THE FAMILY OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-8-70 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Family of God. In the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians, verses 14 and 15: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." And the message is built upon the singular of a substantive, patria, family. Pater father, pater, father, patria, the family of the Father. That’s what he means, "of whom the whole family of heaven and earth is named," as we have the name, the family name of our father, in heaven and in earth, the family, singular, of God, is named for Him, the family of God.
Bereavement, the sorrow of separation in death is one of the most poignant griefs in human experience. God permits us to love these whom He has given to us, and our hearts weave precious, loving tendrils around them. Then when they are taken away, the empty void is filled with nothing but falling tears and daily, sorrowful remembrance. This is an experience all of us some time, some way share.
There’s not a father but that could understand the lament of David when, even though over an unworthy son, he cried, "O Absalom, would God I had died for thee. Absalom, my son, my son!" [2 Samuel 18:33]. In the Book of Chronicles, there is stated that Jeremiah lamented over the death of good king Josiah and that his lamentation is written in the Book of the Lamentations [2 Chronicles 35:25]. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Zechariah, it says when the Lord shall come, Israel shall mourn. And it says it will be like a mourning at Hadad Rimmon, at the hill of Megiddo [Zechariah 12:11]. That is, it referred to a time lost to us in history when the whole nation mourned at Armageddon, at the hill of Megiddo, over the death of good King Josiah. In the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, at the death of Stephen the first martyr, the book says that devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him [Acts 8:2]. In the next chapter, chapter 9, it says when Dorcas died that the poor widows that she had helped held up the garments that Dorcas had made, weeping, as Simon Peter came and looked upon the sad and sorrowful scene [Acts 9:39].
To be a stoic is no Christian. His spirit is a thousand times removed from that of the tender-hearted Jesus who wept over the death of Lazarus, standing by his sisters Mary and Martha [John 11:35]. But this holy passage I have read brings to us a comfort that is incomparably sweet and precious: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Pater, the Father, of whom the whole patria in heaven and earth is named" [Ephesians 3:14-15]. Death then makes no breech in the family of God. Some of them there, some of them here, but we’re all the patria, we’re all the family of God, whether in heaven or in earth.
God’s family is not broken up by death. God’s family is not separated by death. You would think that they belonged to one order up there, and we belong to another order down here. It is not so. The household of God is complete, and death does not divide it, nor does death separate it. Our Lord said expressly turning to Simon Peter, "On this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell, the gates of Hades," the Greek word for "death," "the gates of death shall not katischuo, shall not hold it down" [Matthew 16:18]. Death has no power to prevail or to break up or to separate God’s family.
In the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew, the angel said to the women, "Come, see the place where He lay, He is not here." Death has no power of termination or separation. "Tell the disciples He meets them at that appointed rendezvous in Galilee" [Matthew 28:6-7]. And in the glorious passage that you read and that the choir sang, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, is able to separate us from God" [Romans 8:38-39]. We’re always one in the family of the Lord. Whether there in heaven or whether here in earth, we are one patria, one inseparable family.
This is a poem out of England:
A simple child, that lightly draws its breath
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?
I met a little cottage girl,
She was eight years old, she said
Her hair was thick with many a curl,
That clustered round her head
She had a rustic woodland air,
And she was wildly clad
Her eyes were fair, and very fair,
Her beauty made me glad
Sisters and brothers, little maid,
How many may you be?
How many? Seven in all, she said,
And wondering looked at me
And where are they, I pray you tell.
She answered, seven are we
Two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea
Two of us in the churchyard lie,
My sister and my brother
And in the churchyard cottage
I dwell near them with my mother
You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven, I pray you tell,
Sweet maid, how this may be?
Then did the little maid reply,
Seven boys and girls are we
Two of us in the churchyard lie,
Beneath the churchyard tree
You run about my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive
If two were in the churchyard laid,
Then ye are only five
Their graves are green, they may be seen,
The little maid replied
Twelve steps or more from mother’s door,
And they are side by side
My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem
And there upon the ground I sit
And sing a song to them
And often after sunset sir,
When it is light and fair
I take my bowl of porridge,
And eat my supper there
The first that died was sister Jane,
In bed she moaning lay
Till God released her of her pain,
And then she went away
So in the churchyard she was laid,
And when the grass was dry
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I
And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side
How many are you then, said I,
If they two are in heaven
Quick was the little maid’s reply,
Oh sir, we are seven
But they are dead, those two are dead,
Their spirits are in heaven
‘Twas throwing words away, for still
The little maid would have her will
And said, Nay, we are seven.
