The Burning Heart
August 17th, 1980 @ 8:15 AM
THE BURNING HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-17-80 8:15 a.m.
And we are no less glad and happy to welcome the thousands of you who are listening to this service on the two radio stations that bear it. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Burning Heart. It is a sermon built upon three passages in three different chapters of the Book of Romans. It arises out of the intercession and the burden of the apostle Paul for his own people Israel. He will mention the fact in one of the passages that he is the apostle to the Gentiles; but the burden of his heart is still for the salvation of his own people.
Now the first passage, this section in the Book of Romans concerns Israel and the problem of Israel’s unbelief. The first passage is in chapter 9, verses 1 through 3; Romans 9:1-3, "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed," the Greek word is anathema, "something devoted to destruction"; "I could wish that I myself were accursed, damned in hell, accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
If I could give my soul that they might be saved, I would be glad to do it." Now, the beginning of the tenth chapter of the Book of Romans, "Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God," the original text is auton, "for my people is, for them," the Textus Receptus filled it in, "My prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved" [Romans 10:1]. The third is in the next chapter, chapter 11, verses 13 and 14: "For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, my people, and might save some of them" [Romans 11:13-14]. And the title of the message, The Burning Heart.
On the coat of arms of the tremendous Reformation theologian, John Calvin, was a hand lifting up a burning heart to God. The apostle who wrote this book to the church at Rome epitomizes that burning heart. First, he avows an agony and an earnestness in prayer for his own people. "My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved" [Romans 10:1]. And this is a description and a reflection of anyone who loves his country, who loves his people, and whose heart goes out in behalf of the lost. You cannot help but pray for their salvation and their conversion. However our hearts may go out in behalf of the foreign mission enterprise, that the lost be saved on the other side of the sea, our first desire and prayer to God is that our own people might be saved. What an indescribable, inexpressible tragedy if they who live across the seas were brought into the kingdom of heaven and our people are lost in disintegration and desecration and despair. And we have every right and provocation and necessity pressed upon us in our own country that we pray for our own people.
Look at these things. Every year, every year there are more than one million teenagers who enter careers of crime. You couldn’t help but ask God to bless the work of our dear church as we seek to reach these young people for God. I do not know the extent because I don’t live in that kind of a world, I do not know the extent to which all kinds of drug abusers, and pushers, and pimps and procurers enter into the lives of these youngsters who are in our school systems. I just know that it is devastating and increasingly so, and the age in which they are enticed and pulled into this criminal world is increasingly [lower]. You couldn’t help but bow on your knees and ask God’s help as we look at the vast, illimitable devastation of the young manhood and young womanhood of our own nation by their entrance into worlds and lives of crime.
All right, again, praying for our own people: every day there are more than five thousand homes in America that break up. They are in the divorce courts, the children are orphaned, and the scars that are left in a broken marriage somehow remain forever; you never get over it, never. You can hide it, you can overcome it, you can gloss over it; but a broken marriage leaves a repercussion in the soul that abides forever. Every day more than five thousand American homes are broken up. You couldn’t help but pray to God for some intervention in the hand of the Lord.
Look again, bowing us in prayer, the disintegration of American life is not found alone in the slum and in the ghetto, but it is no less dominate in the upper echelons of American life, economic, intellectual, political, in every area of life. I was never more surprised in my life than I was when a statistician reported that there is a greater percentage of crime in the Congress of the United States than in the lowest slums and ghettos of Detroit. You stagger at that! These are the men who guide the destiny of our nation, who make our laws, who are our elected representatives and officials; but there are more of them, percentage wise, who are breaking the laws, who are condemned, who are tried, who are found guilty, than you’ll find in the lowest ghettos of our nation. You couldn’t help but be brought to your knees in prayer for our own people.
And once again, and to me this is the most tragic of all, there is a disintegration, a crumbling of the religion foundations in the leadership of the name of God and of Christ in our nation. There is a disintegration of the foundation of our religious faith that is appalling! I look at it aghast! I can’t conceive of it. There is a cry in the psalm that goes like this: "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" [Psalm 11:3]. In the disintegration of our very faith, there is abysmal despair.
Now, we’re not going to speak about way over yonder somewhere, or way out yonder somewhere, or way over there. These are tremendous convocations held in the city of Dallas in the name of the Lord. They are religious leaders. First, there was a great convocation in the name of Christ held here in Dallas. And one of their leaders and one of their speakers was a professor in a famous denominational seminary here in Dallas, and one of the exponents of their theological position in the whole world, and I quote him: "God talk is meaningless; it’s not even an effective way to cuss. God is still talked in churches and in theological schools, but even there God is in trouble." Then the report says that he has tried creating another word, a fresh word for God: he calls it "Garfel"; this, in one of the great religious leaders of one of the tremendous denominations of our world.
