A Burden for Our Own Families
July 1st, 1987 @ 7:30 PM
A BURDEN FOR OUR OWN FAMILIES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-1-87 7:30 p.m.
The title of the sermon tonight, of our study tonight, is A Burden for Our Own Families; and it comes out of the writing of the apostle Paul, particularly in chapters 9 and 10 of the Book of Romans; chapters 9 and 10 of the Book of Romans. And in both of those chapters, I will read the introductory verses. Chapter 9:
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,
That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.
For I could wish that myself were accursed, were damned, from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:
Israelites, “For I could wish that myself were shut out from heaven, and lost and damned in hell for my brethren, for my kinsmen according to the flesh, if by my suffering and damnation they might be saved.”
Then he begins chapter 10 in the same vein: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is,” the Greek is auton, for them; in the King James Version they just spell it out, “for Israel.” “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1].
This is an eloquent presentation of Paul’s burden for his own people. What makes it especially poignant is he is writing to a Gentile church. He’s not writing to the Jewish people. He’s writing to a Gentile church in the capital city of Rome, and he himself is a Jew, a Pharisee, but he describes himself as being called of God to present the gospel to the Gentiles. His calling is described in Acts 9:15: God says, “He, Paul, Saul, is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles.” That commission of the apostle to the Gentiles is repeated in Acts 22:15, in Acts 26:17-18, and in the next chapter in Romans; in Romans 11:13 he says of himself, “I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles.” He describes himself as the apostle to the Gentiles. But even though he is called of God to bear the witness of Christ to the Gentiles [Acts 9:15], I’ve just read the burden of his heart: “I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were shut out from the promises of Christ, if only my kinsmen according to the flesh, my Jewish family, if they might be saved” [Romans 9:2-3, 10:1]. The burden of his heart, even though he was called of God to be an emissary to the Gentiles [Acts 9:15], the burden of his heart for his own people never lifted. In Romans 9:3, “I could wish myself accursed if only my own people could be saved, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
That burden of heart for one’s own family is sometimes so dramatically illustrated. I was on the way to my little country church, and the preacher man who was riding with me had me stop the car in a little tiny village, a little whistle stop; and a railroad was running through it. And he said, “You see that crossing right there?”
“And you see this house right here?”
He said to me, “There was a young man who was wonderfully saved, and God called him in his youth to be a preacher, just like you. And his sister lived in that house right there, and when the young man was saved, he went to see his sister, trying to lead her to the saving faith that he had found in the Lord Jesus. His sister refused; she would not open her heart at all to the plea of her brother for Christ. And disappointed and hurt, the young man, her brother, came outside, in his car, bowed his head over the steering wheel, and with a companion by his side, said, ‘O God, I would willingly give my life if my dear sister could be saved.’ After the prayer, he started the engine, drove to that railroad crossing right there, and was instantly killed by an oncoming train. The companion by his side was not injured, and he took the body of the brother and a blood-soaked Bible, and carried both to that house right there where his sister lived.” And the story ended, in his recounting the tragedy to me, in the conversion of that sister who lives in that house right there. That’s exactly what Paul is saying. “I could give my life,” and he went further, “even the damnation of my soul, if only my people, my kinsmen, if they might be saved” [Romans 9:1-3].
It is hard; it is difficult for anyone to get away from the tug and the pull of the heartstrings for those of your own flesh and your own blood. When you look in a cradle and see there the tousled head of one of your children, every strand, every hair in that tousled head is a golden cord binding that child to your heart; wishing, praying, for what is best for that child. And you’ll never get away from it. As long as you live, there will be that bond and burden of intercession for that child.
When they are lost, we are rightfully burdened that they might be saved. I think of the story of David and Absalom. If ever, ever there was a child, an offspring, that was unworthy, it was Absalom. He led the rebellion against his own father, forced him out of his palace, forced him out of the city Jerusalem, forced him to flee for his life before a pursuing army, Absalom [2 Samuel 15:1-37]. That’s just one of the dastardly things that Absalom did. He was a murderer; bathed his hands in the blood of his own brother [2 Samuel 13:28-29], Absalom. When Absalom was destroyed by Joab the captain of the host of Israel [2 Samuel 18:14-15], all Jerusalem rejoiced, and all Israel was glad [2 Samuel 19:2]. They celebrated the victory over the traitor from one end of the kingdom to the other, from Dan to Beersheba. But how did David respond? He went up to his chamber, crying and weeping, “O Absalom! My son, my son, Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, my son, my son, Absalom!” [2 Samuel 18:33]. How do you explain such a reaction as that? Only in a response that you know if you are the father or mother of a child. A criminal can be hanged, but the father and mother of that child who is being lifted up in death will weep and mourn and cry as though that child were the most perfect of all of the children in the earth.