["We Are Seven"; William Wordsworth]
The little child, I’m sure, knew nothing of theology; but she reflects in perfect faith the revelation of God in the Bible. Death makes no breach in the family of the Lord. Our Pater, of whom the whole patria, family, in heaven and in earth is named, some there, some here, but we’re all in the same family of God.
The formation of the family of God is natural and eternal, not artificial and temporal. Here in this life there are many associations that draw us together. In the ancient day, men were organized by guilds; the guild of silversmith, the guild of weavers, the guild of dyers, the guild of stonemasons. And in modern days, men and women are associated together by many common affinities and predilections. There will be political groups. Their philosophies of politics and national economics and life draw them together, and they’ll be in political parties. There will be cultural groups; a music society, or a historical society, or a literary society. And there will be business groups. Men will associate themselves in corporations and in business enterprises.
But all of these associations are artificial and temporary. Tastes change. Society moves on. The national life is re-colored, and the combination is broken up. And whatever it is, the end is inexorable and inevitable. It is disillusioned. But it is not so in the family of God. The family of God is formed naturally and everlastingly, eternally. As I am born into my family, my mother is my mother forever. My father is my father forever. My sisters and brothers are my sisters and brothers forever. My child is my child forever. So it is we are born into the family of God, and the relationship is not artificial. It belongs to the eternal order of things and is everlasting, the patria in heaven and in earth, some there and some here.
Also, the Scriptures emphasize that indivisible oneness in the family of God, whether there or whether here, whether on that side of Jordan or on this side. On the other side of Jordan was the tribe Gad and the tribe Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh. But Israel was one, even though the swollen stream ran between. So it is with us. Whether some are on that side of the Jordan River, have crossed over, or whether some of us remain on this side, the family of God is one and indivisible. We’re all named in one register: the Lamb’s Book of Life. And the hand that wrote in that book the name of the apostles and the prophets is the same almighty moving hand that writes your name in that book and mine.
And on the same leaf and on the same page that God has listed the heroes of the faith, the martyrs, and the Old Testament saints, on that same page, God writes the name of the least of us who trust in His Son. We come in successive ages and in generations, and we cross over one after another at different times. But God saw us, and named us, and saved us, and chose us from before the foundation of the world. That’s the way this Book of Ephesians begins in Ephesians chapter 1 and verse 4: "According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world"; we’re all one in the register, in the Book of Life, listing the children of God; and whether there or whether here, we’re all born into the family. We’ve been regenerated by the blood of Jesus Christ, washed clean and pure in His mercy and grace, they in heaven and we here in earth.
All of us are members of the fallen family of Adam, and we know sin and the liability to death. But we also belong to the children of the second Adam, the family of Christ. And they up there in heaven have found renewal and regeneration in the love of God in Jesus, and we have found a regeneration in that same blessed Lord. In fact, as between these who are ungodly in this earth and they who are translated in heaven, we feel far closer and more akin to our fellow citizens in heaven than we do to the ungodly down here in the world. For down here, we are strangers, and pilgrims, and foreigners, and sojourners [Hebrews 11:13]. Our citizenship, our commonwealth is in heaven, and whether here or whether there, we belong in the family and the kingdom of God [Philippians 3:20]. Whether there or whether here, we’re all alike, washed in the blood of the Lamb, and we are one company.
One of the elders answered and said unto me:
Who are these who are arrayed in white robes, and where do they come from? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which erchomai, these are they which erchomai are coming out of the great tribulation thlipsis the tribulation the great, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
It is looked upon as one company, they who have arrived and we who are coming. "These are they who are coming." Some of them there, some of us on the way; but whether there or whether here and coming, we’re looked upon as one throng, one family, one patria of God. The same blood that washed them clean and white is the same blood that washes the stain of sin out of our souls. We are one, there or here.
We are one also in the love and in the care of God. God does not love them any more than He loves us. And the care of the Lord is not more manifested to them than it is to us. "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His" [2 Timothy 2:19]. And He doesn’t know them any more than He knows us down here. And God doesn’t love them any more up there in glory than God loves us down here in the earth. We are one in the loving care of our Lord. And we are one in nature, whether there or here. The course of immortality floods through their spirits, and the same floodtide of immortality flows through our souls. They have in them the incorruptible, undying seed of God [1 Corinthians 15:42]. And the same incorruptible seed of the precious gospel has been sown in our hearts. We are same in nature.
