THE DIVINE AGREEMENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Matthew 18:18, 19
10-6-85 10:50 a.m.
The title of the sermon is The Divine Agreement. And we invite all of you who listen on television and listen on radio to pray with us that the Lord will make the message an encouragement to all of our hearts. The Divine Agreement; it is an exposition of three verses in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew. Matthew, the First Gospel, chapter 18. And the message will have three parts in it; each one having to do with one of these three verses. Our Lord says, “Verily, truly.” You know that is an unusual word. In Greek, it is “amen”; in Hebrew, it is “amen”; in English, it is “amen.” In every language in the world it is the same, “amen”—translated here “verily, amen.”
Amen I say unto you, Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven—
Omnipotent God, also our Father—
For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”
And how much more is that true, if the Lord is with us in divine presence with just two or three, think of how much with two or three thousand. Jesus is here, bless His holy and heavenly name.
Now He says: “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing they shall ask, it shall be done of them of My Father which is heaven” [Matthew 18:19]—agreement, unity. There is a rationale, there is a foundational, fundamental truth in that. Separation, discord, disarray makes for weakness and failure; but agreement makes for strength and power and glory. Separation hurts us. Disharmony, disagreement, disjointedness hurts us. Amos said in his prophecy, chapter 3, verse 3, “How can two walk together, except they be agreed?” [Amos 3:3]. Separation hurts us. Any time a church is full of division and divisiveness and disharmony, it hurts it, finally will destroy it; but agreement, harmony, unity makes for a marvelous congregation. It is a beautiful thing. Psalm 133:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments:
It is like the dew on Mount Hermon, it is like the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there God commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.
It is beautiful. It is good. It is pleasant when brethren dwell together in harmony, in unity, in agreement [Psalm 133:1]. It also is a source of infinite and omnipotent power. God is in it. The story of Pentecost begins like that. The chapter starts, “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” [Acts 2:1]. And the power of heaven was poured upon them [Acts 2:2-4]. Always, that unction, and power, and presence, and dynamic forces of spiritual outpouring when brethren are together in unity, in harmony, in fellowship. It is an unusual thing, God’s mathematics; for where two of you shall be together, in heart and soul and spirit, there does God pour out His omnipotent answers from heaven.
Spiritual mathematics are so different from ordinary mathematics. Ordinary mathematics has no validity or pertinency in spiritual forces, none at all. May I read to you just by instance? The Book of Leviticus says, “Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight” [Leviticus 26:8]. What strange mathematics is that? Or look again in Deuteronomy, “One shall chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight” [Deuteronomy 32:30]. Why, that’s not mathematically correct; if one chases a thousand, two would chase two thousand, three would chase three thousand. Doesn’t work like that in God’s formula. One shall chase a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight [Deuteronomy 32:30].
Just one other, God’s spiritual, divine mathematics: “Thy people shall be righteous: and shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of My planting, and the work of My hands, that I may be glorified. And a”—qaton, and a qaton—“a little bitty unimportant one shall become a thousand, and— sa’ir, sa’ir, an insignificant small somebody shall be a strong nation” [Isaiah 60:21- 22]. That’s God. That’s God’s mathematics. You couldn’t explain it forever.
I think of David Livingstone who tried to explain to an African chief what ice was. He couldn’t understand, but it is true. These things are true, God’s mathematics: multiplication by division, addition by subtraction. It is an astonishing reversal of what we think for and observe in ordinary human life, the spiritual forces of God.
In the seventeenth chapter of 1 Kings, Elijah says to the widow of Zarephath, “The barrel of meal shall not waste, and the cruse of oil shall not fail, until God sends rain upon the earth” [1 Kings 17:14]. And out of that barrel of meal, and out of that cruse of oil, they lived for three and one-half years [1 Kings 17:15-16; James 5:17]. That’s God’s mathematics. As the Lord said to the woman at the well in the fourth chapter of the Book of John, “What I give you will be in you a well of water springing forth, overflowing unto eternal life” [John 4:14]. A never-ending fountain, a flowing stream; the more it flows, the more is the inexhaustible supply. The only way to stagnate it would be to dam it up, to refuse its flowing. But let it flow and give an outpour and it aboundingly increases. It’s an amazing thing before God. And lest one think, “Now, that’s not reasonable, pastor. That just can’t be.” That same spiritual dynamic can be illustrated in our own lives.
Pat Zondervan publishes books, the finest Christian books in the world. Here is a man who pours his life into the book, and when he is done, he can write a better book, another book. Or, here is one who paints a picture, and he pours his life into that picture; when he is done, he can paint a better picture. Here is an architect who envisages a tremendous and beautiful building, but he can envisage a better building. Or here is a mother who has one, two, three, more children, and if she has another baby placed in her arms she has more love still and yet.
