Clouds of Blessing
March 8th, 1992 @ 10:50 AM
CLOUDS OF BLESSING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-8-92 10:50 a.m.
And once again we welcome the throngs and multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now a part of our precious fellowship of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This last week, I have been preaching in Kentucky. I never saw anybody there but was listening to our services on the ACTS Network. And while there I met a businessman who had just returned to his home in America to live, and these years has been in South America.
He said to me, “I have worshiped with you every Sunday, listening to you preach.”
I said, “I know I holler a lot. I did not know you could hear me clear down in South America.” I said, “How do you mean that?”
And he said, “We listen to you on satellite.” All around this world, there are those who are listening to these services, and God be praised for your open heart.
This is the eighth sermon delivered from the Book of Ecclesiastes. The title of the message today, Clouds Of Blessing, and reading from the eleventh chapter:
Cast your bread upon the waters,
For you will find it after many days. Give to seven, and to eight;
You do not know what evil will be on the earth. If the clouds are black with rain,
They empty themselves upon the earth… He who observes the wind will not sow;
He who regards the clouds will not reap.
Rejoice, O young man, in your youth;
And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth;
Walk in the ways of your heart,
And in the sight of your eyes:
But know that for all of these
God will bring you into judgment.
[Ecclesiastes 11:1-4, 9]
First: the black clouds can be filled with blessing. When we look up into the heavens on a stormy day, those dark clouds are so foreboding, so dark, so threatening. Why? Because they are full of rain, and even the sun cannot penetrate those clouds of blessing. And as the text says, they pour out their rain upon the earth [Ecclesiastes 11:3]. How meaningful that was to those to whom this chapter was assigned in the Middle East. There the drought and the desert, and the rain coming down brought life and plant and food for the blessing of the people.
So well and poignantly do I remember when I was a little boy living on a farm in New Mexico, in a desert land. And standing in the backdoor of our little farmhouse built by my own father, he began to shout to the top of his voice. My father was very retiring, very quiet, very timid, and standing there as a lad listening to my father shout to the top of his voice was an amazing come to pass to me. And I looked up at and said, “Daddy, why are you shouting? Why are you shouting?” And my dad replied, “Son, the rain! God hath sent us rain!” It was pouring down from heaven.
These black clouds have in them infinite blessings for us upon whom they so aboundingly and abundantly fall. And those black clouds in your life, filled with pain and sorrow and darkness, hurt and suffering, have also in them great blessings for you, your life, your soul, your heart, your family.
One of the things that amazes me as I read the life of Jacob; in the forty-second chapter of Genesis, he was thinking through all of those providences that were so tragic. His boy Joseph, he thought was dead [Genesis 37:31-35], actually sold into slavery [Genesis 37:26-28]. And the drought: that was driving them down into Egypt, and do you remember his exclamation? And Jacob said, “All these things are against me!” [Genesis 42:36]. It was the opposite: all of those things were conspiring for the building of the family and the nation of Israel [Genesis 39-48], these black clouds filled with blessing.
Do you remember again, reading in the Book of Job? He says, in exclamation, “And Job cursed that day that he was born” [Job 3:1]; so filled with hurt and sorrow was the life of that patriarch. How does the book end? He is blessed with seven times more than he ever could have experienced before [Job 42:12-13]. That’s so true in human life. I copied this stanza out of an old hymn:
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big (and may I add, ‘and black’) with mercy and shall break
In blessing on your head.
[“God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” by William Cowper]
Clouds of blessing!
I read in God’s Book the nature of those incomparable remembrances from heaven. Here’s one: the hurts and the sorrows and the sufferings you experience in life but teach us the preciousness of the promises of God. Psalm 119:
Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now I keep Your word…
It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I may learn Your statutes… I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness, You have afflicted me.
[Psalm 119:67, 71, 75]
Brings us closer to God, the sufferings and the hurts that we know in this life. And these experiences of sorrow and brokenness but make us the more sensitive to the close and dear presence of our precious Lord. In Isaiah 43:
Thus says the Lord who created you
…and He who formed you…Fear not: for I have redeemed you,
have called you by your name—He knows you—
You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you:
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned.
Nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior…I am with you.
All of those providences of life that make us conscious that Jesus is by our sides; that’s the whole thing of Pilgrim’s Progress, that’s the whole story. He is walking in that pilgrimage by and in the face of lions and dragons and giants, through Sloughs of Despond, and awful the experiences of confrontations in this life. But God is with him and opens the door of heaven for him.
Says here, “I am your Savior” [Isaiah 43:3]. Think of the darkness of the cloud above our precious Lord, rejected and despised [Isaiah 53:3]. Think of the dark cloud of the day of His crucifixion from twelve noon until three in the afternoon: impenetrable [Matthew 27:45-46]. Think of the darkness of the despair, laid in the tomb [Matthew 27:57-60]. Think of the glory of the blessing that came down from that cloud when He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-6]. O God!