All right, again, here is a convocation in Dallas; and the bishop, and I mean a famous, world famous bishop of one of the great denominations of America, speaking in Dallas, called the Sunday school "dangerous" and said, "There is grave doubt that any Sunday school anywhere is of any benefit." He made it clear that he was opposed to Sunday schools that teach the Bible. All right, just once again, out of a thousand instances of the disintegration and the decay of the very religious foundations of our people: the National Council of Churches held a great educational conference here in our city of Dallas, and the executive secretary of that National Council of Churches says, quote, "We may have to delete devotionals in public schools, district by district and school by school in court action." And then I have a comment from the Dallas Morning News. The comment is this: "There are problems aplenty in our man-made world that cry for the attention of Christians; but we can’t believe that devotionals in schools is one of them." It isn’t the infidel and the atheist that is driving for the removal of prayers and devotionals and Bible readings in schools nearly so much as it is the testimony and the influence of the churches of America. This brings you to your knees: not only do they fail to preach the gospel and win the lost, but they themselves are increasingly secular and materialistic and humanistic in all of their descriptions and delineations and in all of their so-called leadership in the name of God.
Just an instance of the heart of the devout Christian who says, "Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved" [Romans 10:1]; the burning heart.
Second: the heart to care, the compassionate heart.
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were anathema, accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen, my people according to the flesh.
These who breathe our air, live in our midst, talk our language, live up and down our streets, that they might be saved.
I read one time of a philosopher who sat in the Roman Coliseum and was watching the carnage of those gladiators as they fought each other unto the death. And, as you know in reading ancient history, when the ground was soaked with their blood, there were crews there who brought in sand, raked it over, and then it was flooded again with human blood. This philosopher was seated in the Roman Coliseum, watching that unspeakable carnage. And he said to a friend, he said, "What is needed, what is needed is the heart that would make it impossible to look upon such brutality and bloodshed," and then he added, "And the future would belong to the force that could create that heart." As you know, in the continuing history, it was the Christian faith that turned that Coliseum into ruins. You can look at it today, fallen. It was the Christian faith that stopped those brutal gladiatorial combats. It was the Christian faith that forever stamped out crucifixion as a way of execution. It was the Christian faith, it was the love of Christ, it was compassion of our Lord that lifted up humanity out of the depths of its Roman brutalism. What that philosopher said is what is needed in our Christian churches and in our Christian faith today: the heart that would make it impossible to look upon such appalling judgment coming upon our people.
You find that so oft times seen in the lives of God’s saints. It was in behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah that the Bible says, "And Abraham stood yet before the Lord." And you remember his prayer: "Lord," said Abraham, "if there are even fifty righteous in the city, You would not destroy the fifty righteous, would You?" Then he came down to forty-five and forty, to thirty and twenty, and finally ten [Genesis 18:22-32]. For whom was Abraham interceding? It was the indescribable abysmal carnality of Sodom and Gomorrah! That’s God’s saint: the compassionate heart, the heart to care. It was when the Lord said to Moses, "You stand aside, and let My fierce anger burn against these children of Israel," it was then that Moses said, "Lord, Lord, if Thou wilt forgive their sin," then a long black dash, he never completed the sentence, and he just added, "But if not, then blot my name, I pray Thee, out of the book which Thou hast written": the compassionate heart [Exodus 32:32].
Jeremiah cried, "Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by? Look and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow. Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people"! [Jeremiah 9:1]. And when the Lord said, "Whom do men say that I am like, that I am?" They replied, "Some say You are like John the Baptist raised from the dead; others say You are like one of the prophets. But some say You remind them of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet" [Matthew 16:13-14]. Moved with compassion, weeping over the lost of a great city, that is Jesus. That’s the Lord [Luke 19:41].
I held a funeral service for a little girl. She was a darling little child, oh, five years, four years of age, little golden-haired girl. It’s always sad to me. So when I had done the service, why, I stood there at the head of the casket, and the mother came; she was a very young woman. She could not have been more than twenty-five at the most; she’s just a girl to me. And that little thing cried, that mother cried; I thought I never heard anyone cry like that, just buried in tears, a flood of tears as she wept over the silent form and face of that little golden-haired girl. Right by her side, standing there; right here, standing by me and his wife, there, bent over that little casket, stood her husband. He stood there with his arms folded like this. He never showed an emotion; he never wept a tear. He never said a word; he just stood there unmoved. Not in my life did I ever want to say to a man, "Listen, fellow, look! Look! Look at that baby, that’s your little girl. Look at that mother, that’s your wife. Couldn’t you at least put your hand upon her shoulder? Couldn’t you at least stand by her? Couldn’t you at least put your arm around her? Couldn’t you at least say some word of loving remembrance? But to stand there and just stand there!
