BLOOD ON OUR HANDS
Dr. W.A. Criswell
11-26-78 10:50 a.m.
Welcome, the uncounted thousands of you who are sharing this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled, Blood Guiltiness, Blood on Our Hands, our soul responsibility. It is not an exposition. It is a textual sermon. It is a sermon that arises out of a description of Paul as he speaks of his ministry in Ephesians, in the city of Ephesus in Asia. In the Book of Acts chapter 20, through which we are now preaching, Paul says in verse 26, “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 and the message arising out of it, “I am pure from the blood of all men” [Acts 20:26].
All through the Bible blood is used in imagery for life itself. It stands for the creative work of God in life itself. In the fourth chapter of Genesis, God says to Cain, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground” [Genesis 4:10]. Blood speaks. Blood has a voice. Blood cries, “The blood of thy brother crieth unto Me from the ground” [Genesis 4:10]. In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Leviticus, in the eleventh verse, God says, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” [Leviticus 17:11].
It is remarkable how the Bible always speaks in terms of all truth. The latest scientific discoveries will always be in keeping with what God says in this holy inerrant, infallible, inspired Book, the Bible [2 Timothy 3:1]. It was not until the 1600s that William Harvey, an English scientist, discovered the circulation of the blood. But one thousand five hundred years before Christ, God said, “The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul” [Leviticus 17:11]. In the twenty-[sixth] chapter of Isaiah, the last verse, the Lord depicts Himself as coming to judge the world, all the nations of the earth, all who have lived throughout human history. And that last verse says, when that day comes, “the earth will disclose its blood, and uncover its slain” [Isaiah 26:21]. This whole earth is a vast Aceldama, a “field of blood” [Acts 1:19] to bury strangers in. You have another instance of that blood, the imagery of blood representing life. When Pontius Pilate says to the angry mob that he could not placate, he takes water and washes his hands, and he says, “I am free, I am innocent from the blood of this just Man” [Matthew 27:24]. And the nation replies, “His blood be on us, and on our children” [Matthew 27:25].
Not only is blood used as an imagery of physical life created by the hand of God, but it also is used in imagery for spiritual life. In the first chapter of Isaiah, God says to the nation, “I will not hear you when you pray because your hands are covered with blood. Wash you, and make you clean” [Isaiah 1:15, 16]. And then comes, follows after that most beautiful of all invitations, Isaiah 1:18: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
The text says that there is an inescapable accountability on our part for the welfare of all mankind. He says, “I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men” [Acts 20:26]. There is a responsibility that he speaks of that all of us share together. That responsibility is for human life itself, for the living of other people. We cannot escape how God has framed that in our world. In the fourth chapter of Genesis that I mentioned a moment ago, God says to Cain, “Where is thy brother Abel?” And Cain replies, “I do not know: Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:9]. Is there an inescapable responsibility that God has mandated to us, the welfare and the care of somebody else, of other people? Is that true?
If I were to be walking along, and on the inside of that house there is a man sound and fast asleep, and I see the house suddenly burst into flames, do I have an obligation to awaken that man, that he might be delivered? Or am I free to stand there and to watch the house burn down and burn up that man? Do I have a God-given obligation to awaken him and to save him? Do I? Is it something God has put together in this world and wove it into my own soul? If I were standing on the seashore and there was a man drowning, calling piteously for help, and by my side there was a long rope, do I have an obligation to throw that rope to him that he might be saved? Do I? Am I obligated to do that? Is that my responsibility? I don’t know the man. I have never seen him. I don’t know his name. But has God made this world so that I have an obligation to try to save him, throwing out for his reach that rope? If I knew the bridge was out in a highway and I saw a man speeding in his car toward that certain death, do I have an obligation to try to warn him and to save his life? You are speeding toward certain death. Do I have an obligation to try to stop him? Do I? Has God made this world like that? If I were walking down a path with a friend and in front of him I saw a rattlesnake coiled and its head raised to strike, do I have an obligation to warn him and to save him from that venomous poison? Do I? Has God made this world like that? If on the shelf of a grocery store, there were cans of meat, and in those cans is botulism, the bacteria botulism, deadly poisonous. And I see a man reach his hand to take down and to buy one of those cans; do I have an obligation to tell him that there is death in that can? Am I obligated to do it? Did God make that when He made me and the world in which I live? Am I responsible for that man’s life that he be warned and that he be saved?
Not only that, but am I responsible unto God for the welfare of other people? In the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord is presented, His coming in glory, seated upon His throne, and before Him are all the nations of the earth [Matthew 25:31]. And He turns and speaks to those on His left hand saying, “Depart from Me . . . I was hungered, and you never fed Me. I was thirsty, and you never gave Me to drink: I was naked and you never clothed Me: I was sick, and in prison, and you never visited Me” [Matthew 25:41-43]. Am I under obligation for the welfare of others? If they are starving and I have bread to eat, am I under obligation to share with that starving man? If he is thirsting to death and I have water to drink, am I under responsible to share water with that man? If he is naked and I have clothing, am I under obligation to clothe his naked back? If he is lost and I know the way out, am I under obligation to show him how he can be saved? Am I? Is this something God has done when He made me and made this world, when He made us and placed us in its heart? Not only that, but am I spiritually obligated to seek, to warn that man of the impending judgment of Almighty God? Am I? In the thirty-third chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, the Lord spoke saying,
Son of man, speak to . . . thy people, and say unto them, 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 shall be upon his own head.
