THE BURNING HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-17-80 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church delivering the morning message entitled The Burning Heart. It is a message of three parts from three texts from three chapters in the Book of Romans.
In the Book of Romans, chapters 9, 10, and 11 [Romans 9,10,11], the apostle Paul, who describes himself, as you will see in one of the texts, as the apostle to the Gentiles [Romans 11:13; 2 Timothy 1:11], the apostle Paul is talking about struggling with the problem of Israel’s unbelief. And, out of a burning heart, he writes these words—chapter 9, verses 1-3 [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, “devoted to destruction, assigned to hell, damned forever”—
I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Now chapter 10, the first verse: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1]. The original text would read autōn, “for them.” The Textus Receptus, that’s the basis of the King James Version translation, puts in the word “Israel”: his people. But reading it as he wrote it, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved [Romans 10:1].”
Now the third is in the eleventh chapter of Romans, the next chapter, verses 13 and 14 [Romans 11:13-14]:
For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify my office;
If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, my people, and might save some of them.
The burning heart: the tremendously gifted and erudite reformational scholar and theologian, John Calvin, had on his coat of arms a hand lifting up a burning heart to God. Nothing could describe the apostle Paul more aptly than to look upon him as the epitome and the imagery of that coat of arms, lifting up a burning heart to God.
In the tenth chapter, he speaks of his agony and earnestness of prayer for his people: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel, for my own flesh and blood, is that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1]. That is reflective of all of God’s true people. However we may be in earnest and agonizing prayer for the saving of the lost across the seas, that black man in the central part of Africa, or that aborigine in the central part of Australia, or that Stone Age Indian in the Amazon jungle, however our hearts may go out for the saving of the lost beyond the seas, our first prayer and our first intercession is for you, that you might know the Lord in saving grace [Ephesians 2:8]: that these who speak our own language, breathe our air, live down our streets, they’re our people.
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my own people is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1]. And there are characterizations, there are factual truths, of the appalling lostness of our own people that bends us down in agony and intercession before the Lord.
Look at some of these things. Look at them. Every year, every year, there are more than one million teenagers who enter lives of crime. Think of the heartache, the tears, the disappointment, the awesome and abysmal sorrow that follows after the train of lawlessness, and crime, and violence, of over a million teenagers every year that belong to the underworld. And the dope peddler, and the pimp, and the procurer are increasingly lowering the age in which, and through, and by which our youngsters are entering lives of lawlessness and crime. Isn’t it explicable why we are bowed on our knees before God, and do ask the Lord to bless the work of our hands as we work with these boys and girls, these teenagers? “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is, that they might be delivered” [Romans 10:1].
Look again. Every day there are more than five thousand homes that break up in divorce, here in America. Once again, I don’t know whether God Himself could describe the intense and illimitable agony that follows the breaking up of our homes, five thousand and more every day. However the sorrow may be assuaged, or the memory may be drowned, no heart and no life ever gets over the deep scar of a broken home, never, ever. It is always there. And of course, the orphaning of children, and the sense of failure and frustration that attend the breaking up of our homes, bows us in prayer. You couldn’t help but weep and lament over so vast and immeasurable a hurt.
Look again. The disintegration of the moral fiber of the American people is almost unthinkable and unbelievable. We are taught to believe that crime and lawlessness and violence are out there, or over there, or beyond there: where the slums are and the ghettos are. And these humanistic, atheistic sociologists have persuaded us, teaching in our schools, that the reason for crime and violence and lawlessness is because of poverty and these economic conditions.
You look at America. There is a greater percentage of crime and lawlessness in the Congress of the United States than there is in the lowest ghetto in any city in America; more who are facing criminal prosecution.
I one time saw a cartoon, and the truth of that picture was implanted in my memory forever. There is an officer here, and he has three teenage juvenile delinquents who are standing before the judge up there on the bench. And the judge is saying to those three delinquent teenagers, “You belong to the richest families. You drive the latest sports model cars. You live in the most fashionable neighborhoods. You attend the most luxurious private schools. No wonder you are delinquent.” How modern education has twisted and warped the truth of God as we try to present the message of hope to our people.
