and I baptized them that Sunday night; happy, precious, beautiful, glorious, heavenly, when they respond!
But they will not all respond. God somehow in our day of grace has not elected that all be saved. Satan has oversown God’s field; and the Lord somehow in His elective purpose allows it [Matthew 13:24-30]. I cannot understand; but that’s the world in which I live, and upon which I look, many times, with burden of heart and many tears. The seed is sown, and some of it falls by the wayside, and the birds eat it up. Some of it falls on hard ground, and it doesn’t flourish. Some of it in thorns and thickets, and the cares of the world choke it out. Some of it falls on good ground, and bears fruit to God [Matthew 13:3-8]. And when I see God bless that word, oh, I rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. But I know that some of it will fail; it will not increase, there’ll not be a response. I know that. They’re all not going to be saved.
Then, may it comfort my heart, when they do not respond and they’re not saved, they don’t turn, they don’t believe, then may it comfort my heart to say with the apostle Paul, “I did my best, and I am pure, I am free from the responsibility for their death” [Acts 20:26-27]. God grant that we can say that before the Lord. They’re not saved, but I have done my part before God.
There was a conductor on a heavy freight train that pulled his train into a siding by the side of a little station in a small town. And the conductor climbed out of his caboose and went into the station. He had pulled his train into the siding in order to let a fast all-Pullman express train go through. When he went inside of the little station with its telegrapher, the telegrapher was taking down a message for the conductor. And the message written on a yellow piece of paper was placed in the hands of the conductor of that big heavy freight train. And the yellow paper said that he was to go on down the track, and to go into a siding at another little town, and the great heavy all-Pullman express train would go by down there. So the conductor took the yellow piece of paper, placed it in his pocket, signaled to the engineer up at the front of the great freight train, and the heavy freight train pulled out of the siding onto the main track. And when it got under speed, with its great heavy load of its many, many cars, when they rounded a bend, to the horror of the engineer, there was speeding toward him that all-Pullman express train. The collision was indescribably catastrophic and tragic. The conductor of the freight train ran up to where the impact had been so horrible and terrible. And there he saw the mangled bodies of his engineer and fireman, the engineer and fireman of the Pullman train. And in the telescoping of those cars, there were dead and dying and mangled and bleeding everywhere. The railroad company appointed a board of inquiry, and called that conductor before it. And they said, “Sir, how is it that you pulled your heavy freight train onto the main track? It is your fault. You did it.” And he pulled out of his pocket that yellow piece of paper, and he said, “Sirs, these were my orders. It was not my fault. I am pure from the blood of these dying people.”
Years later, years later, he is now an old, old man. And he stood up in a testimony service in the church, and he said, “Though the passing of the years has bowed my head, and brought age to my stooped frame,” he said, “still there are times in the middle of the night when I wake up hearing the groans and the screams of those dying people, and seeing their mangled and torn bodies.” And he says, “I get up in the middle of the night, and I go downstairs, and I stand there and point to a piece of old yellow paper, framed and hanging on the wall. And I say, ‘It was not my fault. Those are my orders; and I was just obeying my mandate. It was not my fault.’”
“I am pure from the blood of all men” [Acts 20:26]. That is our heavenly mandate also. When we obey our Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20], and we have done our utmost as a church and as a people, and as a family, as father and mother, and as friend and fellow workman and neighbor, the rest is in the hands of God. But I must be true and faithful to that heavenly commission.
And that is our appeal to you this morning. Having heard the word of salvation, and having listened to the gospel call, and the Holy Spirit speaking of the truth that we have found in Christ Jesus—He died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], He was raised for our justification [1 Corinthians 15:4; Romans 4:25], we shall someday stand before Him [2 Corinthians 5:10], may it be that we shall stand in His presence and look upon Him as our Friend, our Savior; never as our Judge in the wrath of the Lamb [Revelation 6:16]. God grant that all of us turn, repent, trust, believe, accept the Lord, and be saved; both now in this pilgrimage and in that world that is yet to come [Acts 20:21].
In a moment we shall stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing that appeal, in the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles; “Here I am, pastor, today, I open my heart heavenward and God-ward; here I am.” “I’m bringing my whole family,” and welcome. A child, a youth, a couple, or just one somebody you; make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up moving into that aisle, down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I make it today” [Romans 10:9-13]. God be with you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.