They are the children of God; we are the children of God. They belong to the church of the firstborn; we belong to the church of the firstborn [Hebrews 12:23]. Their life is hid with God in Christ; our life is hid with God in Christ. We are one. They have bodies that somewhere are buried in the earth: we still live in our mortal bodies, but that immortality that lives forever, regenerated by the Holy Spirit of God, is theirs and ours alike. "Verily, verily, I say unto you," said Jesus, "he that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die" [John 11:25]. They do not die in heaven; and we shall not die in earth. Their bodies have been buried; ours, we still possess, but the immortality that God gives us is ours, as it is theirs; one patria in heaven and in earth.
And our worship and adoration is the same. They sing in heaven about Jesus: we sing in earth about Jesus. They bow in worship in heaven before the blessed holy Lord Jesus; we bow in earth before the same exalted Lord. Their delight is the blessed Jesus; our hope and happiness is the same living exalted Lord. Who leads them to living fountains of water? The blessed Jesus. Who leads us? The blessed Lord. Who wipes the tears away from their eyes? Even Jesus who comforts us in our hours of sorrow, the blessed Jesus. We are the same, whether there or here.
When we worship the Lord up there; down here, we find ourselves in one company, singing, and praising, and loving, and adoring the same Christ. Look at this:
Ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels – myriads of them – to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
And to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant.
[Hebrews 12: 22-24]
They and we in one great company, some of them in heaven and some of them in earth.
And we belong to the same body. "For as we have many members of one body, and all members have not the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ and everyone members one of another" [Romans 12:4,5]. The body of our Lord is not torn asunder, nor does death breach it and waste it. But the body of Christ is complete, as He hath chosen us from before the foundation of the world. Some of the members of the body of Christ are in glory. Some of the members of the body of Christ are in the earth. But whether in heaven or whether in earth, we all alike are members of the body of our Lord, members of one another in particular; and God needs us all. The apostle Paul, and Simon Peter, and Elijah, and Moses, but also Dorcas and Martha and Mary and the least of the saints that have trusted in Him, all are alike, chosen of the Lord, loved, died for, we belong to the patria of God. The little wren, as well as the great soaring eagle in the sky, the little retiring violet as well as the flaming orchid, all alike, needed and necessary, and adopted, and born into the kingdom of God.
And we all are fellow servants. Up there in heaven, they serve Him. We down here in the earth, we all are alike, fellow servants of God. In the Apocalypse, John says of the revealing angel, "I fell at his feet to worship him, and he said unto me, Do it not, I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus, worship God for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" [Revelation 19:10]. And again,
And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things.
Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.
They serve the Lord in heaven, and we serve the Lord in earth. And we are fellow servants and brethren in the high committed worship and service of the great King in glory. He is my brother, though an angel in heaven. And we all belong to the family of God. He is my fellow servant, a prophet, an apostle, he in heaven and we down here in the earth.
And when people are saved, they rejoice in heaven, and we rejoice in earth. In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, the Lord said, "There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth" [Luke 15:7]. And then again, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth" [Luke 15:10]. When somebody comes down this aisle, takes the Lord as His Savior, all of us thank God, the Lord has been so good. And while we rejoice in earth, God says, "And they rejoice in heaven." We are one patria, whether up yonder in glory or down here in the earth. And we all share alike the title deeds to glory. The promise is not any more to them than it is to us. We all share in that title deed of heaven. "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" [Romans 8:17]. All alike, we inherit the glories of God, some of them there, some of them here.
We feel the influence of these who have gone on before: a Martin Luther, or a John Knox, or a Calvin, or a Jonathan Edwards, or a George W. Truett. Each one has left behind his bow and his arrow, but also he has left behind his victories. Some sow, and others reap, but whether we sow or whether we reap, we are one in the great marvelous triumphant kingdom of God [John 4:36-37]. And their title deed to heaven is no more secure or assured than our title deed to heaven. We’re all joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, fellow heirs of the promises of God, some of them there, Peter, and Paul, Elijah, and John the Baptist, and some of us here. Their security is no more than ours. And the promise is no more to them than it is to us. We’re all members of the same patria of God. We belong to the family of the Lord.
Now finally, lastly, and our destiny is the same. We lift up our eyes and look forward to the same great consummation, for they are not complete without us. As the last verse in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews says when it calls the roll call of the heroes of the faith who are in glory, that "they without us should not be complete" [Hebrews 11:40], not until the last one of us comes into the kingdom and is resurrected, and is glorified, are they complete. The family is not complete until all of us are in, for they are waiting for the great resurrection day, to wit, the redemption of the body. Their bodies still lie in the dust of the ground, buried in the earth, and our bodies are still the tabernacle of the immortal soul; but they are not complete until we also are complete.