Again, look. Not only are we brought to our knees in agony and in earnest intercession for our people because of the record of criminal statistics that continually rises and rises, but the very foundation of our religious faith is crumbling, destroyed by these who are supposed to defend it and uphold it. There is a lament in the Book of Psalms that reads like this: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” [Psalm 11:3]. And that is, sadly and poignantly, characterizing American religious faith.
I’m not going to talk about an assembly way on the other side of the continent there, or the other side of the continent there. We’re going to speak for just a moment about religious assemblies, convocations here in the city of Dallas. Recently, one was convened here, a national religious convocation, and it drew the academia of our theological world. One of the speakers was a professor in a famous denominational seminary here in Dallas, not being there now, he is in another place, but still one of the great theologians of that communion. In Dallas he said, “God-talk is meaningless. It’s not even an effective way to cuss. God is still taught in churches and in theological schools, but even there God is in trouble.” And the article says that he has tried creating another word, a fresh word for God. He calls it “Garfel.” That’s one of the great theologians of one of the great denominations of our world.
All right. Again, this is a bishop of one of the tremendous denominational groups in the world. Speaking in Dallas, he 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.
Once again, here in the city of Dallas, there met a convocation of the National Council of Churches. And their executive secretary said, “A study has shown that devotionals are being held in seventy percent of Texas public schools.” Then he added, “We may have to delete devotionals in public schools, district by district and school by school, in court action.” And I have a comment made by the editor of the Dallas Morning News. He wrote, “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.” These are just some of the things that bow our knees and our hearts before the Lord in earnest and intercessory prayer. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my nation is, for my people is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1].
Second: not only the agony of prayer, but the heart to care; the compassionate soul. He writes in chapter 9:
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 accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
The compassionate heart to care: “I could wish that my soul was damned in hell if only my brethren might be saved” [Romans 9:3], the compassionate, caring heart; it is a difference to us, how our people are.
I one time read of a philosopher who, two thousand years ago, sat in one of those rising tiers in the Roman Coliseum. And as he sat there among those thousands and thousands of spectators, he was watching gladiatorial combat in the center of that arena. And as you know, in those awesome, brutal and carnal struggles, when the sand became bathed in blood, they had crews ever present, ever ready, who brought in fresh sand and spread it out so that those awesome combats could go on. This philosopher sat there and, watching that brutal bloodbath, turned to his friend and said, “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 that force that can create such a heart.”
Following the story in history, of course, you know that the Christian faith in Christ brought such compassionate care for the people that that Coliseum fell into ruins. You can go look at it: fell into ruins, unused. Gladiatorial combat and confrontation were forever outlawed. And the cross as an instrument of crucifixion was forever and eternally abolished.
The compassionate spirit of Jesus, lifting up the people: that’s what we need in our churches and among our people today. “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ if only they might be saved” [Romans 9:3], the caring, compassionate heart, the intercessory spirit.
You know, it is hard for me to realize, when the Bible says, “And Abraham stood yet before the Lord,” and his prayer, you remember, was, “Lord, if there are even fifty righteous in the city, You would not destroy the city for the lack of fifty righteous.”
And the Lord said to Abraham, “Abraham, if there are fifty in the city, I will spare it for fifty’s sake.”
And Abraham stood yet before the Lord and said, “Lord, what if there are just forty-five? For the lack of five more, would You destroy the city?”
God said, “No. For the sake of forty and five, I would save the people.”
Then Abraham asked for forty, and for thirty, and for twenty, and finally, you remember, “Lord, if there are ten righteous, would You spare the city for ten?”
And God said, “Abraham, for ten I will spare the city” [Genesis 18:22-32].
What was the name of that city that he was praying for? What was the name of that other city he was praying for? One of them was named Sodom and the other was named Gomorrah [Genesis 18:20]. The compassionate heart. Wouldn’t you think that Abraham would say, “So vile and iniquitous a people need to be wiped off the face of the earth. Their memory needs to be blotted out”? But he stands before God, interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah. That’s God’s people, God’s saints.
When the Lord said to Moses, “You stand aside. You stand aside and My fierce wrath shall burn against Israel until it has consumed them,” do you remember that word of reply of Moses, the man of God: “O Lord, these people have sinned a great sin, yet now if Thou will forgive their sins”—and that’s followed by a long, black dash. He never completed the sentence. He just added, “But if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of the book which Thou hast written” [Exodus 32:32]. Compassion. It concerned, it was burdened that the people were lost.
