The Sympathetic Heart
March 24th, 1985 @ 8:15 AM
THE SYMPATHETIC HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-24-85 8:15 a.m.
And God wonderfully bless the listening ear and responsive heart of the multitudes of you who share this hour with us on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Sympathetic Heart.
In our preaching through Ezekiel, we are in chapter 3, and the text is verses 10 and 11 and 14 and 15. Ezekiel chapter 3, verses 10 and 11:
Moreover the Lord said unto me, Son of man, all My words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears.
And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord God; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.
14 and 15:
So the Spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me.
Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel Abib, that dwelt by the River of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days.
“And I sat where they sat”; the sympathetic heart [Ezekiel 3:15].
When the Word of the Lord was given to the prophet Ezekiel it was in his mouth sweet as honey. The chapter begins like that. “Son of man, eat this roll. And He caused me to eat the roll . . . And it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness” [Ezekiel 3:1-3]. The call and commission of God to the prophet was dear, it was ecstatic, it was rapturous, it was heavenly. Any man who has a rapturous experience with God will know exactly that. The call of the Lord was wonderful. But when he received the commission [Ezekiel 2:1-9], and listened to the message that he was to deliver, “there was written on that roll lamentations, and mourning, and woe” [Ezekiel 2:10]. It was a message of condemnation and judgment. It was bitter. And those two experiences came side by side in the experience, in the heart of Ezekiel; a beautiful, rapturous call from heaven to be God’s prophet and God’s man [Ezekiel 2:1-9], but the message was one of condemnation, of judgment [Ezekiel 2:10].
So in keeping with the call of the Lord, Ezekiel turns his face to deliver the judgment of the Almighty: “So the Spirit lifted me up . . . and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit”—the message in his heart was difficult; it was hard; it was a bitter thing to which God had called him—“but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me” [Ezekiel 3:14]. It was a compulsion from heaven for him to deliver that message of condemnation.
That was the experience of Jeremiah in the twentieth chapter of the prophet Jeremiah. The message was so tragic, full of so much violence and judgment that Jeremiah said, “I am not going to speak in His name; I am not going to deliver God’s word.” But the word was in his bones as a fire and he could not forbear [Jeremiah 20:9].
That’s exactly the experience of Ezekiel. The message was so bitter and the word of the Lord was so judgmental that I suppose he said in his heart, “I don’t think I’ll deliver it.” “But the hand of the Lord was strong upon me” [Ezekiel 3:14]. He had to do it. It was a compulsion from heaven itself. “So I came to them of the captivity at Tel Abib, those that dwelt by the river of Chebar” [Ezekiel 3:15]. And he goes there in that double, that twofold response [Ezekiel 3:14-15]. The message in his heart is one of heaviness and bitterness, judgment. But he is so moved with sympathy for those despairing captives, their trials and their slavery and their suffering. “So I came to them of the captivity at Tel Abib, those that dwelt by the River Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days” [Ezekiel 3:15]. That word “astonished” in Hebrew is possibly the strongest word in their language. The word is shamem, shamem. It means “to be devastated”; it means “to be appalled”; it means “to be made desolate.”
Let me give you an example of the use of that word. When Amnon, the son of David, violated and ravished and raped his sister Tamar [2 Samuel 13:1-19], for which violence Absalom killed him, Absalom slew Amnon, his brother [2 Samuel 13:28-29]. The word that is used in the thirteenth chapter of 2 Samuel to describe Tamar—after she was raped—the word to describe her was that she “sat shamem in the house,” devastated, appalled, destroyed [2 Samuel 13:20]. That’s the word used here. He sat there, among those suffering slaves devastated, shamem, appalled [Ezekiel 3:15].
And this word that “he set there shamem, seven days in silence” [Ezekiel 3:15], is a dramatic and poignant living out of the tragedy that had overwhelmed his people. For example, in Lamentations 1:1, “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!” Or in Lamentations 2:10, “The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence.” Or when Isaiah prophesies of the captivity, “Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground” [Isaiah 3:25-26]. And the seven days was a sign of abject, appalling sorrow [Ezekiel 3:15].
In Job 2:13, when his friends came to see him, after the devastation of Job’s family and all of his possessions [Job 1:13-19], “So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was great” [Job 2:13]. That is the experience of Ezekiel. The message in his heart, given to him of the Lord, one of condemnation and judgment [Ezekiel 2:10]; and yet his heart moved with indescribable sympathy for those despairing people [Ezekiel 3:15]. Could you imagine anything more traumatic than that? So that gives rise to the subject of the message this morning: The Sympathetic Heart.
