The Beginning and the End of Sorrows
January 19th, 1986 @ 10:50 AM
THE BEGINNING AND THE END OF SORROWS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-19-86 10:50 a.m.
And we welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are a part now of the worship of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message. It is the second in a series of nine that the pastor has prepared around the theme, “The Beginning and the End.” Last Sunday, The Beginning and the End of the World; next Sunday, The Beginning and the End of Death; and this Lord’s Sunday, The Beginning and the End of Sorrows. In the first Book of the Bible, in Genesis, in the third chapter and the sixteenth verse, Genesis 3:16: “Unto the woman God said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children.” Beginning the middle of the next verse—17 [Genesis 3:17; and Genesis 2:17]: “God said to Adam, Thou shalt not eat of it”—the commandment that he broke [Genesis 3:1-6]. Then because of it: “cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life: thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field: in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the dust of the ground” [Genesis 3:17-19].
This is the beginning of sorrows [Genesis 3:16-17]. The woman gives birth to the child in travail and in labor, and the ground is cursed because of the fallen nature of our first parents [Genesis 3:1-6, 17]; thorns and thistles does it bring forth [Genesis 3:18]. His assignment was to dress the garden and to keep it [Genesis 2:15]. Work is a benediction from God, but work became labor and toil in the curse of the earth [Genesis 3:17]. And his own life faced an ultimate and inevitable end [Genesis 3:19], and he and his wife were expelled from the beautiful garden in which God had so graciously embraced them [Genesis 3:22-24]. And the whole earth was cursed because of the transgression of our first parents [Genesis 3:1-6, 17-18]. The whole world is an Aceldama, a field of blood in which our Savior was murdered [Matthew 27:26-50], and the earth is none other than a place in which to bury our dead. It is a vast, extended, illimitable cemetery, the whole world, and that sorrow of sin began immediately.
The first two children, Cain and Abel [Genesis 4:1-2]—the older brother slew his younger brother in cold blood [Genesis 4:8], and the story of sorrow, and heartache [Genesis 27:1-36:43], and pain, and tears follows throughout all of the course of the story in the Bible. There is no deviation from it. To read the life of Jacob is to read a story of illimitable heartache. God changed his name to Israel [Genesis 35:10], but Israel in Egypt knew affliction, bitter and burning [Exodus 1:14]. And Israel in the wilderness was strangers and wanderers for all the years until the entire generation died [Numbers 14:20-22, 26:64-65, 32:11-13].
When I turn the pages in continuation, the whole Book of Job concerns the problem of human suffering. And when I read the Psalms, they are the heart cries, and the heartaches, and the distilled poetic tears of Israel’s sweetest singer David. And as I continue to turn the pages, the prophets are no different. Jeremiah cries, “When I would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint within me” [Jeremiah 8:18]. “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the lost of the daughter of my people” [Jeremiah 9:1]. And the incomparable prophecy of Isaiah concerning the coming Savior and Messiah and Redeemer of the world; He will be “a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” [Isaiah 53:3]. If I were thinking of my Savior as He actually was, I would expect to find Him in tears, in brokenness of heart [Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Hebrews 5:7-8]. And as the story continues in the days of the apostles, in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, when God called Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:1-6], God said, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” [Acts 9:16]. It is the continuous unvarying story through all of the unending generations, and it is our story today.
There is no heart without its heartbreak, and there is no life without its tears, and there is no continuing ministry without its accompanying sorrows. I sometimes think of that big strong man to whom God gave two gifted athletic sons. The older was a star and the younger promised even to exceed the light of his brother. But upon a day, somehow, as these inevitable exigencies arise, the younger boy on his bicycle got tangled up with a big truck. And the doctor made announcement to the father, “His right arm and his left leg we must amputate.” The father said, “As I looked down into the face of my boy, I knew for the first time what it meant in the one hundred third Psalm when God says, “As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them who [love] Him” [Psalm 103:13]; the experience of human life, one of continual sorrow. In the King James Version the theme of the Book of Ecclesiastes is announced in the first verses: “Vanity of vanities. . . all is vanity” [Ecclesiastes 1:2]. Possibly a more pertinent translation of the word could be “futility of futilities. . . all is futility.” The grass grows to wither, the flowers bloom to fade, the tree rises to fall, and man works to die [Isaiah 40:6-8]. Ultimately, the whole creation will pass away in dissolution and in fiery judgment [2 Peter 3:10]; the beginning of sorrows.