He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.
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 one from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.
So, thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the people; thou shalt hear the word at My mouth, and warn them from Me.
When I say unto that lost man, 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 thine hand.
Soul responsibility, blood guiltiness, blood on our hands, this is something God has done when He created us and set us in the heart of this world.
Then reading that in the Bible, being sensitive to it and aware of it, our church and our people rise to face that responsibility and that obligation. We do so as a church, as an organized living body, facing the lost world. We not only come to church in order to share in the gladness of this beautiful worship hour, hearing the choir sing, sharing in the singing of the hymns, bowing together in prayer, listening to an exposition of the Word of God, we not only come to church to be blessed in our own hearts, but we also come to church to band ourselves together for the evangelization of the world; blood on our hands. We are responsible for them. It is something God has done. That is why in our city, in our Jerusalem, we have twelve different chapels. And under the leadership of Dr. Patterson and Dr. Step and our CBI young preachers, gathering together people all over this city in preaching stations and in homes and in storefronts, bearing to them the good news of Jesus Christ. Every week standing down there on Main Street preaching the gospel of Jesus to those who are passing by. This is our responsibility in our city. Beyond our city the conversion and the salvation of our nation, and beyond our nation, Nigeria and the other countries and peoples and lands of the earth. It is our God-given mandate that we seek to warn them of the judgment to come and the salvation we have in the Lord Jesus.
Do you remember the passage that you just read in the tenth chapter of Romans?
For 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?
As a church, this is our obligation from heaven to bring the message of Christ to the lost of the world.
This is also the God-given obligation and responsibility of our parents, our fathers and our mothers. In the Book of Ephesians, the apostle wrote, Parents . . . you are to bring up your children in the paideia and nouthesia of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. What is that paideia? Paideia, that means “the education, the instruction, the training” in the Lord. From the time the child is placed in your arms through all the formative years of childhood and youth, father and mother are to give themselves to the teaching and training of the child in the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. The obligation is mandated to you. You have no other choice. God asks it. God commands it. It is our responsibility [Proverbs 22:6].
What is that word nouthesia? Nous is the word for “mind” and tithēmi is the word for “place.” And nouthesia literally means a “placing in the mind.” And it is translated in the King James Version “admonishing,” and that is a good translation. An appeal on the basis of the truth of God, to make appeal, to admonish, to plead with the child, to walk in the way of the Lord. That is the first God-given obligation of the father and the mother, to bring up that child and to admonish that child and to plead with that child about the goodness of God in the Lord Jesus.
And that is our mandated obligation and responsibility to everybody that we know; and especially to those with whom we work. It is unthinkable that a man would work by the side of another man and never say anything to him about the blessing of God that we have found in Christ Jesus, sharing the good tidings with them.
And now, this final word from the apostle Paul in what he said: “I have delivered that message [Acts 20:20-21]. I have not drawn back from declaring the whole counsel of God [Acts 20:27]. I am pure from the blood of all men [Acts 20:26]. I have delivered that message. I have done my part and my best.” That is a wonderful way for a man to be able to face God: “I have tried, Lord. I have done it.” Whether they respond or whether they do not; whether the child is godly and exemplary in its life, or whether it goes off into prodigality and incorrigibility and obstreperousness, we have done our part, our best. Whether the neighbor responds or not, whether the workman listens or not, whether the nation turns or not, whether the people are saved or not, we have done our part; we have delivered God’s message of hope and salvation.
Not everyone will believe. God’s Book says that. We are not going to win everybody to the Lord. Would to God we could; we are not going to. The Lord said that some of the seed will fall by the wayside, and the dirty, unclean birds of the air will eat it up [Matthew 13:4, 19]. Some of it will fall on hard ground, and it will not grow [Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21]. Some of it will fall in the midst of thorns and briers, and the cares of the world will choke it to death [Matthew 13:7, 22]. But some of it will fall on good ground, and bear a hundredfold unto God [Matthew 13:8, 23]. They will not all be saved. They will not all turn, but some of them will. And we are responsible to sow the seed of the world, and to ask God to bless it and make it grow and bear fruit unto Him. And some will always respond. God will give us some.