Jeremiah cried, saying, “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold, and see there is not any sorrow like unto my sorrow” [Lamentations 1:12]. “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night over the slain of the daughter of my people!” [Jeremiah 9:1].
When Jesus said, “Whom do men say that I am, that I am like?” some said, “They say You are like John the Baptist raised from the dead.”
Others said, “You are like one of the prophets.”
But an answer was also, “And some say you are like Jeremiah,” the weeping prophet [Matthew 16:13-14], the Lord, moved with compassion, weeping over the people.
“My heart’s desire and prayer to God that they might be saved [Romans 10:1]. I wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my kinsmen, my people, according to the flesh” [Romans 9:3]. The compassionate heart.
I conducted the funeral service of a little golden-haired girl, oh, four years old, something like that, saddest thing ever. And after the service was done, and I speak the best that I can, why, stand here at the head of the little casket, and the mother comes. I guess, because of my age, young people seem so very young. She seemed so very young, in her early, early twenties. And that little mother wept disconsolately, profusely, heart-brokenly over that little child. She just sobbed her sorrow away. And, as I stood there and watched that little mother weep over the death of that little golden-haired girl, my heart broke.
Right here, standing right there, was her husband and the father of that precious, little darling girl. He stood there, with his arms folded just like this, absolutely unmoved, like a statue of stone. And as I stood there and listened to her cry and looked at him in his colossal indifference, I wanted to cry out, “Man, look! Look! Look. Can’t you just put your hand upon her shoulders? Couldn’t you put your arm around her waist? Couldn’t you say something, at least, ‘I, too, am grieved,’ or, ‘I’m sorry’? Couldn’t you show some evidence of care?”
None at all. As I looked at that man, and have thought of him a thousand times since, he is a veritable picture of the average church member and the so-called Christians. They live, they move, they work in the midst of an appalling judgment upon our people, and seemingly are unmoved. They don’t care. The burning heart: “Brethren, my heart’s desire, my prayer to God for our people is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1].
And one other: the spirit to try. In chapter 11 we have read: “I speak to you Gentiles, because I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means these of my own flesh, some of them might be saved” [Romans 11:13-14]. His office is, his calling is as an emissary and ambassador to the Gentiles. But he says in this other area, “Do I magnify my office, if by any means some of my own people might be saved” [Romans 11:13-14].
Do you see how he defines that hope? He does not write “. . . that all of my people might be saved.” The Bible teaches plainly in the Old Testament the doctrine of the remnant [Isaiah 1:9]. There will be some who will be saved. The Bible teaches in the New Testament the doctrine of election [Romans 8:29, 11:7]. God will always give to His Son some; that His sacrifice, His atoning suffering, is not for naught. God will give Jesus a people. That’s the doctrine of election. But it is always a remnant. It is always an election, a selection. It is always some. It is never all.
There’s no deviation from that throughout the revelation of that Holy Book. The whole world is not going to be saved. All men everywhere are not going to return, and repent, and believe. It will just be some, always that.
But, as the great preacher Spurgeon said, “The doctrine of election is my comfort. When I preach, I know not all are going to be saved. But God will always give me some, the election. God has those known to Him whose hearts will turn. That’s a comfort to me.”
When I was a teenager and began my first work before the Lord as a preacher, I was invited to preach a revival under an arbor in a little church called Bethel. It was my first revival. When Sunday came, and the 11:00 o’clock hour, I stood there under that arbor with all those people, and I preached the best that I could. But, it was an abysmal failure. When I came to the end of the sermon that I had prepared and just delivered, it was to me a colossal failure. And I so was oppressed and hurt by my failure in preaching that I said, “Let us stand for the benediction.”
When I said that, “We shall stand now for the benediction,” Brother Angel, the pastor of the church there at Bethel, he stood up and he said, “Oh, Brother Criswell, don’t dismiss the people. I have prayed. I have visited. I have witnessed, and God has given me some. Brother Criswell, give an invitation. Sing a hymn of appeal.”
“Yes,” I said, “To give your heart to the Lord, to put your life in the church, as God shall move your spirit and speak to your soul, while we sing this hymn of appeal, you come.” So we stood up and we sang, and God gave us several souls.
