THE CALL OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-7-88 8:15 a.m.
Thank you choir and orchestra and welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio. You are now a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Call of Christ. It is a textual message from the eleventh chapter of the Book of John. In our preaching through the Fourth Gospel, we are in one of the beautiful and most meaningful of all of the chapters in the Bible. The text is in verse 28 and in verse 29: “Martha called Mary, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto Him” [John 11:28-29].
The home in Bethany was precious beyond compare: Mary and her sister Martha and their brother Lazarus. But it is filled now with hopelessness and helplessness and the night of sorrow, for Lazarus is dead [John 11:14].
I was told just a moment ago that three members of our dear church, three sainted members, have just died. My secretary said to me a day ago that she mailed out twenty-six of the little books, a little booklet that I have published, “Our HHome in Heaven.” In this week there have been twenty-six of those little booklets mailed out where death has entered the homes of our people and our families.
The night of sorrow; then Jesus came, and what a world of difference His nearness makes. Try it yourself; invite Him into your house and into your heart, into your home, into the lives of your children, into your work and way. And see for yourself the difference that our Lord will make when Jesus comes; the whole earth and the whole world changes when He is near. In this chapter is the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead [John 11:43-44]. And infidels and unbelievers scoff at the thought of a miracle like that. But my friend, no one in this earth can tell what could happen in the presence of the personality of Jesus of Nazareth, God incarnate [Matthew 1:21-23; John 1:1, 14].
Jesus came: “And Martha came to Mary and said, He is here, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. And she arose quickly, and came unto Him” [John 11:28-29]. I cannot think—it would be beyond my imagination that she would do anything else. When the Master calls, she arose quickly and went to meet Him, went to greet Him, went to see Him.
What could be more marvelous than to have Him come to see you and to invite you to come to Him? Everything to gain; life, and hope, and salvation, and resurrection, an infinitely precious promise. It is beyond my thinking that one would make excuses not to go. “I’m too busy.” Or, “I’m not interested.” Or, “I have other things in this world to attend to.” Or, “Not today but tomorrow, some other time.” When the Master calls, how wonderful to say, “Lord, here I am, here I come.” His invitations are so preciously beautiful and movingly dear.
Come ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall.
If you tarry ’til you’re better,
You will never come at all.
I will arise and go to Jesus.
He will embrace me in His arms.
In the arms of my dear Savior,
Oh, there are ten thousand charms.
[from “Come Ye Sinners,” Joseph Hart, 1759]
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto Me and rest.
Lay down, thou weary one,
Lay down thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad.
I found in Him a resting place,
And He has made me glad.
[from “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” Horatius Bonar, 1846]
“The Master is Come, and Calls for Thee” [Emily M. Crawford, 1896]. He calls in our hearts, in our deepest souls. I tell you truly, unless there is an interdictory lesson or teaching, a hardening of the heart, a lessening of the spirit of response, unless there is a learned interdiction, when the message of Christ is brought to the human heart, there is an immediate response. I find it universally in children, and I find it in every human heart, unless there is a learned interdiction.
Like the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, when Paul is standing in the presence of King Herod Agrippa and the retinue of the court, when he has made his appeal for Christ, the king answers, “Almost you persuade me to be a Christian” [Acts 26:28]. We’re all like that. There is something deeply moving in the message and the story of the grace and atoning love of our Lord for us [2 Timothy 1:9-10; Titus 2:11-14].
In these years gone by, when such a thing could be possible, I preached for a week at the University of Alabama. I was there with representatives of other religions. And from Monday through Friday, in that vast arena, a big gymnasium, we spoke to thousands and thousands of those university students. They represented their religion, and I represented our Christian faith.
One of the most amazing things that I ever was asked, at noontime after our great convocation in that vast gymnasium—we met with the officials in the university each day for lunch—and at one of those lunches, one of the men who represented a religion so far different from ours, deeply moved, he turned to me in the presence of all of that group and said, “Is it the unction of God upon you that you speak as you do? Or is it something that you have learned how to do?” No matter who you are, there is a moving appeal in the gospel of Christ.
I suppose there is not a more famous sentence ever written in human speech than this sentence in the first paragraph of Augustine’s Confessions. “O God, Thou hast made us for Thyself, and we are restless until we rest in Thee.” He not only calls to our hearts, our inner souls, but He calls for an open, public confession of faith.
In a little village where I pastored, one grocery store, one general store, and the man owning it and running it, the most influential citizen in that part of the county—in a service like this, he came down the aisle, took my hand and said, “I accept the Lord Jesus as my Savior. Now I’m going back to my seat.” And being much younger then, and much bolder, I said to him, “If you don’t stay down here, you can’t be saved.”
“What,” did he say to me, “what? You mean I have to be down here at the front in order to be saved?”