First: love and compassion in condemnation. There are times when there is no other recourse but to condemn. In the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah, the first verse, “Cry aloud, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, spare not, show unto My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” [Isaiah 58:1]. That time inevitably comes.
In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Proverbs, you have the admonition from God for the discipline of children. Undisciplined children are of all people an unhappiness to the family that rears them and to all of the associates around them. There comes a time for condemnation, for discipline [Proverbs 13:24]. But any time that condemnation is delivered by word or by action, it needs to be done with a heart of love and compassion.
If you read the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, which is without doubt the most scathing denunciation in literature, there is nothing like it in language. When you read the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew—which is our Lord’s denunciation of the hypocritical Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes and elders of the people [Matthew 23:1-36]—when you read that, it ends, the chapter ends in tears and in sobs. Our Lord weeps over the city [Matthew 23:37-39].
In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul describes his three year ministry in Ephesus. And he says it like this, “Remember that by the space of three years I cease not to warn every one night and day with tears, with tears” [Acts 20:31], love and compassion in denunciation, in condemnation. Anything but to hate; hate the sin, never the sinner:
Anything, O God, but hate.
I have known it in my day.
And the best it does is sear your soul
And eat your heart away.
O God, if I have but one prayer
Before the cloud-wrapped end,
I’m sick of hate
And the waste it makes,
Let me be my brother’s friend.
Love and compassion in condemnation: anytime there is occasion for discipline or for the delivery of the judgment of God, always with a broken heart. I have heard men preach on hell, and it seemed to me they rejoiced in the damnation of the sinner. They preached it in triumph. Even as a youngster, like you up there, I said in my heart, “Anytime I ever preach the Word of God on hell and damnation, Lord, let me first do it with a broken heart, a broken heart.” Love and compassion in condemnation; this road leads to hell, this is the way of death. And like a broken-hearted mother plead with a daughter or a father beg with his son, do it with love and compassion.
Second: not only love and compassion in condemnation [Acts 20:31], but charity and understanding in judgment, our own appraisal [Ezekiel 3:15]. I read this week of a professor in a university, teaching his class, and in the class, a large class, was a new student, a new pupil. And the professor asked the student to stand up to read. So the boy stood up to read. And he held the book with one hand. And the professor said, “Young man, hold the book with both hands.” And the lad didn’t respond. So the professor explained, “Son, hold the book with both hands so that, when you come to the end of the page, you can turn the page. Hold the book with both hands.” And the lad did not respond. And the professor was angry and said, “Young man, did you hear what I said? Hold the book, I say, with both hands! I command you to do it!” And the lad took out a stub of an arm. The professor looked at it and said, “I, I, I understand.” If you go back far enough and go down deep enough, chances are you’ll find a reason why.
Some of the experiences that I had when I was a teenager, beginning my pastoral work—started when I was seventeen. And some of those experiences were so deeply, indelibly carved in my heart; things now, after these many years, affect me nothing comparable as they affected me when I was so young and malleable.
Anyway, there was a large family of Burts. They called it Burt Hollow. I went up there and visited and prayed and worked with those people, and they all came to church. I baptized the whole tribe. So in the Burt home was a girl in high school. There’s no high school there where I pastored out in that rural, open country church. So Mr. Will Burt sent his daughter to the county-seat town to go to high school. And after awhile, that girl attending high school came back home pregnant. And in that day and in that culture, you cannot imagine what a breach that was. That’s, I’m talking about over fifty years ago. Well, Deacon John Davis said, “That girl has to be turned out of the church” and he castigated the whole family. And they all quit coming to church. And Deacon John Davis worked on me, “That girl is to be turned out of the church, and that family is not to be received as being Christian and acceptable.” Oh! it was traumatic for me; just beginning to be a pastor.
Well, Deacon John Davis had two girls. One of them, the older girl, was named Ina and she was mentally retarded. The younger girl married, and she came home to the house of John Davis to have her baby. And her husband came with her. And as the days passed, Ina became pregnant by her sister’s husband, in that house of John Davis.
