THE FAMILY OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-08-70 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message from Ephesians chapter 3, 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"; The Family of God. Bereavement, separation by death is one of the most poignant grieves known to the human heart. God permits us to love these whom He has given to us, and we cast around them the tenderest tendrils of our souls. Then sometimes they are snatched away, and we are left in deepest grief and despair.
There is not a father but that can understand the lament of David, even though over an unworthy son, "O Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" [2 Samuel 18:33]. In the Book of the Chronicles, there is written the lamentation of Jeremiah over good King Josiah, and the chronicle says the lamentation is written in the Book of the Lamentations [2 Chronicles 35:25]. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Zechariah, the prophet, when the Lord comes, it says, "There will be a lamentation as there was at Hadad Rimmon" [Zechariah 12:11]; that is when all Israel mourned and cried over the death of good King Josiah.
In the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, we are told that the devout men laid Stephen, the first Christian martyr, to rest, and made great lamentation over him [Acts 8:2]. In the next chapter, chapter 9, when Peter came down to Lydda, he saw there the widows with their little garments that Dorcas had made, and they held them up, weeping [Acts 9:39].
A stoic is no Christian. His spirit is altogether different from the tender-hearted Jesus, who burst into tears at the tomb of Lazarus; standing with his weeping sisters, Mary and Martha [John 11:34-35]. But there is a comfort in this text beyond any that I know in the Word of God. And you must see it, "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" [Ephesians 3:14-15]. Father, pater, Father, of whom the whole family, patria; and that is why he says, "Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." We have the name of our Father, pater, father; patria, the family of the Father. And he says, he bows his knees before the pater, the Father of whom the whole patria in heaven and earth is named.
The family of God then is unbroken. Death makes no difference. It is still intact and complete; the patria, the family of God, some of them there, some of them here. But there is no difference. Death is an incidental separation. You would think that we belong to two orders of things – they up there in their order, and we down here in this order. Not so. Death has no such power to divide, to separate the family, the patria of God. We’re all one.
The Lord said to Simon Peter, "On this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell, the gates of Hades" – Hades, the Greek word for death – "the gates of death shall not prevail" [Matthew 16:18] – katischuo, shall not have power to hold it down. Death dissolves every relationship in life, but death has no power to divide the familia, the patria of God. "Come, said the angel, see the place where the Lord lay. And go tell His disciples that He meets you in Galilee" [Matthew 28:6-7]. Death does not take away the family of God. We are as much alive; we belong just as fully, whether we are laid here or whether we have our appointed rendezvous in Galilee. That is a glorious passage that you read: "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, shall be able to break, to separate the patria of God, the family of God" [Romans 8:38-39]. "I bow my knees before the pater, of whom the patria in heaven and earth is named" [Ephesians 3:14-15]; one family.
On the other side of the Jordan was Manasseh, the half tribe of Manasseh, and Reuben and Gad, and the swollen Jordan rolled in between [Numbers 32:1-33]. But Israel was not divided. There is one Israel, including the two tribes and the half tribe on the other side of the Jordan. So with us there is one family of God, inseparable, unbroken. Some of us there on the other side of the Jordan, some of us here on this side. But we are together and forever in Christ.
Do you remember this poem from 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;
And 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 church-yard 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 church-yard tree."
You run about, my little Maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard 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 church-yard was she 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,
"O 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 way
And said, "Nay, we are seven."
["We Are Seven, "William Wordsworth]
That’s a poem somewhere out of England, and whether the child was conscious of it or not, that is the Christian faith. The patria of God is unbroken and undivided and un-separated, whether there some dwell or whether here others dwell. For you see the formation of the family of God is not artificial or temporary, but it is natural and eternal. The associations we make here in this life are temporary and artificial. In the ancient day, men were organized by guilds according to the work that they did; the stonemason’s guild, the weaver’s guild, the dyer’s guild, the mason’s guild, the silversmith’s guild. And in later life, and today, men form associations according to their interests. We are divided into political parties according to political philosophies, and we’re divided into cultural groups; a music society, a literary society, a historical society, an art society. And we’re divided into corporations in the business world. But all of these associations are temporary and artificial. They look forward to an ultimate and inevitable dissolution. They will not continue forever, for corporations die and interests change, and people change in their responses to life.
But there are associations that are eternal in the nature of things. They are natural and everlasting. My father is my father forever. My mother is my mother forever. I was born into the family, and my brothers and my sisters are my brothers and my sisters forever. It is thus in the family of God. The association is not unnatural. It is not artificial. It is not temporary, but it is forever and forever. We are born into the patria of God.
There is, therefore, an indivisible oneness in the family of God that never changes. It is forever and ever. All of us – up there in heaven, down here in earth – all of us are in one register. Our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 21:27]. And on the same page that God has written the names of the saints of the Old Testament, God has written with His hand our names, and the same hand that wrote the name of the apostles and the prophets and the martyrs is the same hand that writes our names. And all of us have been in the mind of God from the beginning.
