THE WATCHMAN FOR SOULS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-17-85 8:15 a.m.
I am the first one to be surprised when they come to the conclusion of an anthem like that. I kind of think they are going to rise, you know, and then when they quit, why, I think, “Man alive, we need to start over again!” Beautiful young people; God bless you in the orchestra. And the Lord, no less, bless the great throngs of you that share this hour on KCBI. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled The Watchman for Souls.
In our preaching through the Book of Ezekiel, we have come to the third chapter, chapter 3. And our background text for the exposition of this section of the book is Ezekiel 3:16-17:
And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at My mouth, and give them warning from Me.
A Watchman for Souls.
At the conclusion of the incomparable vision that Ezekiel saw and described in the first chapter of his prophecy [Ezekiel 1:1-28], it says in the concluding verse of the chapter that, “I fell upon my face, when I heard the voice of the One that spake unto me” [Ezekiel 1:28]. He is enraptured; he is prostrate before the glory and majesty of God. I think any one of us would be that way, were we to see the Lord God, high on His throne. But it is not God’s will ever that we stay enraptured and prostrate. The next verse says, “And God said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet” [Ezekiel 2:1].
Anytime, anywhere, there is a great experience with God or a great vision with the Lord; it is always a prelude to a call and a commission. It is a divine intervention for service and sometimes for suffering. For example, when Moses saw the bush burning in the wilderness and the voice of the Lord speaking to him; what a marvelous experience, but it was also a call to deliver God’s people out of bondage [Exodus 3:1-22]. When Isaiah saw the Lord, high and lifted up, and His glory filling the whole earth [Isaiah 6:1-3], he also heard a voice, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” [Isaiah 6:8]. The vision is an introduction to service.
It was so in the life of the apostle Paul when he saw the glorified Lord on the way to Damascus, and fell at His feet, blinded by the glory of that light [Acts 9:3-5]. It was a call to a ministry to the Gentile world [Acts 9:6-18]. Any kind of a great experience with God, one that enraptures the soul, is also a call to service. Now what God did when He asked Ezekiel to stand upon his feet [Ezekiel 2:1-2]:
I looked, and behold, a hand [was] sent unto me; and a roll of a book was therein;
And He spread it before me . . .
And He said unto me, Son of man, eat. Eat this roll . . .
So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that roll.
And He said, Son of man, cause this roll to enter thy stomach and to fill thy body. So I did eat it; and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.
Anytime any man has an experience with the Lord, it’ll be wonderful, such as Ezekiel’s confrontation with the God of glory, enraptured! And the Lord placed in him, in his mind, in his soul, in his heart, in his whole being, God put in him the Word of the Lord [Ezekiel 2:8-3:1]. And any man who ever receives a call from heaven will find it celestial, glorious, wonderful! That was the experience of Ezekiel; “Stand on your feet” [Ezekiel 2:1], and God put the roll of a book in his hand, and it entered by the commandment of the Lord into every fiber of his being [Ezekiel 2:2-3]. What a glorious thing to be chosen and called of God to be an emissary and an ambassador, carrying His Word. Glorious!
Then when he read the Word and it entered into his soul, what was written in the roll of the book was lamentations and mourning and woe [Ezekiel 2:9-10]. And the Lord God said to him, “I send you into this service, and you will find the people to whom I send you impudent and hard-hearted. And you will dwell among thorns and briers and scorpions [Ezekiel 2:3-6]. And they, being a rebellious people, will reject the Word that you bring” [Ezekiel 3:7].
What an amazing development in the life of a preacher or a prophet. Enraptured with the vision of God and filled with the glory of the Lord as His Word enters the heart and soul of the messenger, then the bitter disappointment and disillusionment that immediately follows, wasting his compassion and his solicitude upon the wind and the wilderness. People won’t hear; they won’t heed; they won’t turn; they won’t believe; they won’t repent. They will scorn and pass by the preaching of the wonderful way of salvation offered in the Lord. Well, is that a cause for not delivering the word of the Lord? Is nonsuccess a reason to quit the ministry or to cease our testimony? No, for the Lord said to Ezekiel, “You deliver the Word of God, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear. Whether they will listen or whether they will not listen, your assignment and message is to testify, is to deliver the word of the Lord” [Ezekiel 2:4-7].