If this were all, we of all men would be most miserable [1 Corinthians 15:19], but God hath prepared some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40]. In Christ, in His purview, in the Lord’s will and grace in our souls, suffering, and sorrow, and hurt, and heartache have some beautiful and ultimate and godly purpose. First Peter 5 will read, “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, and settle you,” 1 Peter 5:10. These things God hath purposed for us are given us after that ye have suffered for a while. In the one hundred nineteenth Psalm, right here together in verses 67 and 71 and 75: “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now I have kept Thy word. . . . It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn Thy statutes. . . . I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hath afflicted me” [Psalm 119:67, 71, 75].
God has some ultimate, wonderful purpose for all of the sorrows that we endure in our lives. It is in His grace and in His goodness that our hearts are broken, and our eyes are filled with tears, and our expectations and dreams come to disappointment. What an amazing providence of God that thus He chooses to perfect us and to prepare us for His presence and for His glory. In travail and in sorrow, birth is brought to a child, a new life in a new world. It is thus in the purposes of God in our lives. It is in travail and it is in sorrow that God prepares us for the new life that is yet to come.
As most of you know, I study every morning, and now in these last years I’ve begun to study every night. In my library I just picked up a book; had no purpose, no reason, wasn’t seeking it, just happened to pick up a book. It is by Herbert Lockyer. He was twenty-five years a pastor in England and Scotland. He was ten years a lecturing minister under the sponsorship of Moody Bible Institute. He has been a conference speaker across the English-speaking world, the author of many, many volumes. I have a shelf that long, filled with his volumes on all the things in the Bible—such as all the parables in the Bible and all the promises in the Bible and all the kings and queens in the Bible. Oh, it is a beautiful series!
Well, anyway this book that I just happened to pick up is entitled Dark Threads that the Weaver Needs, and the caption beneath, “The Problem of Human Suffering.” On the book cover it says, “As Christians, God has a purpose in our suffering, and He makes us perfect through suffering. Suffering makes us more like Jesus.” Then as I turn into the book, why, he writes, “Do I write as an onlooker or as a participant? My qualifications to write a book about suffering are,” and then he names them: “first, my contact with life for ninety-two years. I was saved when I was seventy-two years old, and the trials and the disappointments and the sufferings of my life. Number two,” he writes, “the years in the pastorate with tragedy and pain and disease and death. Yesterday, I had a funeral service, a sad, sad one. The day before in my study I cried and cried over the heartache of a family in our church.” He continues, “My further qualification is more personal and intimate. My dear wife, to whom I have been married more than sixty-six years, has through the last seven years been mentally afflicted, unable to recognize me. She is speechless. She is totally blind and deaf, and at the time of this writing she is ninety-two years of age.” Then, his last paragraph: “But God has sustained me and has enabled me to trace the rainbow through the rain. He has taught me sympathy, and patience, and kindness, and compassion.” Pride gives way, ceases to exist, and personal preference and selfish ambition dissolve before the broken heart and the disappointed dream and the lost purpose: what suffering does for us.
We had a wonderfully gifted poet; she is a poet laureate of Texas who lived in our city of Dallas. And when I came here, I loved to see her and just visit with her. This is a sonnet that she wrote entitled “Pain”:
Pain stayed so long I said to him today,
‘I will not have you with me any more!’
I stamped my foot and said, ‘Be on your way,’
And paused there, startled at the look he wore.
‘I, who have been your friend,’ he said to me,
‘I, who have been your teacher-all you know
Of understanding love, of sympathy
And patience, I have taught you. Am I to go?’
He spoke the truth, this strange unwelcome guest;
I watched him leave, and knew that he was wise.
He left a heart grown tender in my breast,
He left a far, clear vision in my eyes.
I dried my tears, and lifted up a song-
Even for one who’d tortured me so long.
[“Pain,” author unknown]
Pain and suffering and sorrow have a purpose in our lives. They are the means and instruments and ways of God to teach us to be humble, and to be compassionate, and to love the Lord and lean upon His kind heart; the end of sorrow, the beginning and the end, the end of sorrow.
As I prepared the sermon, prayed and thought and opened my heart heavenward, the end of sorrow for the Christian, the sight of the coming of our Lord, its end is death. A young neophyte, Dr. Naylor, a young fellow just beginning to preach—we all have to begin sometime, somewhere—and in inexperience and lack of pastoral years, why, a young fellow will do many things, not because his heart’s not right, but because he is just beginning his pastoral work. Well, this young fellow was praying by the side of an old saint, a great old man of God, who had been in the pilgrimage for years and years. And this young minister and pastor was praying for the old saint. And the young fellow prayed as he thought, you know, he ought to pray. Pray that the man be well. Pray that he be strong. Pray that God will raise him up. Pray that God will give him strength.
Well, while the young fellow was praying that for the old saint, he reached forth his hand and touched him and said, “Young pastor, don’t pray that, don’t pray that. Pastor, pray that God will release me and that God will open the doors of heaven for me.” He said, “Young pastor, my life is lived, and my work is done, and my life is a burden to me and to those who know me, and all that I have loved I have lost for the while. Pray that God will release me”; the end of sorrows and separation and loneliness.
I pray that for me, “Dear Lord, when my life becomes a burden to me and to those around me, and when my task and my work is done, please God, just open the door and let me go to be with Thee.” Lord, how many times in my pastoral work do I see people linger and linger and linger? I think of my own mother in a tragic stroke. Almost seven years did my mother live and her mind gone and her body destroyed. When I would go see her, it would take me weeks to lift up my spirit and my heart. The saddest of all the things that I could ever look upon—this is my mother. “Lord, in Thy goodness and grace, when the work is done and the task is finished and my life is a sorrow, Lord, let me go to be with Thee. Please, God, please.” And I could pray the same for you: that God will be thus good to each one of you. It is better over there than it is here [Philippians 1:23]. He is over there, our Lord [2 Corinthians 5:8]. Our inheritance is over there [1 Peter 1:3-4]. All the things God has promised those who love Him, they’re all over there [Philippians 3:20]. They are not here. Our inheritance is not here. It’s there. “Lord, just open the door and let me enter in when my task is finished.”
May I speak of that also in a poignant way that I never would have thought for; it would have never have entered my mind but for this providence. Death is the end of sorrow for the child of God [Revelation 21:4]. I was in a revival meeting with a wonderful pastor, a glorious man of God. And he began talking to me about his home. His father died when he was a young fellow, and his mother married again, and as is so often the case, in an inexplicable way, married someone not kind and not good. So on a farm in Missouri; they were living there—mother, and his stepfather so cruel, and this little boy who became the preacher and pastor speaking to me. One morning, and a typical one, he sat at the breakfast table. His stepfather glowered at the pancakes on the plate in front of him. And with an oath and a curse, his stepfather picked up the plate of pancakes, and he slammed it into the face of his mother. Broke the plate against her face, and with a curse, walked, stalked out of the house. And the little boy looked at his mother with those pancakes and the broken plate. And the little fellow went to his mother and said, “Mother, let’s leave. Let’s go to St. Louis, and I will work. I will do what I can, and I will support you, Mother. Let’s leave.” And the mother replied, “Son, there is never been a break in the generations in our family, and I have asked God about it, and God said that I will soon die. I will soon die. God said` I will soon die. And then I will just pray for you, my boy, from heaven.”
I had never before thought about death like that. “I will soon die, my son.” Then the heartache and the sorrow will be over. It will be at end, and I will be in heaven. As I think of it, that’s true with all of us. If you are a child of God, when the translation day comes we won’t be sick anymore. We won’t be heartbroken anymore, and we won’t be aged anymore, and we won’t hurt anymore, we won’t be disappointed anymore. It is the end of sorrow.
May I pause here, if I can, to make an aside? How can I be happy in heaven if these whom I love are not there? What if a member of the family is lost, and I am in heaven, and that member is not there? How can I be happy if a member of my family, someone whom I love—what if that someone is not in heaven? Well, I just took this Bible and the best that I could I tried to find an answer, and this is what God says: “The remembrance of these that are outside of our Lord, that remembrance is blotted out forever.” They cease to be. They cease to exist. You will find that in Exodus 17:14, in Deuteronomy 25:19, in Job 18:17, in Job 24:20, in Psalm 34:16, in Ezekiel 21:32, in Zechariah 13:2, and in [Ecclesiastes 9:5]. “Their remembrance is blotted out.” They cease to exist. And as I read that and think of that, O Lord God, what tragedy infinite, unspeakable, indescribable, Lord God, these that are outside of the Lord. There is no remembrance of them. There is no record of them. Their names are not in the Book of Life [Revelation 17:8, 20:12, 15, 21:27]. They cease before God even to exist. And in some other world and in some other place apart from God, there are they consigned in a limbo, in oblivion, in a nameless judged eternity forever and ever. O God, could it be that someone I love would be lost? Is a member of my family outside of Christ? You who are here today, are we all in the kingdom? Are our names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? [Revelation 20:12, 15; Luke 10:20]. Are we saved? My brother, is it right with you? Is it right with your husband? Is it right with your wife? Is it right with your child? Is it right with you? Lord, grant it that when that ultimate and final roll is called in heaven, each one will answer to his name, “Here am I, Lord, and here are these whom I love.”
May I close with that one other ultimate in the ending of sorrow? Not only when a Christian dies are all the trials and tribulations and sorrows and tears of this life over, but when Jesus comes, when our Lord comes [1 Thessalonians 4:16], this is our ultimate and final triumph. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for these old former things are all passed away” [Revelation 21:4]. When our Lord comes, and under His omnipotent hands there is created, renovated, rejuvenated, regenerated—there is a new world, a new heaven and a new earth [Revelation 21:1]; and in that new creation of God we don’t cry anymore, and we are not heartbroken anymore, and we don’t sorrow anymore, and we’re not sick anymore, and we don’t hurt anymore, and we don’t grow old anymore [Revelation 21:4]. O Lord, what a benediction and what a blessing!
I will sing you a song of that beautiful land,
The far away home of the soul,
Where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand,
While the years of eternity roll.
O how sweet it will be in that beautiful land,
So free from all sorrow and pain,
With songs on our lips and with harps in our hands,
To greet one another again.
[“Home of the Soul,” Ellen M. H. Gates]
A new world, God’s perfect world: the restored Eden, and we immortalized, transfigured like our glorious Savior [1 John 3:2]; O Master, dear, blessed Jesus, when the angelic hosts proclaim with trumpet sound, “He is coming, He is coming [1 Thessalonians 43:16], rise to meet Him, He is coming,” Lord, grant that all of our hearts shall respond, “Amen.” “So come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20]. And when the angelic hosts proclaim, “Sing unto the Lord a new and a glorious song” [Psalm 96:1, 98:1], may all of us join in the marvelous refrain. And when the angelic hosts with trumpet sound call the whole creation of God to worship Him [Psalm 22:27], may it be that we are a part of those who exult and rejoice in our living Lord. And when the angels of heaven proclaim to the whole earth and heaven above, “Bow down and worship Him,” Lord, let it be that I am one of that vast number, bowing down in adoration and praise to our living Lord [Philippians 2:10-11]. God grant it for us all. Without loss of one, here am I, Lord, in Thy grace and goodness, here I stand, loving Thee, praising Thee.
Now may we bow our heads? Wonderful, wonderful Savior, in whose blessed name, in whose sufferings and sorrows, in whose blood poured out a crimson tide of life [John 19:16-34], Lord God in heaven, that we had a greater capacity to love Thee more; that we had more eloquent words by which to describe Thy loving mercy that extends even to us; and our Savior, we pray that at this moment of invitation and appeal that God will speak to families, and they come: “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, and all of us are answering with our lives today,” or as God shall speak to any heart, that that somebody will answer, “Here am I, Lord, and here I stand.” In just a moment, we will sing our hymn of appeal, and if that somebody is you, make the decision now in your heart, and on the first note of that first stanza, answer with your life. In the balcony, down a stairway, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “Here I come, pastor. God hath spoken and I am on the way.” And our Lord, we shall thank Thee and praise Thee for the sweet harvest of souls You give us this solemn, precious moment, in Thy wonderful and saving and keeping name, amen. Welcome, and angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
THE BEGINNING AND THE END OF SORROWS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Beginning of sorrows
1. Genesis 3:16-19
a. Woman – sorrow in child birth
b. Man – labor and toil, nature cursed
2. World under condemnation
a. Entire world is a burial place
b. Sorrow of sin began immediately
c. Continues unabated
d. Applied to all of creation
II. End of sorrows 1 Peter 5:10
a. Preparation for entrance into another world
b. Blessing of the soul
2. End of sorrow
3. Death for the Christian
4. End of sorrow for lost loved ones
5. The coming of Christ