And if I lived a million years, I’d never forget this! The cemetery for the community was on a kind of a rising hill. And at the foot of the hill was a road. And on that road, I met John Davis. I’ve never heard a man cry in my life like that man wept. And I’ve never heard a men lament in my life as that man lamented. And he said to me, “Young pastor, what is so terrible about this sorrow is, the words that I said about Will Burt and the things that I’ve done to destroy that family, and to think this has happened to my own daughter, Ina, who’s mentally retarded. And it happened in my house, in my house, where I live.”
Remember the Word of the Lord:
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged:
and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.
You better be careful about condemning that somebody there. And if judgment comes, let it be with charity and understanding [Ezekiel 3:15]. I also, I also might have endured the same.
And last: the sympathetic heart, prayer and helpfulness in time of need, in time of suffering or tragedy or want [Ephesians 6:18]. One of the strangest things that I ever read in my life: they were presenting the rules for a mechanic—you know, a fellow who is working with steel and a lathe and making instruments of minute proportion. One of the rules was this, you can hardly believe it. One of the rules was this, for the mechanic, “Remember the warmth of the hand will increase the diameter of the shaft.” That was what was written. “Remember the warmth of the hand will increase the diameter of the shaft.” Man, they’re talking about cold steel; they’re talking about hard iron! “The warmth of the hand,” just touching it, “will increase the diameter of the shaft.”
Well, when I read that, dear me, if the warmth of a human hand will change cold steel, think of what the warmth of a human hand, in loving remembrance and sympathy and compassion, will do to the human heart, to the human life.
I one time preached, and I’ve forgotten what it was, I one time preached on the hands of Jesus. I remember it was a series. I preached on the heart of Jesus, and the face of Jesus, and the shoulders of Jesus, and the hands of Jesus. The hands of our Lord placed upon a leper [Mark 1:40-41], why, brother, it was half of the cure; placed upon the eyes of the blind [Matthew 9:27-30], placed upon the sick [Luke 4:40], lifting up a sinking Simon Peter [Matthew 14:28-31], the hands of our Lord. “The warmth of the hand will increase the diameter of the shaft, cold steel.” And think of what compassion and love will do to the human heart, the human life.
I have to close; time is gone. I’m going to read this. The reason that I have to read it, want to read it is, I grew up in a country that was high and desert. And I never saw any water all the days I was growing up except what a windmill would pump deep out of the ground. To have a great sea was just something I never had experienced. So I can’t talk about the sea; I can’t use the language. I was never introduced to it. But reading Thomas Guthrie, Thomas Guthrie, Thomas Guthrie was born by the sea. And after his years of marvelous ministry—he was a glorious preacher in the last century in Scotland—he was born by the sea, and he died by the sea. Now I have to read this:
During a heavy storm off the coast of Spain, a dismasted merchantman was observed by a British frigate drifting before the gale. Every eye and glass were on her, and a canvas shelter on a deck, level with the sea, suggested the idea that there yet might be life on board. With all his faults, no man is more alive to humanity than the rough and hearty mariner. And so the order instantly sounds to put the ship about, and presently a boat puts off with instructions to bear down upon the wreck. Away after that drifting hulk go these gallant men through the swells of a roaring sea.
They reach it. They shout. And now, a strange object rolls out of that canvas screen against the lee shroud of a broken mast. Hauled into the boat, it proves to be the trunk of a man bent head and knees together, so dried and shriveled as to be hardly felt within the ample clothes, and so light that a mere boy could lift it on board. It is laid on the deck.
In horror and pity, the crew gathered round it. It shows signs of life. They draw nearer. It moves and then mutters, and mutters in a deep sepulchral voice, “There is another man.” Then the great preacher says, “Saved himself,” the first use of his speech is to seek to save another. On board of that drifting hulk is another man. “There is another man.”
And when I read that I thought of us. Somewhere known to us is another somebody who needs the Lord. “There’s another man; there’s another man.” And that is our great commission and calling: with a prayerful, praying, sympathetic heart, to reach them, to invite them, to love them into the kingdom.
And that is our prayer this morning, that God will have so blessed our efforts, our appeals, our knocking at the door, our invitation, our care and concern and love and compassion, that today, you give your heart and life to the wonderful Jesus [Romans 10:9-10, 13]. When we sing this song, on its first note, come. In the balcony round, down one of those stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me and I’m on the way.” Do it, and God bless and angels attend while you come, while we stand and while we sing.