It is so easy to be discouraged and to be weary in witnessing for Christ. There are so many who are involved in other things and don’t have time to listen to or to follow after the Word of God. That’s why people find it difficult to testify and to win souls. There’s not a response. It’s like wasting your breath. They pass us by. And the tendency, of course, is to be discouraged and weary. But we must never be. Non-response and nonbelief and nonacceptance is no reason for our not delivering the message of the Lord. Our not witnessing, our not testifying, whether they will believe or whether they will not believe, whether they will listen or whether they will not listen; our responsibility before God is to give the appeal, to press the invitation to witness and testify to the truth God has placed in our souls.
If I could take a thing out of the business world, Roger Babson was doubtless the greatest financial prognosticator and expert that the United States has ever produced. And there was something unusual about Roger Babson. He was not only a financial thermometer; he was also a moral mentor for the nation. If you read these prophecies and analysis and prognostications of Roger Babson concerning the financial future of America, you would have thought he was a preacher. He was constantly reminding the nation that the ultimate basis of our prosperity and our affluence lies in our godliness and in our Christian graces.
Well anyway, back yonder in the 1920s, they’re called the Roaring Twenties, after we had won the First World War, America entered an unprecedented time of posterity and affluence and godlessness. And Roger Babson, pleading with America and predicting the future of the economic life of our nation, said, “Unless we have a great revival and a great turning to God, we’re going to have a great financial debacle!” And he prophesied the great fall in the financial market, unless America repented and got right with God. And he finally pinpointed it, and it came to pass—what Roger Babson predicted—in that Black Friday in October in 1929. And the reason that’s so poignant in my life is, all the years of my first ministry were spent in the days of those deepest depressions. Roger Babson says, “It is a judgment of God!” Well, the people wouldn’t listen; people didn’t hear; people didn’t respond; people didn’t repent; people didn’t get right. But Roger Babson was true to the message that he had in his heart just the same, just the same.
I think any man who has a vision of God and is sensitive to the Word of the Lord has that great obligation. Whether the people listen or whether they don’t listen; whether they will respond or whether they don’t respond, our responsibility is to deliver the Word of the Lord. So God says to him, “I have made you a watchman. . .and when I say to the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning—to save his life—the man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand” [Ezekiel 3:17-18]. “I will hold you responsible.” Now that, on the face of it, is one of the most unusual, divine arrangements that you could think for. “Why should I be responsible for that man’s soul and that man’s life? And why should I be required for his blood?”
But that’s not a new doctrine here in the Book of Ezekiel. That is the great revelation of God through all of the centuries. Hundreds of years later, in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul said, “I call you to witness this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not failed or shunned to declare unto you all of the counsel of God [Acts 20:26-27]. Their blood is not on my hands.” Thousands of years before that, God said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel? And Cain replied, “I do not know: Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:9]. Somehow there is, in the arrangement and providence of God for the world, that soul responsibility. I am accountable for this man, for these. I am. The Lord in His divine providence has done an unusual thing. He has placed in human hands the instruments of salvation and deliverance. They are in our hands.
The Book of Proverbs will say, “He that winneth souls is wise” [Proverbs 11:30]. We are to win souls. The twelfth chapter of the Book of Daniel will say, “They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever” [Daniel 12:3]. We are to turn men unto righteousness. In the Great Commission in Matthew 28, we are to go and disciple and evangelize all the nations; we are to do it [Matthew 28:19-20]. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians, “I have begotten you, as a father; I have begotten you in Christ” [1 Corinthians 4:15]. And he will say again, “I am made all things to all men, if by any means, I might save some; I might save some” [1 Corinthians 9:22].
James, in his last chapter, will say, “Let him know, that he that converteth the sinner from the error of his way” [James 5:20]; we convert sinners from the errors of their way. That’s the most amazing thing; the instruments of salvation are in our hands, and God never saves except through human instrumentality. That’s the most astonishing thing that God has done!
When I look in that ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, I read there the marvelous story of the conversion of the apostle Paul. And when the Lord appears to him and Saul of Tarsus falls at His feet [Acts 9:3-4], Saul says, “Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to do? [Acts 9:6]. And the Lord says, “You go into Damascus into a street called Straight and there, there will be an Ananias, and he will tell you what to do” [Acts 9:6, 10-18]. Why didn’t Jesus tell him what to do? Why shouldn’t the Lord tell him what to do? Why tell him what to do through Ananias?