Dr. Wallace Bassett, for forty-eight years pastor of the Cliff Temple Baptist Church, was speaking to our Men’s Brotherhood here in our church. And I heard him say in that address, the first time anyone ever invited him to come to Jesus, he accepted the Lord as his Savior. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? The first time anybody ever told him about the Lord and invited him to be a Christian, he accepted the Lord as his Savior, the first time. How blessed! Now, I have that experience every once in a while. I think of a couple now into whose home I entered; talked to the father and the mother in the home about the Lord Jesus, asked them to kneel down by my side in prayer. And having prayed and on our knees, I asked them, “If you will take the Lord Jesus as your Savior and dedicate your home to Him, will you give me your hand?” And they each one gave me his, her hand. And there, I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. That’s the first time I was ever in the home, first time I had ever seen the couple. Down the aisle they came here, confessing their faith before men and angels, before you. And that night, I baptized them. That is a beautiful and precious moment.
But some of them will not respond. However we pray and witness and testify some of them will not be saved. That is when, as I stand before the judgment bar of Almighty God, that is when I must be able to say, “Lord, it is not my fault. I am innocent of the blood of this couple or this man or this mother. I did my best. I tried. And I am pure from the blood of these that now face an eternity without God.” But I must try. I must do my utmost to witness, to testify, and to encourage them to accept the Lord, who alone is able to deliver us out of death and judgment and the condemnation of our sins [John 14:6; Acts 4:12].
There was a freight conductor who pulled his big long heavy train into a siding off of the main track by a little railroad station in a little village. And the conductor climbed out of his caboose when he had his big long heavy freight train on the siding and walked into the little station house. There the telegrapher was writing out on a piece of paper instructions for him. And when he read the instructions, they read that he was to take his heavy freight train down the main track and at a further down siding, at a further down little village, he was to there take his big, heavy freight train on to the siding there, and the express all-Pullman passenger train would pass him by down there. So reading the instructions on that yellow piece of paper handed to him by the telegrapher, he signaled the engineer and they pulled that big, heavy freight train on the main track. No sooner had that great heavy freight train built up its speed going down that main track than, when it turned a curve, heading toward it full speed was that all-Pullman passenger train.
And when they met, it was an awesome and terrible catastrophe; the engineers of both trains, the fireman of both trains snuffed out into eternity, and those cars telescoping, those sleeping people in the Pullman train hurled out into eternity, and the groans and cries of the dying, everywhere mangled bodies. The conductor ran up to the front of his train and did his best to help with those who were bleeding and torn and mangled and dying.
The railroad company appointed a board of inquiry and brought that freight conductor before the board of inquiry. And pointing their finger at him said, “It is your fault. You pulled that heavy train out of its siding on the main track, and you caused it to have that head-on collision with that all-Pullman express. It is your fault. You did it.” And he reached in his pocket and pulled out that yellow paper, and he said, “These are my instructions. I but carried out my mandate. It is not my fault. Their blood is not on my hands.”
The years past and that freight conductor is now an old, old man. In a church service at a testimony meeting, he said, “Often times, even to this day, I awaken in the middle of the night hearing the cries and the screams of those who were dying. And seeing again the mangled torn bodies of those hurt, killed in that awful accident.” And he says, “I get up and I walk downstairs. And in the hallway I, standing there, point to a yellow piece of paper framed and hanging on the wall.” And I say, “It was not my fault. Those are my instructions, and I carried out my mandate. It was not my fault.”
That is what we must say with the apostle Paul in the great day of the judgment of Almighty God. “Dear God, it is not my fault. My hands are pure from the blood of these men. I prayed.” I witnessed. I testified. I did the best that I could. And my hands are cleaned from their blood [Acts 20:26-27]. May it be that in the great and final assize when we stand before God [Romans 14:10], that in all honesty, we can say that to the Lord, “Lord, these children, we did our utmost to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. These young people, Lord, we worked for them, and provided for them, and prayed for them and pointed them to the blessed Jesus.” And these families and homes and these men and women, we testified, we pointed to the saving grace of the Lord. We did our best, blessed Jesus. “I call thee to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men” [Acts 20:26]. How meaningful that Paul could write that, and how meaningful if it can be a characterization true, wholly of this church.
Lord God, You know us and You search our hearts. And You see that we have given our souls, and our lives, and our means, and every way of approach that we’re capable of to tell people about Jesus, to win them to the Lord, that they might be saved.
And that is our testimony in this sacred hour this morning. You, having heard the gospel: Jesus who died for our sins that we might be saved [1 Corinthians 15:3]; who was raised again for our justification, that someday we might be declared righteous by our Living Lord [1 Corinthians 15:4; Romans 4:25]. Having heard the gospel, “Pastor, today I open my heart to the wooing and the appealing and the inviting of the Holy Spirit of God. I have decided for Christ, and here I am [Romans 10:8-13]. I am coming to the Lord today.” Maybe bringing your family with you, “We are all coming, pastor, my wife and my children,” or just two of you, a couple you, or just one somebody you. In the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, into one of these aisles, down here to the front, “Pastor, I have decided for God, and here I stand.”
Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing this hymn of appeal, stand up taking that first step. It will be the most meaningful step and the greatest decision you could ever make in your life. Do it now. Putting your life with us in the church [Hebrews 10:25-26], coming in answer to the appeal of the Spirit in your heart, come. Do it now. Make it now. God bless you and angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.