Since that day, I have often thought that God’s people are like that young husband and father: they stand there in a world of appalling judgment upon the thousands that are lost, and they are unmoved. They don’t pray, they don’t cry, they don’t visit, they don’t witness, they don’t testify, they don’t win because ultimately they don’t care. The burning heart: Lord, Lord, for a compassionate soul.
And last, "I speak to you Gentiles, I who am an apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means . . . I might save some" [Romans 11:13-14]. I might save some: the spirit to try.
Last night, I got to thinking about a family. It was nine o’clock, and I went to the home and knocked at the door. And the young wife came to the door, and I introduced myself, and told her how it was that I came to know them and who they were, a husband, and a little boy, and of our concern and love and care for them. And she said, "I know, I know. My husband and I are neglecting the most important thing in life and especially for our little four-year-old boy." We will win them. It is just the spirit to try.
"I magnify mine office . . . that I might save some" [Romans 11:13-14]. Do you notice he does not say "all"? I don’t think the Bible teaches that everyone is going to be saved; I don’t think so. I think the Bible teaches the doctrine of a remnant, that’s what Isaiah called it [Isaiah 37:31-32]; the doctrine of an election, that’s what Paul calls it [Romans 11:5]. There will be some who will respond; not everyone. You’re not going to win everyone; but there will be some who respond, they will.
So poignantly do I remember the rebuke of the Holy Spirit of God in my own life, in something that happened in the first revival meeting I ever held. I was a teenager, pastor of a little country church on that side of the creek. And over there was a country church named Bethel. And they invited me to hold a revival meeting. Their pastor was named Brother Angel. When the summertime came, they built an arbor. I wonder how many of you ever went to a revival in an arbor. They had built an arbor, and I was invited to hold the revival meeting. It was my first revival. I tried just the best I could; but it was my first attempt. And on Sunday morning at the eleven o’clock hour, when I preached, it seemed to me that I failed miserably. I was so crushed and disappointed insomuch that when I got through with what was to me an abject failure, I just said, "Let us stand for the benediction." When I announced that, "We’ll just stand for the benediction," Brother Angel, the pastor of the church, stood up and he turned to me, and he said, "Oh, Brother Criswell, don’t dismiss the people." He said, "I have prayed, and I have witnessed, and I have visited, and I have won some to the Lord. Oh," he said, "Brother Criswell, don’t dismiss them. Sing a song, give an invitation, make an appeal." So I did the best I could to press the invitation, to give an appeal, and had the people to stand and sing a song of invitation. And several came accepting the Lord as their Savior. The rebuke of the Holy Spirit in my heart is as poignant today as it was fifty-three years ago. Where did I get that idea that souls were going to be won by my oratorical perorations! by my academic or intellectual elucidations? Where did I fall into that tragic and abysmal error? I don’t know. When I look back over it, I don’t know; I can’t explain it.
And I think of the lesson of the Holy Spirit today. There are more than two hundred, three hundred, five hundred thousand lost people in this metroplex all around us. Do you find two hundred thousand or four hundred thousand of them beating on the doors of this church trying to get in to hear this preacher preach? And when he gives the appeal, do you see several thousand of them coming down these aisles? I’ve never seen it, nor have I even heard of it. But I magnify mine office, if by any means I might save some [Romans 11:13-14]. They’re not all coming, I know. They’re not all responding, I know. But some of them always will. Some will always listen and turn and accept the Lord. God will always give us some. And that’s why the apostle will write, "Be not weary in well doing" [Galatians 6:9]. If ten turn us down, the eleventh will be saved. If forty refuse our invitation, the forty-first will accept. The doctrine of election is one of the most comforting persuasions in the Bible: we may not be able to win all of them, but God knows His own; there are some who will always respond. God will give us some.
And that is our rejoicing in an hour like this. There will be some who will be saved. There will be some whose hearts God has touched. There will be some who will respond. And that is our appeal and invitation this morning. We all stay, we all stand, we all pray, we all look to God; and God will give us some.
In the balcony round, on this lower floor, a family, a couple, or just one somebody you; we have time and to spare, waiting for you. Coming down that stairway, walking down one of these aisles; all of our people will stay here, just for a moment; and we’ll be dismissed to our Sunday school classes, but now, this moment, is the most significantly precious moment in human life; waiting, praying, believing, expecting you. So when we stand in a moment, on the first note of that first stanza, answer with your life, "Pastor, my whole family, we all coming today." Or just you and your wife, or you and a friend, or just one somebody you; our ministers will be here, our deacons will be here, our people by the thousands this morning are praying just for you. Even the angels in heaven rejoice, God says so, when you come [Luke 15:7]. Bless you, may the Holy Spirit lead you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.