Or turn the page to the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts. An angel appears to Cornelius and says to Cornelius, “You send down there to Joppa for one Simon. He is in the house of the tanner. And he will come and tell thee words, whereby thou and thy house may be saved” [Acts 10:5-6, 11:13-14]. Why didn’t the angel tell him the words whereby he and his house might be saved? Why send down there to Joppa for one Simon Peter to tell him words whereby he and his house could be saved? Simply because no man is ever, ever saved except through human instrumentality! The means of salvation are in our hands, and no man is ever saved apart from human witnessing, and human praying, and human testifying, and human effort.
I hold in my hand the Word of God. Every syllable of it was written by a human hand. No sermon is ever preached without a human preacher. No lesson is ever taught without a human teacher. No work for God is ever done without a human worker. That is in the providence of the choice and the elective purpose of the Almighty. His work is in our hands! It’s a divine truth to say that God converts sinners; God saves lost men [John 3:16], but the whole truth is to say, “God converts sinners through us!” [Romans 10:14]. And it’s always that: God and we, the two of us.
A man who says, “Doctor, you saved my life”; well, that’s true, the doctor, in his marvelous genius, “Doctor, you saved my life”—but only God can heal. A doctor can’t heal. God heals [Exodus 15:26]. A surgeon may cut; God heals that wound. “But doctor, you saved my life.” God does it through the genius of the physician. “Doctor, you saved my life.”
Some fellows one time said to me, “Cris, you saved our lives!” What happened was, when I was a teenager and at Amarillo High School, there were three of us: Winfield Prentiss and Thomas Metts and I. Carlsbad Cavern had just been discovered and [Thomas] Metts family had a beautiful new Chrysler sedan. And the family gave it to three of us boys to drive down to Carlsbad, New Mexico, to see that new cavern that had just been discovered. And while we were there, why, we decided to elongate the journey and go look at the Grand Canyon. Well, you can imagine the pressure on us to get back in time for school. So after we’d elongated that journey to go out to look at the Grand Canyon, why, we were driving back to Amarillo furiously and not stopping; driving day and night. Well, in the middle of the night, driving through the eastern part of Arizona, Thomas Metts was on the backseat of the car, sound asleep. Winfield Prentiss was driving, and I was by his side, sound asleep. And suddenly, suddenly, suddenly, I awakened. And when I did, I looked at Winfield Prentiss, who was driving the car. He had fallen asleep and the car was rushing at a furious, furious speed toward a great bend in the road and a dark abyss beyond. I grabbed the wheel and turned the thing, and that was when Winfield Prentiss said to me, “Criswell, you saved our lives!”
Who awakened me? Who touched my shoulder? Why should I have been spurred to consciousness just at that second? Just at that moment? Why didn’t God take a hold of that wheel, if He wanted us to live? God does what He does through us. I think an angel touched my shoulder; I think God awakened me. I believe the Lord had a purpose and a cause that we not die in that tragic moment.
But God does it through human instrumentality, and He never does it apart from human means. And that is why God calls Ezekiel to be a watchman:
You…a watchman; and I hold you accountable for the souls of My people, and their blood will I require at thy hand—
and He says to Ezekiel—
You are to hear the word at My mouth, and when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God.
[Ezekiel 3:17, 18, 27]
So the word that the preacher brings is not one that he invents. He doesn’t create it. He is but an emissary, an ambassador, carrying the message for somebody else. That’s what Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “We are ambassadors for God, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:20]. The man doesn’t invent his message; he just delivers what God has spoken to him. And to fill our message with all kinds of human traditions, and opinions, and persuasions, and accretions is impossible; we’re just to deliver the message of God.
“But, preacher, you don’t understand, I look at it this way . . .” That’s not worth the breath to say it. And if what I say is my opinion, your opinion is just as good as mine. It is what God says that makes the final and fundamental difference in the preaching of the Word of the Lord. “Thus saith the Lord, Thus saith God” [Ezekiel 3:17, 27].