Oh, how much a young man has to learn! I began to be pastor when I was seventeen years of age out in the open country. And there was a sweet family in the church named Hobson, and she had one, two, three, four, five, six, seven—I cannot remember how many children. Well, I was single in those days. I was single for the first ten years of my pastoral work, and I lived with the people, and I would live in their house many, many evenings, many nights. And she had a little boy named Robert who had died. And as I would be there in the home, she would talk to me about how she missed little Robert, and how she loved little Robert. And I said to her in my inexperience, I said, “Dear Mrs. Hobson, look at all these children you have here. All of them, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven—look at all these children; and you just think about little Robert; and you just lament over the death of little Robert. Look at all these children around you. Why would you miss little Robert?” Oh, she looked at me in amazement, and said, “My dear young pastor, if I had forty children, and one of them died, it would break my heart. It would break my heart.” If she had forty children she says, “I would love each one of them with the same love as though I loved just one of them.” Isn’t that an amazing outpouring of the human heart? Just no end to it, love this child; love this one; and love this one just as much; and no end to the abounding outpouring of filial love, domestic love, mother love.
The Word of God is that way. Just study it and read it. It is inexhaustible. It speaks to us. It blesses us. It enriches us. And the more we study and the more we pore over its pages, the more does it reveal its infinite treasures to us. Our Savior is like that, an inexhaustible supply of grace and love and outpouring. And our lives can be that way when we give them to God. The more we give to God, the more we have to offer to God, and the more the Lord pours His heavenly riches into our souls. It is an amazing spiritual mathematics, the fountain, the outflowing of the blessings of the Lord.
Do you know: again, He says, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20]. The center of our unity is the Lord Christ. We differ in so many ways. O God in heaven, how separated we can be. Hardly any two of us will explain any circumstance or any providence or any exigency alike. We differ in every way. But in Christ, in Him, in His presence, we are one. No matter from what background, or no matter what nationality, or what race, or what education, or what assignment, or what work: in Christ, in Him, in His presence, we are one [Galatians 3:28]. Our center of harmony and unity and agreement is in our blessed Lord.
When I was a young fellow, I went to a Southern Baptist Convention in Washington, DC. And that Sunday, I went to a Calvary Baptist Church. It was jammed. And I sat on the stairway that leads up to the balcony at the front of the church. And it was like that stairway over there. It faced the congregation. So as I sat there on the stairway, I looked at the congregation that morning.
And right down there in front of the preacher on the third row was Charles Evans Hughes, a member of that church. He had gone to bed one night thinking he would be elected president of the United States, and the next day found that by a few votes he missed the White House. But at that time, he was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was literally one of the most illustrious looking men, one of the most distinguished looking men that you could ever think for or see, and he sat there, and by his side sat an untutored, unlettered, uneducated Chinese laundryman.
And as I looked at them, dear me, what Jesus can do for the human race and for the human family. However we may differ, we are one in Him [Galatians 3:28]. We all belong to the family of God. What a preciousness; you are my Brother in Him; and you are my sister in Him; and we are brothers and sisters with Jesus, our elder brother; and all of us belong to our Father God in heaven. It is a beautiful thing, the harmony, the unity that comes to us in Christ. He is the center of our souls, our hearts, our hopes, our church, our heaven. It will be heaven enough just to be together with Him.
One other thing; He started off here with these three verses: “Amen I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” [Matthew 18:18]. Now when you read that in English, you do not get quite what it is the Lord said. Those verbs are periphrastic futures, and if I could translate it exactly, this is it: “Whatever you do in earth, shall have been chosen, elected, purposed in heaven”—shall have been. When we pray in harmony and in agreement with God’s will, the Lord’s omnipotence brings it to pass, for what we agree on, and what we ask for, and what we pray for shall have been ordained in heaven [Matthew 18:18].
When I am in harmony, when I am in harmony with the will of God, and when I pray according to the mind of my Savior, and when I ask for the gifts that God has prepared to bestow upon me, when I am in keeping with the heart and will of God in heaven, I am the recipient of those appeals, and intercessions, and gifts, and presences, and dynamics, and outpourings that I pray for in heaven. And may I read the concomitant. When you do that, when you do that in sacred and solemn agreement according to the will of God, you have that for which you ask [Matthew 18:19].
Now, may I speak of it empirically? That is the fruit and the result of that kind of praying—answers from heaven. In our church, I welcomed two sisters one time: Hattie Rankin Moore and her sister Snow Rankin. And I baptized them. Rankin Street that runs into SMU is named for their father. The Rankin Center in West Dallas is named for their father. He was an illustrious minister of the Word of God. And Hattie Rankin gave her life in working with, and loving and praying with, and ministering to that flotsam and jetsam in West Dallas; those unlettered, uneducated, poor poverty-stricken people who lived in those slums over there in that Trinity River bottom.
Out of those slums and people with whom she worked; Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker, Raymond Hamilton, Floyd Hamilton; Ralph Fults; she worked with those people. And upon a day in Louisiana, a posse led by the sheriff cut down in a barrage of bullets, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. And the law captured Raymond Hamilton and set his electrocution date in the state penitentiary in Huntsville. And over there in West Dallas where that gang rose out of the poverty and ignorance and tragedy of human family life, Hattie Rankin was over there. The families were together, and Raymond Hamilton was to be electrocuted at seven o’clock that night. And they were there in one of those hovels, those unlettered, poverty-stricken people. They were lamenting and weeping and wailing and . . . just, indescribable sadness. So Hattie Rankin said, “Let’s kneel. Let’s take it to God in prayer. Let’s ask God for the soul of the boy,” eighteen years old. They knelt in prayer and instead of weeping and lamenting and wailing, there was quiet and intercession and appeal.