All alike, whether in heaven or in earth, we are waiting for the great consummation of the age, the redemption, the resurrection, the glorification of the body. They are looking forward to the second coming of Christ, "when the Lord shall return with ten thousands of His saints" [Jude 1:14]. We also are looking forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to the rapture of the church, and to the return of our blessed Lord with all the holy angels. They cry, "O Lord, how long in heaven?" [Revelation 6:9-10]. And we cry, "O Lord, how long in earth?" The great consummation toward which their eyes are affixed is the same great triumphant glorious end of the age toward which our hearts are lifted up in eagerness and in anticipation.
And think what a day it shall be when all of God’s patria, when all of God’s family is together. Some of us shall belong to the company of the resurrected. We shall be raised from the dead. Some of us shall have fallen into the dust of the ground, buried in the heart of the earth. On the other side of the sea, on this side, in a country cemetery, in a big city mausoleum, some of us shall belong to the company of the resurrected. And some of us shall belong to the rapture of the church. We shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, but we shall all be changed alike, all of us, all of us. These who are raised from the dead and we who are alive unto His coming, all of us shall be changed in a moment, at the last trump. And we shall rise together to meet the Lord in the air, God’s one unbroken family [1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17].
That’s what Paul meant when he wrote in the tremendous resurrection chapter, the fifteenth of 1 Corinthians, "Then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is thy sting?" That shall be the cry of us who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, "O Death, where is thy sting?" We shall never taste of death. We shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump. "O Death, where is thy sting?" This shall be the cry of those who are resurrected from the grave: "O Grave, where is thy victory?" [1 Corinthians 15:54-55].
And both together, these who are resurrected and these who are changed at the rapture of the church, both together, we shall sing and say, "Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" [1 Corinthians 15:57]. Whether there or whether here, whether we are resurrected or whether we’re raptured, it is all one patria, one family of God. "Wherefore," Paul says, "comfort one another with these words" [1 Thessalonians 4:18]. "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck them out of My Father’s hand. My Father, who gave them Me is greater than al;, and no one is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand" [John 10: 28-29].
Our names, written in that Book of Life, our spirits, souls, washed in the blood of the Lamb, and God’s loving care watching over us and loving us, whether in heaven or whether in earth, He loves us just the same. He cares for us just the same, and the rich, incomparable inheritance that they enjoy in bliss today, shall be ours in our day, in our time, and in our succession. For they and we alike, belong to the one family of God, whether in heaven or in earth.
We must sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you to come, a couple you to come, a one somebody you, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, down a stairway, into the aisle, "Today, pastor, I give my heart to the Lord Jesus. Today I take Him as my Savior. I have decided for God, and here I am. I am trusting Him," come. To put your life in the circle, and circumference, and fellowship of this precious church, come. Make the decision now, and on the first note of the first stanza, come. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE FAMILY OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Bereavement one of the deepest griefs of human experience
1. An experience all of us sometime, some way share(2 Samuel 18:33, 2 Chronicles 35:25, Zechariah 12:11, Acts 8:2, 9:39)
2. To be a stoic is no Christian(John 11:35)
B. The infinite comfort of the text(Ephesians 3:14-15)
1. Death has no separating power(Matthew 16:18, 28:6-7, Romans 8:38-39)
2. Poem, "We are Seven"
II. The formation of the family of God is natural, eternal; not artificial, temporal
A. Temporary, artificial associations
1. In ancient day, men organized by guilds
2. In modern day, men associated by common affinities and predilections
B. As we are born into our family, we are born into family of God
III. The indivisible oneness of the family of God
A. One family register – the Lamb’s Book of Life(Ephesians 1:4)
B. All alike born into family of God
1. All members of fallen family of Adam and of second Adam, Christ
2. We are nearer the saints in heaven than to ungodly here in earth(Hebrews 11:13, Philippians 3:20)
C. We are one in the blood-bought redemption of Christ (Revelation 7:13-14)
D. We are one in the loving care of our Father(2 Timothy 2:19)
E. We all have the same nature(1 Corinthians 15:42)
F. We are all children of God(Hebrews 12:23, John 11:25)
G. We all worship the same Lord(Hebrews 12:22-24)
H. We are all members of one body(Romans 12:4-5)
I. We are all fellow servants (Revelation 19:10, 22:8-9)
1. We rejoice together over conversion of sinners (Luke 15:7, 10)
J. We are all heirs of the same promise(Romans 8:17, John 4:36-37)
IV. The destiny of God’s family is one
A. Looking forward to the same great consummation(Hebrews 11:40, Jude 1:14, Revelation 6:9-10, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)