This last week, I was speaking with a woman, a wonderful wife, whose husband is a Baptist. And I was speaking to her about being baptized. And I said to that dear, beautiful woman, “I never invented that! I never introduced that. This is something that John the Baptist said, ‘I got from heaven. I receive this ordinance from heaven’ [John 1:25, 33]. And this is the ordinance that the Lord placed in the Great Commission; we are to win to Jesus and ‘baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit’ [Matthew 28:19-20], buried with the Lord in baptism and raised in the likeness of His resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. I never invented that. I’m just a voice; I’m just an echo. I’m just presenting what God has said in His Holy Word.”
We have no part in creating the message at all. I am a voice; I am an echo. I’m just delivering what God says, nothing more, nothing less. God never said when He called me to preach, “Now you ignite, you ignite your imagination, and you bring into focus all of your intellectual faculties. And you touch the fountain of your eloquence.” He never said anything like that.
He never said, “Amuse them with novelties or electrify them with intellectual progress or process or magnify the service with all kinds of intellectual gymnastics.” He never said anything like that. All God says is, “Hear the word at My mouth, and warn them from Me saying, ‘Thus saith the Lord’” [Ezekiel 3:17, 27], that’s all.
If a man is asleep and in a burning house, doesn’t matter what kind of a voice; the assignment is to awaken him. “Awake, my brother, the house is on fire, the judgment day is coming.” And that is our assignment from God. “You are to hear the word at My mouth, and to warn them from Me” [Ezekiel 3:17].
May I—and the time’s gone—may I just summarize: our responsibility is to the world, to the world. “Their blood will I require at your hand” [Ezekiel 3:18]. To the world, most of this world, after two thousand years, most of this world has never heard the name of Jesus; never heard it; our responsibility to the world, our responsibility to the nation. This is a multi-prayer for the saving of our nation, our responsibility to the nation, our responsibility to the church.
I love reading Charles G. Finney. He was a lawyer and a brilliant one and marvelously converted in the midst of his practice. And when you read Charles Finney, so many of the things that he says will be in the background of the courtroom, of his law practice. And reading him this week, he said:
If a lawyer stands in a courtroom and he presents his case and calls his first witness, and his first witness contradicts what the lawyer has said, can you imagine, can you imagine what the lawyer will do to defend his cause? But, he says, that’s the way with a church. He said, the preacher stands up and he presents the great words of God, then every church member, by his indifferent response, stands up and says, ‘The preacher’s a liar.’ How can he win his case?
We have a responsibility in the church; we do. We do, however it is on the outside, we have on the inside. And we have a responsibility to a lost friend, or a lost neighbor, or a lost acquaintance. We have a responsibility.
A man said to me, “You mean to tell me that this man is a member of your church?”
“And he’s a deacon in your church?”
“Well,” he said, “that’s strange. I’ve been doing business for twenty-five years with him, and I didn’t even know that he was a Christian, or a Baptist, or a member of your church.” How could such a thing be?
A man went to a partner after a revival meeting, after a revival meeting. When he got moved toward heaven, went to his friend, went to his partner and said to him, “John, I want to talk to you about my Lord. I want to talk to you about Jesus my Savior.” And the man replied to him, he said, “Jim, I have wondered for these years and years why you never said anything to me about the Lord.”
I think any lost man or lost family would have that same reaction. “How is it that these days and years have passed and you have never said anything to me about the Lord?” That is God’s incumbent; that’s His commandment. “I have made thee a watchman, and their blood will I require at your hand” [Ezekiel 3:17-18].
O Lord, I would think it to be a judgment if anyone was around me very long and didn’t know that I was a Christian. Just by the unconscious devotion to the Lord, they’d find it out, they’d sense. And, of course, with me, if I have opportunity in a few minutes and almost seconds, there will be something that I’ll say about the Savior, about the dear church where I belong, and a question and an inquiry about you. Lord bless us as watchmen for souls [Ezekiel 33:6]; God uses our testimony that they might be saved [1 Peter 3:15].
We must sing our hymn. Immediately, on this first stanza, come. A family, a couple, a one somebody you, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways at the front and the back, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, God has spoken to me. I have been invited. The Holy Spirit has talked to me in my heart, and I also have been listening to the testimony of these who love me. And I’m coming.” As God shall open the door, answer with your life. On this first note of the first stanza, come and welcome, while we stand and while we sing; while we stand and while we sing.