A few days after Raymond Hamilton was electrocuted, the chaplain came here to Dallas, and he visited with the group. And he said, “A strange thing that I cannot understand: that boy Raymond Hamilton was so frightened and restless, and suddenly just before he was executed he became quiet and asked me about God, and how to be saved, and how to die, and how to go to heaven.” And he said, “I showed him the way of everlasting life, and he gave his heart to the Lord. And when he was fastened in that electric chair, he was quiet and at peace.”
And Hattie Rankin said, “Chaplain, when did that quiet come to that boy?”
The chaplain told her the exact moment. It was that moment, that moment when the family knelt in prayer. Then Hattie Rankin said to me, “Floyd is in Alcatraz under a sentence of I don’t know how many lifetimes of years. Would you pray with me that he be saved?”
“Why, yes,” and we prayed for Floyd.
Then she said to me, “Would you go to Alcatraz and show him how to be saved?”
I had not thought of such a thing. But I had prayed with her, and after a few days, I said to Ms. Hattie Rankin, “Yes, I will go.” And arrangements were made, and in San Francisco I got in the little boat and out to the harbor in which the Alcatraz prison is built on a rocky island. I was greeted by the warden and then taken inside from one door of steel, from one iron wall, from one steel enclosure to another, and in the middle of that vast prison complex I was placed in an iron cell with Floyd Hamilton. By the way, one of the men out there said to me, “Pastor, it is just hard for me to realize that. Nobody is ever in that prison. And when you visit those prisoners you stay on this side, and on the other side of a heavy bullet proof glass is the prisoner, and you talk to the prisoner through that glass. And you were in there, in the same cell with the prisoner?”
And I said, “Yes.”
He said, “That is the only time I’ve ever heard of it.”
In that cell, iron steel all around us, I told him how God forgives sinners and how God saves souls. “That is why He came into the world. Not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance [Luke 5:32]. Not to be a physician to the well, but to the sick [Luke 5:31]. And God’s mercy reaches down to you, as He did to your brother, Raymond.” Then we knelt on that iron floor. And after the prayer, I extended my hand, and I said, “Floyd, today if you will take the Lord Jesus as your personal Savior, will you clasp my hand?”
He did so warmly. Then added, “If God will ever give me days and length of years enough that I am out of prison, the first thing I will do, I will walk down the aisle in your church and openly confess my faith in the Lord Jesus. And I will be baptized and follow the dear Savior.” He was a model prisoner after that; worked in the chaplain’s office. They sent him from Alcatraz to Leavenworth, Kansas, the federal penitentiary there. And so fine a man was he in the prison, working and helping in the chaplain’s office, that they pardoned him.
And the first thing he did when he was pardoned from the federal penitentiary, he came here to this dear church, and down that aisle, and here publicly confessed his faith in the Lord Jesus, and I baptized him in that baptistry. And for the years that have followed since, until he has become tragically ill, from the years that have followed since, he has gone from school to school, and club to club, and place to place telling boys how to be saved; that it doesn’t pay to disobey God and to break the law. That is what prayer, mighty prayer, soul-saving, God-honoring, earth-shaking, destiny-determining prayer is able to do. “If two you of shall agree on earth touching any thing,” in keeping with the will of God in heaven, “it shall be done here in earth” [Matthew 18:19].
Could I add just one little paragraph? Mrs. Hattie Rankin Moore had no child, so she left her entire estate to this church. It belongs and is administered by our Wills and Trusts committee. And what she did, and the fortune she left, keeps on keeping on, serving and honoring God in this weary world. O Lord, what an open door God hath set before us, to walk in harmony with brethren, to plead and to pray with God our Father in heaven. And when we ask according to His predetermined purpose, we are invincible. God does it in His grace, in His presence, and in His power [Matthew 18:19-20]. What a marvelous way to live, to build a house, to build a home, to marry, to rear children, to walk before the Lord, to take Him as a partner in business, to ask God about every decision, to walk through the pilgrimage of this life with the Lord God by your side. And that is the appeal that we make to you this solemn precious heavenly hour.
“Pastor, today, today I open my heart heavenward and God-ward. And on that confession I am standing here before God’s people” [Romans 10:9-10]. To put your life in the family of this congregation, to pray with you, to work with you, to go to heaven with you someday, welcome. To answer any call of the Savior to your heart, if God has spoken to you, answer with your life. It will be the most beautiful and most precious thing you will ever decide to do in eternity. “Pastor, I am coming today. This is God’s day for me, and I am on the way.” In a moment when we stand and sing this appeal, in the balcony round, there is time and to spare, welcome! In the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, may angels attend you. This is God’s day, heaven’s day. This is family day. This is young folks’ day. This is children’s day. This is husband and wife’s day. This is a day of salvation and glory in the presence of God. Come, come, do it now, make it now. On the first note of the first stanza, “I am on the way, pastor. Here I am.” Welcome. God bless you, while we stand and while we sing.