The stinging rebuke of the Holy Spirit in my heart, given through that godly country preacher, Brother Angel, is as vivid and as poignant today as it was then, fifty-three years ago. Where did I get the idea that souls were saved through my scholarly expositions, or my academic perorations, or these high-flown sermons that I might have been able to prepare? Where did I get that idea, that people are going to be saved through my oratory, or my ability in forensics, standing in the pulpit? Where did I get that idea? I don’t know. I don’t know. But it is a tragic mistake! People aren’t saved because of the brilliance or the forensic oratorical ability of the preacher. People are saved by the mediation of the Spirit of God in making appeal to their souls [John 16:8]. And a child can do it. Anybody can do it. God uses us; and that spirit to try, that some might be saved, is the most comforting of all the doctrines of the Bible.
Dear people, look around you. In this vast metroplex there are thousands and hundreds of thousands who are lost. They’re everywhere. They’re down every street. They’re in every business house.
When I stand up here to preach on Sunday, do you see 200,000 of them or 400,000 of them or 600,000 of them pounding at these doors, trying to get in to listen to the message of the Lord? No. And when I give the invitation, do you see thousands of them streaming down these aisles to accept Jesus as their Savior? No. “But I magnify my office if by any means I might save some” [Romans 11:13-14]. And that’s the greatest comfort in this earth. Not all will be saved. Not all will turn. Not all will come to a saving knowledge of our Lord. But God will always give us some. And that is the most blessed and assuring of all of the promises in the Bible. If I try, if I preach the best I can, if I pray, if I pour my very life into the effort, God will give us some.
I started thinking about a family last night. It was nine o’clock. I went to the home. I knocked at the door. The little woman, the little wife, bless her heart, came to the door and said, “I was afraid to answer. It’s so late.”
I introduced myself. She didn’t. She said, “I know you. I know about you.”
“Well,” I said, “I’ve come to invite you to the Lord.”
And, she said, “I’ve just told my husband, ‘We have been neglectful in our lives, and we have a little boy, and we must raise him up in the Lord. And you and I must give ourselves to the service of God in the church.’ We’ll be there.”
They will come. God blesses the spirit to try. “I magnify mine office: if by any means . . . I might save some” [Romans 11:13-14]. And God never fails. He will do His office work today. There will be some in this great throng who respond. They always do. God always gives us some.
And there are some of you listening on television and watching, watching on television and listening on radio, whose hearts God will touch. From one side almost of this nation to the other do I see and meet people who say, “In my home, listening to you, did I give my heart to God.” I pray it may be so now. Wherever you are, if you’re driving in a car, pull to the side of the road. Bow your head over the wheel. Make it an altar and say, “Lord, look at me. Lift me out of my own self and place me in the glory of the abounding life of Christ.” If you’re on television watching, kneel down and give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13].
And in the great throng here this morning, in a minute when we sing our hymn of appeal, “Lord, Lord, this is the way I ought to walk. This is the thing I ought to do. God has spoken and I’m answering with my life.” Now, may we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, in whose compassionate and loving mercy we find our hope and our refuge, loving us, dying for us [1 Corinthians 15:3], raised for us [Romans 4:25], interceding for us [Hebrews 7:25], someday coming for us [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], if ever we love Thee, Lord Jesus, we do now. And our Master, bless Thou the appeal that is made. And in this moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, may the Holy Spirit do His office work of convicting and wooing and inviting. And what my stammering lips could not frame, may the Holy Spirit pronounce in words of God, the words that God speaks, and may the Holy Spirit make the appeal, and then may these answer with their lives.
In that balcony round, a family, a couple, or just one somebody you; in the press of people on this lower floor, into that aisle and down to the front: “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me, and we are on the way.” The whole family of you; gather the children, all of you come. Or just you and your friend, or you and your wife, or just one somebody you, God bless you as you make that decision. And our Lord, thank Thee for the harvest even before it comes to pass, in Thy saving and keeping name, amen.
Now choir as our ministers are here, as our deacons are here, as the Holy Spirit is here, as the angels bless and accompany in the way, down that stairway, down this aisle, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come,” while we sing and while we pray.