I said, “That’s right. You go back to your seat, and you’ll go back a lost man. You can’t be saved if you don’t stay down here.” I don’t think I’d do anything like that today, but I was just reflecting the Word of God. The call of Christ is to an open, unashamed, public confession of our faith in Him.
Matthew 10:32-33, “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father in heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.” Mark 8:38: “Whosoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this sinful generation; of him will the Son of Man be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of the Father with His holy angels.” Romans 10:9-10:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that He lives, that God raised Him from the dead, thou shall be saved.
For with the heart one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness—an imputed righteousness—and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
There’s no other way to be saved than through an open, public acknowledgement of the lordship of Christ in our lives: the call of Christ to the heart, the call of Christ to an open and public confession, the call of Christ for His church.
Our Lord never said, “My wife.” He never experienced that most intimate of all human relationships. Our Lord never said, “My child.” He never looked into the face of a little babe and said, “This is now bone of My bones and flesh of My flesh.” He never said, “My home.” All He said was, “The foxes of the field have dens, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head” [Luke 9:58]. But our Lord did say, “My church” [Matthew 16:18]. In Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it.”
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode.
The church our bless’d Savior
Bought with His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God,
Her walls before Thee stand.
Dear as the apple of Thine eye
Engraven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend.
To her my toil and cares be given,
‘Til toils and cares shall end.
[“I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” Timothy Dwight, 1800]
Once in a while I am asked, “Can’t a man be saved and not belong to the church?” That’s one of the strangest questions in the earth. Why would you want it that way? This is the family of God. This is the household of faith. This is the bride of Christ. This is the congregation that our Lord loves. Why would I want to disassociate myself from these that belong to Jesus, for whom He laid down His life? [1 Corinthians 15:3]. With all the foibles and faults and failures, we are still the family of God.
And I am so glad:
I am so glad I belong
To the family of God.
Washed in the fountain,
Cleansed by the blood,
A joint heir with Jesus,
As we travel this sod.
I’m so glad I belong
To the family of God.
[from “Family of God,” Bill and Gloria Gaither]
The call of Christ in our hearts, through an open, public confession of faith in Him [Romans 10:9-10], and to the congregation, naming Him as their Lord, the family of God [Romans 8:15]. The call of Christ to be faithful unto death, Revelation 2:10, the word of our Lord to the first of the seven churches of Asia: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
An old, broken-down missionary, with his wife, who had spent all of their lives in Africa, were finally, eventually, returning home. One of those strange coincidences; on the same ship, that old broken-down missionary and his wife were returning home, on that same ship was the president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. He had gone to Africa on a wild-game hunt, on a safari, and he also was returning home.
As they neared the home port in America, the old, broken-down missionary turned to his wife and said, “Dear, I wonder, if there’ll be anyone to meet us, if there’ll be anyone to greet us when we come home. Gone more than forty years, will anyone welcome us home?” When the ship arrived at port, here at home, the Marine band was there to greet the president of the United States. There was a parade welcoming Theodore Roosevelt home from his safari in Africa. And sure enough, when that old, broken-down missionary and his wife walked down the gangplank, coming home, there was not a soul to greet them, not one to welcome them.
And that night, in a poor, dingy hotel room, bitterness and hurt entered the heart of the old missionary. And in his sorrow and loneliness, his wife said to him, “I don’t have an answer for your question. The president of the United States goes on a wild game hunt, and when he comes back the whole world rejoices to greet him. We’ve given our lives as missionaries, proclaiming the message of Jesus. And when we come home, not a soul greets us.”
She said to him, “I don’t have an answer, but I’m going to leave you alone for a moment. And I want you to ask God and let Him tell you why.” She left the old, broken-down missionary and closed the door.
And he got down on his knees and told God what had happened. “He goes to Africa on a wild game hunt, and when he comes back home, the whole world rises to greet him. We have given our lives as missionaries, and when we come home, there’s not a soul to greet us.”
And you know what happened? The Lord came down from heaven, put His arms around that old, broken-down missionary and said to him, “But missionary, you are not home yet. You are not home yet.”
I am a stranger here.
Heaven is my home.
Earth is a desert drear.
Heaven is my home.
Sorrows and discouragement stand
Round me on every hand.
Heaven is my fatherland.
Heaven is my home.
[“I’m But a Stranger Here,” Thomas R. Taylor, 1836]
“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” [Revelation 2:10]. This is God’s sweet message when we come to Him. And thus we invite you this sacred and holy hour. Somebody you, accepting the Lord as your Savior [Romans 10:9-10], a family you, coming into our dear church, or answering a call of the Holy Spirit in your heart, in this moment when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, make this day the day of answering the call of Christ our Lord, “He has spoken to me, and here I stand.” In the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me and I’m coming.” Welcome; a thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing.