DEBTS I CAN NEVER REPAY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-12-92 10:50 a.m.
And we welcome the uncounted throngs of you who on radio and television are sharing the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the senior pastor, W. A. Criswell, bringing the message entitled, Debts I Can Never Repay.
In our preaching through the Book of Romans, we have come to the fourteenth verse. And the text, “I am a debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also” [Romans 1:14-15]. He includes the whole world and all that is in it and every soul that is a part of it in that indebtedness. To the Greeks, to the Romans to whom he addresses the letter, to the barbarians, to God’s chosen people, the Jewish people, to those who are learned, to those who are unlearned; a debt to the whole world.
I can easily illustrate that. Here is a man who is dying of cancer. I do not know him, couldn’t call his name, never been introduced to him, but he’s dying of cancer. And if I have a cure, if I know how to make him well, I owe him a debt to tell him how he can be well again and strong again, though I never knew him, never heard of him; a debt that I owe. I can illustrate that so easily. If in a desert, there is a band, a group, dying of thirst, and I know where is a beautiful oasis, and in that water I bathe, I swim, I play, I drink, and these are dying of thirst, I owe them a debt.
In the seventh chapter of 2 Kings, there is a siege of Jerusalem by Benhadad, king of Syria, and the people are starving to death. On the outside of that siege, that Syrian army, by the hand of God, hears a noise [2 Kings 7:6]. They think the Hittites and the Egyptians have come against them, and they flee. The camp is empty. They’ve left everything there: food, clothing, and all [2 Kings 7:7]. Inside the holy city are four lepers. They say to one another, “If we stay here, we die; if we go out there, maybe the Syrians would welcome us” [2 Kings 7:4]. They leave the starving city, and there in the camp of the Syrians: food, clothing, and they exult and eat. Then they say, “This is a day of glad tidings, and we hold our peace. Let us go into the city and tell them of the abounding abundance just outside the gate” [2 Kings 7:8-9]; a debt, inevitable.
On the road to Jericho, a priest passes by a wounded man, a dying man, a Levite passes by a dying man, and a despised Samaritan passes by and looks upon that hurt and dying creature. And he stops and ministers to him, a debt that he owes [Luke 10:30-37]; so with us in our lives. Paul says, “I owe a debt to these Greeks, and these Romans, and these barbarians, and to the whole world because I have a message of life, and they are dying” [Romans 1:14-15]. That’s why our wonderful pastor has inaugurated this wonderful season, beginning now, of soulwinning and evangelism. We owe a debt to the dying world.
Some time ago I won a man to the Lord Jesus. In passing him by here at the church, he stopped me and thanked me and said, “You have introduced me to life itself. I thank you.” I answered him, “You owe me nothing at all. I have a debt that I owe to you, to tell you about the Lord.” So the apostle writing here, “I have a debt that I owe to the whole dying world” [Romans 1:14].
He names them here, and when we look at his list, we can understand the obligation under which he found himself. To the Greeks [Romans 1:14]; the entire world spoke Greek. Isn’t that an amazing come to pass, Greek culture, Greek literature, Greek philosophy, the Greek language? One of the astonishing things to me is when Paul writes to Rome, the Latin capital of the empire, he writes the letter in Greek. When Paul writes the encyclical that you call, that we call Ephesians, ancient manuscripts of Ephesians have the word blank. It was a letter written for all of those provinces: Asia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, Galatia, Cilicia; all of them. And it is written in Greek. What a debt they owed to the Greeks; to the Romans; Roman law, Roman government, Roman roads everywhere. “I am a debtor,” Paul says [Romans 1:14].
And what could I say about Israel and about the Jew? What a debt we owe to them, not only Paul, but we. They gave to us our Book. They gave to us our Savior, and they taught us from our heathenism the way of everlasting life.
And he mentions the barbarians [Romans 1:14], all of those uncultured tribes and nations that comprised the Roman Empire. How sensitive they were to the gospel, and how they responded to the glorious hope in Christ. I owe them a debt. Thus it was that when our Lord was crucified, above His cross there was written His name and His kingship in Hebrew and in Greek and in Latin [John 19:20]; the debt we owe the world.
We have in Dallas, as in every city, world without end, men who say, “I am self-sufficient. I made myself, and I owe no thing to anybody.” That’s the way they think. That’s the way they live. That’s the way they act. “I am a self-made man.” You look at him a minute, just for a day in his life. Nineteen-twentieths of everything that he has he owes to those before him, and the one-twentieth that remains he owes to those who are present about him. He gets up in the morning. He arises out of bed in the morning. Why is he there, and where did he come from?
Somewhere there was a mother who went into the valley of the shadow of death and in pain bore him that he might have life. And in the morning he rises a free man. Who protected his safety, and who died that he might have freedom? He owes it to somebody else. He dresses. I’d be amazed if he made his clothes. Somebody else wove that garment. He speaks. Great God in heaven, think of the men who laid down their lives that you might have freedom even to speak! And he walks out on the street. Somebody made that street. Not he. He goes to his office. Somebody built that building. Not he. He uses a telephone. He never invented it. He punches a light, and an electric light comes on. He never invented that electricity. Sweet people, everything about us brings us into daily indebtedness. First Timothy chapter 6, verse 7, “We brought nothing into this world, and we can certainly take nothing out” [1 Timothy 6:7]. We owe it all.
I think of something that Robert Louis Stevenson, the great poet, one time facetiously said. He was speaking in mild satire about our pride, and he said, “There is something placed in every man’s hand, if it is nothing else but four fingers and a thumb.” Whatever we have, God has given it to us. We are in debt.
And when I think of the religious life, oh, God, how indebted I am. Indebted for the Book, this holy and precious and heavenly volume placed in my hands. It’s a gift. I’m a debtor to those who wrote it and laid down their lives for it and bathed every page in their blood. A gift; I’m a debtor.
And the church; O Lord, preparing this message, I relived the days of my boyhood; that little white cracker box of a church house, and those pioneers that came to the western part of our great state and preached the gospel. You see, I was born in 1909, and those men of God who lived in the 1800s were still preaching when I was a little boy; and in that church where I found the Lord and was baptized and listened to the saving message of Christ, O God, what a debt! What a debt. And this wonderful church; how could I in a thousand lives and in a million ministries ever pay the debt I owe this precious congregation? Dear Lord, how I love every window in this sanctuary, and every seat where you are seated, and every memory for forty eight years. What a debt I owe. And the hymns that we sing; I never wrote them, I am a debtor. And the sweet fellowship of just being here, just sharing the moment with you, the hour so precious. And what could I say about the Lord Jesus? What a debt I owe to Him.
Not only were we in Israel, but we went to England and to Scotland. And while we were going through Scotland, I thought again of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the pastor at Dundee, died when he was twenty nine years old, constantly referred to in Christian literature as a saint. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a sweet and beautiful and precious servant of God.
Do you remember one time I spoke of a man from afar who went to Dundee in Scotland just to be there and to see where he pastored? The young preacher was gone, so the janitor of the church, the caretaker, seeing the man’s disappointment in having come and not being able to meet the young pastor, the caretaker said, “You come with me.” And he took him to the pastor’s study and said, “You sit down in that chair.” And when the stranger sat down in the chair, the caretaker said, “Now, you bury your face in your hands and weep.” Then the caretaker took him to the pulpit and said, “You stand in that pulpit. Now, you open that Bible, and you bury your face in that Bible and weep.”
A glorious saintly pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne and this is what he wrote:
When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glowing sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o’er life’s finished story,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.
When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.
When the praise of Heaven I hear,
Loud, as thunder to the ear,
Loud as many waters noise,
Sweet as harp’s melodious voice,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.
Even on earth, as through a glass
Darkly, let Thy glory pass,
Make forgiveness feel so sweet,
Make Thy Spirit’s help so meet.
Even on earth, Lord, make me know
Something of how much I owe.
[“How Much I Owe,” Robert M’Cheyne, 1837]
A debt I can never repay, so I look around us. Lord, indebted to Thee for so much; how could I respond? How could I ever seek to repay? Wherever there is a soul that is lost, wherever there is a heart that is crushed, wherever there is a life that is hurt, decimated, wherever there is a family in need, wherever there is someone tossed in this stricken world, I owe them a debt.
And pastor, that’s why in these years and years gone by we began our ministry to the poor here in the city of Dallas. Started over there in West Dallas and continued until we circled this city with thirty-one chapels, seeking to bring the message of Christ and the hope of God to those who are poor and homeless and helpless. For all these years, having a mission downtown, and then God gave us that wonderful and glorious facility, the [Dallas Life] Foundation. And every day that the sun shines, we minister to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of families, poor and hungry and homeless and helpless. I love that. I love that. It is one of the sweetest ministries, pastor, I think that we have; our ministry to the lost, and the helpless, and the homeless.
And when I think of our final and ultimate debt, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment” [Hebrews 9:27], I have a debt that I shall certainly pay; the debt of my death. When I came here, pastor, the Baraca class was one of the largest classes in this city or in the convention. They had several hundred in the Baraca class. I met with those men year after year after year, and now when I meet with the Baraca leadership, it will be two or three. All of them are gone. Death, I have a debt to pay; death.