And now, having returned to heaven [Acts 1:9-10], there is no sorrow you experience and no disappointment you shall ever know, but that He knows all about it. And that’s why Hebrews can write, “Wherefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that you may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” [Hebrews 4:16]. Why? Because we have a Lord and Savior, who is tried in all points as we are [Hebrews 4:15]. Bless His name! May I add, because I so often am preaching on the infallibility, and instruction, and inspiration, and inerrancy of this blessed Word [2 Timothy 3:16], may I say that many times it is because of the sorrows and sufferings of life that we learn to love this precious Book, this blessed Book.
I read about a businessman; indifferent, thought nothing about God or the church or the Lord. His little boy died. His little boy died. His one little son died. And his wife saw him day after day and night after night reading this Book. So while he was away at work, she got his Bible and turned through it to see what it was that so riveted his attention. And what he had done was this: wherever in the Bible, it had something to say about heaven, he underscored it with his pencil. Suffering does that! Sorrow does that! Heartache and brokenness does that! It brings us to God’s Word and to the feet of our blessed Savior.
I speak now of the black cloud of our reluctant giving: look at that! The amount of money that some of you give, look at it; think of what you could buy with it. Think of the good time and the pleasures you could have with it, look at that. And yet, you’re giving it away. The author of Ecclesiastes has a word for us, he says, “Cast your bread upon the waters; and you will find it after many days” [Ecclesiastes 11:1]. We, in our giving, I’m frank to confess, I don’t begin to know to commence the different things for which our giving is dedicated. We even have thirty-one chapels here in our dear church. I’d say most of them I’ve never seen.
And if that’s true here in our city of Dallas, think of the great broad expanse of these things to which our money is dedicated, never been there, never have seen the people, never have heard them speak. “Cast your bread upon the waters; and it will come back to you in due time” [Ecclesiastes 11:1]. You’ll be amazed someday to find what God has done with that dedicated gift. I’ve been up there in the Northwest, those salmon go out into the sea, the vast ocean, and disappear; what a waste of life. By and by they return, as you know, to the exact place where they were spawned, grown and big, and spawning again.
“Cast your bread upon the waters, in due time it will come back” [Ecclesiastes 11:1]. He says here in this text, “Give to seven, and to eight” [Ecclesiastes 11:2]. That’s a Hebrew idiom; it’s an Hebraicism. It was their way of saying an infinite and infinitude; just give, and God will aboundingly bless it.
There was a man
And the neighbors called him mad.
The more he gave,
The more he had.
[adapted from a quote by John Bunyan]
As the proverb says, “There are those that give, and it abounds unto an increase: and there are those who keep, and it tendeth to poverty” [Proverbs 11:24]. You remember God is the One that gives us what we have. And when we remember Him, and give in His blessed name, the Lord does not forget us. He helps us and works with us, and increases us, and blesses us.
I turn now to the black cloud of judgment, “And know, for all these, God will bring you into judgment” [Ecclesiastes 11:9]. This is universal; all of us shall experience an ultimate and final hour. And to those who are lost, O God, there is no second chance, it is done with, and done with forever!
Well, in preparing the sermon, I began thinking and thinking and thinking: how could such a thing be, that God in His judgment would consign us—we who are lost—and we’re there forever and ever and ever? No second opportunity. Then, as I began to think through all of the experiences that I know in life: sorrow and suffering and pain do not correct and do not change, it is only God’s changing our hearts that changes us.
But the penitentiary and the judgments do not change us, we’re just the same. And I began to think—I sat there at a television set and looked at my fellow preacher, a famous evangelist—and before that vast television audience and before that congregation of God’s people in Louisiana, I never saw a man cry as bitterly as he did. We, in confession and in hurt and in sorrow, O God, I never saw anything like that in my life as that evangelist. He had been cohabiting with prostitutes, and thus his ministry, facing a horrible and darkening judgment. You know this; he did the same thing in California, cohabiting with prostitutes. After that tragic confession and weeping and wailing in Louisiana, the same thing in California; isn’t that amazing? In itself and of itself, the judgment of damnation doesn’t change us. You can send them to prison forever; when they come out of prison, they’re just the same.
And I’m not trying to play down anyone’s faith; but I cannot help but avow that the doctrine of purgatory, of all things, is not of God. It’s not in the Bible, of course, but I’m talking about human experience. Do we go to heaven by way of damnation, and Gehenna, and hell, and Sheol, and Hades? Do we appear before God with a diploma and a degree signed by Satan? Does the damnation of purgatory fit us for heaven and the presence of God? I’m just avowing that my experience is that if God does not change your heart, suffering and pain will never do it. You’ll be just the same when you get out of that prison as the day as you entered into it, unless there is the Spirit of the Lord that has changed your soul.
While I’m speaking of that, let me also add that longevity does not change a man’s heart or his life. Those antediluvians, how long did they live? A hundred years? Two hundred years? Three hundred years? Five hundred years? Methuselah died in the Flood, did you know that? Nine hundred sixty-nine years of age [Genesis 5:27], Methuselah died in the Flood.
God said to Noah, “A hundred and twenty years you preach” [Genesis 6:3; 2 Peter 2:5]. And for one hundred twenty years there was not a convert. And preacher, let me tell you my experience in life, the older you get, the more difficult it is to get that man of age to accept Jesus as his Savior. Dear me! And that leads me to this final avowal of our author of Ecclesiastes, “Oh, young man in your youth—in your youth,” and paraphrasing, “give your heart to God” [Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:1]. In the days of your youth, do it.
Alexander the Great had a habit when he was attacking a city—and by the way, Alexander never lost a battle—when he came in confrontation with a great city, he would build a great flame before it. And as long as that flame burned, the city could come and they’d have peace. But if they refused, when that flame went out, Alexander attacked. That’s the way in human life: God set the time. And in that time if I turn, and repent, and accept [Acts 20:20-21], and believe, and confess, I’m saved forever [Romans 10:9-13]. And when that time is expired, I am lost and damned, now and in the world that is to come [Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:15].
One of the strangest things that characterize human life is how the memory of sin haunts us, follows us, and damns us. In the ninetieth Psalm:
You have set, God, You, You have set our iniquities before You,
Our secret sins in the light of Your countenance.
For all of our days are passed in Your wrath: And we finish our years with a sigh.
Here again, one of the most poignant experiences of my long life and my physical sixty-four years being a pastor, it is strange how the sins of a yesterday will haunt and damn the memory of a man.
For the first ten years of my pastoral work I was single, and I lived—literally, I lived with the people. And in one of the homes, a devout family: Pete Martin, the husband and father in the home, Pete Martin, now an older man. I don’t know how many times he would say to me, “Young pastor, would God forgive a man who killed his best friend?” And I would try to tell him of the grace [Ephesians 2:8], and love [Galatians 2:20], and mercy of the Lord Jesus [Titus 3:5]. And the next time I was there “Young pastor, do you think God would ever forgive a man who killed his best friend?”
What happened was, when they were young people—and I’m talking about a hundred years ago now, when they were young. Go to a dance out there in West Texas; take their guns with them. Got drunk, and in an altercation, he shot and killed his best friend. Dear me! When I was with him, that had happened fifty, sixty years ago; and haunted him as though it were yesterday.
Take another man, take another man: in the days of his indiscretion, he impregnated—he got a girl pregnant and she died in childbirth. And in that grave lay that girl, and in his mind and heart and memory, “I did it!” And what do you do? And where do you turn? Haunting the rest of your life.
Down the aisle here at this church came one of the finest looking young men you ever saw in your life. He was tall, blond, blond, blond, in his twenties; a good-looking fellow. On that second seat right there where you are, he sat here at every service, every one of them. Came to me in the office and he said, “Pastor, I just need to confess, I have AIDS and I lived that kind of a life and God’s judgment has fallen upon me. But I want you to know that though I’m haunted by it and am damned by it, I’ve repented; I’ve asked God to forgive me, and I confessed my faith before your church, and you baptized me. But I have that terrible disease.
Did you know the last time Mrs. C and I went to Europe, one week after we were gone, he died. He was as well as any of you men that are seated there when I saw him at our service the last time. And in one week, he was dead.
O God, how these memories haunt us and follow us! And that’s why we need that dark cloud to burst in showers of blessings on our heads [Ezekiel 34:26]. Only God can change us; only God can forgive us. Nobody can save us and cleanse us and redeem us but the Lord God [John 14:6; Acts 4:12]; and how desperately we need it.
Sin condemns. Sin deranges the reason; sin drags us down into the dust. It’s the same thing in our spiritual lives as in your natural lives. When you disobey a natural law, you pay for it. As there is a saying, “You take fire into your bosom and you’ll be burned.” The same law pertains in the spiritual world, you break that spiritual law, and you’ll suffer the consequence. God has made that together, “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. And that’s why we need the Lord! [Romans 6:23].
O God, take the black clouds of our sins, of our memories, of our weaknesses, take the dark cloud, Lord, that gloomily follows us to the grave, take it Lord and make it a shower of blessing [Ezekiel 24:26]. Come down, Lord, in my life, in love and mercy and sweet forgiveness, and those trespasses of the days gone by, Lord, blot them out [Psalm 51:9]. And instead, may the beauty, and the glory, and the happiness, and the presence of our blessed Savior be ours in sweet fellowship forever and ever [John 14:3]. Please God, save me and save us!
CLOUDS OF BLESSING
Black Clouds Can Be Full of Blessing
Clouds filled with beneficial rain
Sickness/loss turned to blessing (Jacob, Job)
God’s purpose in loss to bring us closer to Him
Finding comfort in God’s Word
Clouds filled with beneficial rain
2.Sickness/loss turned to blessing (Jacob, Job)