We had in our membership a glorious woman by the name of Hattie Rankin Moore. She was the daughter of a distinguished Methodist minister. Rankin Street is named for her father; he was the pastor of the First Methodist church here in Dallas. Rankin Center in West Dallas is named for her. Hattie Rankin Moore, out of a great, deep, moving conviction, came to me, then down this aisle, and I baptized her. The night that Raymond Hamilton was electrocuted, Hattie Rankin Moore stayed up all night long with the mother of Raymond Hamilton. Raymond Hamilton was as violent a man as ever lived. He and Clyde Barrow were together in all of their murderous attacks against banks and people; a violent man. But when he was electrocuted, his mother was crushed beyond description. Hattie Rankin Moore stayed up, as I say, all night with her that night that Raymond was electrocuted.
Then Hattie Rankin Moore said to me, “Pastor, would you go to Alcatraz, and would you plead with Floyd Hamilton, Raymond’s brother, that he give his heart to Christ?” I acquiesced. I went out to San Francisco. I was introduced to the warden of the prison; one steel door after another, after another. I never knew there were that many steel doors in creation. And in the heart of Alcatraz, the warden slammed a steel door and I was left there with Floyd. I have been told since then—I hadn’t ever had any experience like that before, didn’t know—I’ve been told that since then, that so far as these officials know, that’s the only time in the history of prisons that a minister has ever been allowed inside a prison to talk in a prison cell to one of the inmates. You always stay on this side of a window, and the prisoner is on that side of the window. But the warden of Alcatraz was so very gracious to me; and I went inside that stronghold, that bastion. And locked in a cell made out of steel—the floor was steel; the sides were steel—in the heart of that steel cell I pled with Floyd Hamilton to give his heart to Christ. He did, down on his knees and down on his face. And he said to me, “If I ever am liberated from prison, which I don’t expect to be, but if God is merciful and I’m ever allowed out, the first thing I’ll do, I’ll come down that aisle in your church, I’ll make a confession of faith, and I’ll be baptized.” In the good graces of God, Floyd Hamilton was changed from Alcatraz to Leavenworth. And after a few years, because of good behavior—when he was saved, he was remarkably changed—because of the evident Christian commitment of his life, he was pardoned, and came down that aisle, and I baptized him. And he gave his life to be a witness for all the years since, speaking especially to young people about the Christian faith and the Christian life. All of that arose out of the deep burden of a mother and a godly woman for two boys who were so violent, the enemies of society.
When they are saved it is joy unspeakable and unutterable, when somebody in your family is converted. You can’t describe it. I could only think, in contradistinction, of a cold-blooded, critical secularist who would say to the shepherd, “What is this, calling your friends and your neighbors to rejoice that you found your sheep?” [Luke 15:3-7]. Or that same cold-blooded secularist saying to the woman in the house, “What is this, calling your friends and neighbors to rejoice because you found the coin that was lost?” [Luke 15:8-10]. Or that same cold-blooded secularist saying to the father of the prodigal, “What is this, calling your friends and neighbors to rejoice that your boy has come home?” [Luke 15:11-32]. It is inexpressible, the gladness and the thanksgiving that wells up in your heart when someone dear to you is saved.
I was holding a revival meeting, in these days and years gone by, in the Balboa Baptist Church in the Panama Canal. There was a woman in the church, there was a woman in the town, in the city, who was gloriously saved in the church. And she went home and witnessing to her husband, and having us to come to witness to him, her husband was wonderfully saved, and both of them were baptized. They had two young men in the home; they were older teenagers, their children. There was such a turn in the life of the family that before that revival was over, those two boys came forward, and they were wonderfully saved; all four of them, by the time the revival was over, baptized. And I don’t exaggerate it, nor would you think it; you just never saw such indescribable gladness and rejoicing as in that family. There is nothing like it in the earth, that feeling of glory to God for someone you love who is brought into a saving relationship with Christ our Lord.
May I speak now of our best for these whom we love? What would it be? Well, there are so many things that people do for their children: they buy them clothes; if they are capable, they buy them cars; they give them trips; they educate them; they seek to make for them business opportunities; just world without end do parents lay up for their children. But I also do not exaggerate when I avow to you that all of the things and the things and the things that can be bestowed or provided for or laid up for children, they are nothing without God; they are nothing.
I can point you with my finger to a great bank building right next to us. And in that bank building is a rich, wealthy executive. He has a boy, and lavishly bestows upon that boy everything that heaven and earth could provide—except God. And his boy is a worthless drunkard. What a sadness and what a tragedy. Without God everything is nothing.
What do you think of a Rock Hudson, who dies of AIDS? What do you think of a Liberace, who dies of AIDS? What do you think? They have the world: fame, riches, fortune, personality, everything; they have everything, except God, and they die in unspeakable misery. O God! It is our part and our assignment, no matter who we are, whether we are parents or whether we are children, to lead the way to God, to the church, and into the kingdom. This is the assignment of the parents for the child.
I buried a father out of this church, a wonderful man, a godly man. As I stood at the cemetery and they lowered his body into the grave, one of his boys said to me, “My father bequeathed to us little of this world’s goods, but he taught us the way of the Lord, and that is God’s best gift.” Had this godly man bestowed upon that little brood of children who outlived him millions and millions of dollars, it would not have been commensurate with the gift of having bestowed upon those children the love and the mercy of the Lord Jesus.
And could I say, this is a beautiful assignment for a child, a child. “Pastor, you mean the child lead the family to the Lord?” I mean just that. In this congregation there was a child, like these youngsters, there was a child who was beautifully converted and baptized, and in the providences of God, became so ill and soon to die. And the child said to his unsaved father, “Oh, Daddy, that you would give your heart to Jesus and meet me in heaven someday.” Dear me! that would break the heart of an image; that would break the heart of a stone statue. I remember so well the service. They sang the song:
Jesus loves me—this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong—
They are weak, but He is strong.
Jesus loves me—He who died
Heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
Let His little child come in.
[“Jesus Loves Me,” Anna B. Warner]
They sang that at the memorial service. Dear me! Can you imagine the brokenness of that father and mother when they buried that little boy and now are preparing to meet him in heaven? The joy of the Christian family is beyond any other in this earth. There is nothing comparable to it. God hallows and blesses it.
I close with something that happened here in our congregation. We were in a revival meeting, and there was a young fellow walking that way on Ervay Street, right in front of the church. And apparently not realizing where he was or the people to whom he might be asking the question, walking down Ervay Street in front of the church, he asked where a beer joint was located. He was going on his way to a beer joint, somewhere in that direction. Well, two of the deacons in our church, answering the lad, young fellow, began to talk to him, and finally persuaded him to come into the church. He sat down here in the congregation and listened to the message. When the sermon was done and the preacher pressed the invitation, he came down the aisle here and knelt with me. And kneeling down by his side, and a deacon telling me of the young fellow from off the street on the way to a beer joint, kneeling here I said to the lad, I said, “Young fellow, were you reared in a Christian home?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Do you have a Christian father?” He said, “Yes.”
“Do you have a Christian mother?” He said, “Yes.” Well, I said, “Young fellow, if right here on your knees you were to give your heart and life to the Lord, what would your mother think about it?” He said to me, “If I did that, if I gave my heart to Jesus, my mother would be ecstatically glad, happy.” Well, I said, “Why don’t you do it? Why don’t you do it?” He said, “I will,” and took my hand, and right there gave his heart to the Lord Jesus.
Well, after the service was over—I used to always go back there at that door, that door there to shake hands with the people as they were going outside; I did that for years—well, that young fellow came by me and shook my hand, as all the other people were doing, you know, just greeting the pastor as they leave. And I said to him, “Son, are you going to that beer joint?”
“No, sir.” Well, I said, “Son, where’re you going? What are you going to do?” He said to me, “I’m going to a telephone, and I’m going to call my mother, what I have done tonight.” I can well imagine when that boy called home, told his mother what he’d done, I can well imagine the infinite and indescribable gladness and rejoicing of her heart when he told her he’d given his life to Christ.
That’s what Paul is talking about. However we may be burdened for the lost of the world, you will never get away from that first burden: “I could wish that myself were accursed, if only my own people might be saved” [Romans 9:1-3; Romans 10:1]. That’s just the way God put us together, and you’ll never get away from it. They have it in their power to bring us down to the depths or to raise us to the heights; just the way God created us.
Now we’re going to stand and sing us a hymn of appeal. And while we sing the song, a family you to come into the fellowship of our dear church, or somebody you here tonight to give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-10], or to answer some call of the Spirit in your life, while we sing this hymn, I’ll be standing right here; you come and stand by my side. God bless, the Holy Spirit direct [John 16:7-15], and the angels rejoice as you come [Luke 15:10], while we stand and while we sing.