Then I read out of God’s blessed Word, “Jesus died for us” [1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:4]. That is a phrase you will read in God’s Holy Scripture again and again and again. “Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe” [“Jesus Paid It All,” Elvina M. Hall, 1865]. Jesus died for me. He paid that ultimate debt for me [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And now death is just a falling asleep, waiting for Jesus to awaken us and to arise us into the glorious resurrection of that triumphant day. Do you remember this? “This we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are” [1 Thessalonians 4:15]—What is it, preacher?—“asleep,” asleep; calling us who have died just asleep, just asleep; “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with a voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and those that sleep in Jesus will rise first” [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. That ultimate and final debt of death is our greatest day of triumph. We just fall asleep in the Lord, awaiting that trumpet sound and the voice of the archangel, and we’re resurrected and raised to a new life in Jesus [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
O God, how precious and how triumphant and I’m not to tremble, and I’m not to fear. I’m not to be afraid; when that day comes, that will be my greatest triumph. When I die? No; when I fall asleep in Jesus [1 Thessalonians 4:14].
And may I add hastily one other thing? I have a debt to my Lord. You know what it is? I have a debt to accept His invitation to the wedding supper of the Lamb. He invites me personally to be present at the wedding supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:9]. Right there it is. I’ve marked it. This is my personal invitation to attend the wedding supper of the Lamb. And I owe it to God. It’s a debt I feel in my soul to accept that invitation, my personal invitation, to the wedding supper of the Lamb. And the only way it can be happy and triumphant is for you to accept that invitation, too. If nobody comes, if nobody is there, oh, what a disappointment it would be to God, and what a tragedy and a sorrow it would be to me to be there at the wedding supper of the Lamb and you’re not there, and you’re not there, and you’re not there, and you’re not there. I owe a debt to God to accept His personal invitation to attend, to be present, at the wedding supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9].
And that’s what heaven is. You are there. We are there. Our Savior is there. He has invited us, and we have accepted His invitation, and we sit down with Him to break bread in the kingdom of our Lord. That is heaven.
You know, years and years and years ago, before you were born, years and years ago, in the days when we had testimonies at midweek prayer meeting on Wednesday night, there was an old man, an old, old man who stood up to testify. I’ll never forget what he said. He said, “When I was a little boy, when I was just a little fellow, I thought about heaven, heard of heaven. Heaven; a big city, golden streets, gates made out of pearl, high walls made out of jasper, and a vast throng, not one of whom I knew. That was heaven.” Then he said, “My little brother died. My little brother died, and I thought about heaven as jasper walls, pearly gates, golden streets, a vast throng, not one that I knew except one little face; my little brother.” Then he said, and he described it, the years passed and the decades multiplied, and now an old, old man. And he said, “All of my family has died; my mother, my father, all of my brothers and sisters.” And he said, “My wife has died, and all of our children. They are all gone.” And he said, “Now, when I think about heaven, I never think of jasper walls, or of golden streets, or of gates of pearl, or of a vast throng that I don’t know. When I think about heaven now,” he says, “I think about my family, and my friends, and that great host gone before whom I have loved and lost for just a while.”
That is heaven. All of those accouterments are just things, things. But heaven is because you are there. You are there. You are there. We are going to be there, and with our Savior. What did I say? We are going to sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb and break bread together; a debt that we owe to accept the sweet invitation of our Lord [Revelation 19:7-9].
And to the great throng in God’s house this precious hour, in the balcony round, down a stairway, and in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I’m answering with my life, opening my heart to the blessed Lord Jesus, coming into the fellowship of the family of God.” A thousand times welcome as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
CAN NEVER REPAY
I. A debt to the whole world
had a message of life to men who were dying
man dying of cancer – if I have a cure, I owe him a debt to tell him how he can
A group dying of thirst in a desert – if I know where there is an oasis, I owe
them a debt to lead them to it
Good Samaritan stopped to minister to a dying man
was a debtor for the contributions these groups had made to his own life and to
the preparation for the preaching of the cross
Greeks – language, literature, culture
Romans – law, order, roads, communication
Jews – the revelations of God, the Savior Christ Jesus
Barbarians – the humble, untaught, so ready to worship and believe
II. Our debt to
others – their contribution to our lives
of what he has he owes to those before him
He would not be here if a mother had not suffered pain to bare him
Others protect his safety and died that he might have freedom
clothes are made by someone else’s hands
street he walks, the building in which he works he did not create
We have nothing we did not just receive (1
Robert Louis Stevenson, “â€¦four fingers and a thumbâ€¦”
life – how indebted we are
Bible – a debtor to those who wrote it and laid down their lives for it
Our ministries and congregation
The hymns we sing
3. Robert Murray
McShane’s “How Much I Owe”
there is a soul that is lost, a heart crushed, a life hurt, a family in need, we
owe them a debt
Our chapels, ministry to helpless and homeless
debt of my death
Jesus paid it all – death is now a falling asleep (1
debt to accept the Lord’s invitation to the wedding supper of the Lamb