In Ephesians 1:4 the apostle says, "We were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world." Whether they up there or we down here, we’re all in the same book. And all of us alike have been born into the family of God. Sadly enough, we’ve all been born into sin and before the liability of death, but there is another Adam and a second race, and this is the family of Christ [1 Corinthians 15:22,45]. And they up there have been made anew in the blood of the Crucified One. And we ourselves have been born again by that faith in Jesus. My brethren, to me we are much nearer to those who are in heaven than we are to the ungodly here in this earth, for we are fellow citizens with them in glory [Philippians 3:20], but we are strangers and pilgrims here in the earth [Hebrews 11:3]. Not only so, but we all have been washed alike, in the blood of the Lamb, they up there in glory, and we down here in the earth [Rev 1:5].
"And I said unto him, Sir, I don not know who these are, dressed in white robes. And I do not know where they came from." And the elder said unto me, "These are they which came out of great tribulation. These are they; erchomenoi, these are they who are coming out of tes thlipseos, tes megales, the tribulation, the great." These are they who are coming. Some of them have arrived. Others of us are on the way. But we are one company, whether they have already attained, or whether we are on the way. "They have made their robes white in the blood of the Lamb" [Revelation 7:14]. And we have washed our souls white in the same, efficacious, saving grace.
It was God’s goodness that made them perfect and presentable to the Father in heaven. It is the same wonderful goodness who someday shall make us perfect, washed clean and white and acceptable in the presence of the great God and Father of Jesus Christ. And we have the same loving care, they up there, and we down here, "For the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are His" [2 Timothy 2:19]. Does God know them any better than He knows us down here? And does God love them any better than He loves us down here? No! He knows us all alike, and He loves us all alike; they who are in glory, and we who are down here.
And we have the same nature. There is in them, and there is in us, the incorruptible seed of the everlasting gospel. They are children of God; we are also children of God. They belong to the church of the firstborn; we belong to the church of the firstborn [Hebrews 12:23]. They have immortality coursing through their life; we have immortality coursing through our life, "For, verily, verily, I say unto you," said our Lord, "he that liveth and believeth on Me shall never die" [John 11:26]; never, never. They have just shaken off this house of dust. We’re still to bear it, but immortality is stamped upon their souls, and immortality is God’s gift of everlasting life to us [1 Corinthians 15:53-57]. And we worship the same Lord. Up there in glory, they sing to the Lord Jesus; we do too. Up there in glory they worship the Lord Jesus; we do too. Up there in heaven their greatest delight is the Lord Jesus; it is our delight too. We meet together in the presence of the holy and blessed Lord Jesus; they in His visible presence, we by eyes and hearts of faith.
For ye are come unto Mount Zion, and to the living God, and to the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the innumerable company of angels,
And 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.
All of us alike; they up there in heaven, and we down here worshiping, adoring, singing to, and praising, and loving the same Lord; the family of God. And we are members of His body; "For as we have many members in one body, and all members of one another, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one, members one of another" [Romans 12:4-5]. The body of Christ is complete. He has fingers, and He has feet, and He has eyes and ears. The body of our Lord is complete.
And the foot cannot say to the hand, "I do not need you." And the eyes cannot say to the ears that, "I do not need you" [1 Corinthians 12:21]. But we are members of the body of Christ, and of one another in particular [1 Corinthians 12:27]. They up there belong to the body of our Lord. We down here belong to the body of our Lord, and all of us are members in particular. In the kingdom of God, all of us have a worthy and an honorable place; the martyr, the hero of the faith, the prophet, the apostle, but also the least saint that trusts in the Lord.
The little wren is as much in the order of God’s creation as the great, soaring eagle. And the little, retiring, shy, violet is as much to shine for God as the livid and glorious orchid; all alike, precious in the family of the Lord. And we are fellow servants. We are fellow servants with our brethren. Whether they’re in glory, or whether they’re down here:
And I fell at his feet to worship him, bowing before that angel in the Apocalypse.
And the angel said unto me, See thou do it not: I also 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.
And once again, in the Apocalypse:
And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had seen and heard, 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: we are to worship God.
We’re to worship God. Whether up there in glory, or down here in the earth, we all are alike, fellow servants of the blessed Lord. That’s why in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, the Lord says, "I tell you, there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth" [Luke 15:7]. And then again, "I tell you, verily, verily, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth" [Luke 15:10]. When somebody comes down the aisle and gives his heart to Jesus, all of us say, "Glory to God! What a blessed day! What a precious hour!" They do the same thing up there in heaven. All alike, we rejoice in the service of Christ, and we’re all fellow servants of Jesus; the family of God.
Oh, how much our lives have been blessed by those who have gone on before; John Knox, and Calvin, and Luther, Doctor Truett. These men who have left not only with us their bow and their arrow but also their victories; some have sown, and some reap [John 4:37], but the sower and the reaper are one in the family of God. And we are one in our title deeds to heaven. "If children of God, then heirs – heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ" [Romans 8:17]. They have no more right to heaven than I have. They don’t have any title deed to glory that I do not have. All of us are joint-heirs, and the title deed is great and broad and includes the whole family of God; some there, where they live in bliss; and we here, who are in the pilgrimage of this worldly wilderness. But alike, heaven belongs to us, who are the fellow heirs with our great elder brother, Jesus our Lord.
And I must close. Our destiny is the same; we’re looking forward to the same; they up there in heaven are not complete without us; as the author of the Hebrew says, "That they without us might not be complete, perfect" [Hebrews 11:40]. They are waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body. Their bodies lie somewhere in the ground, beneath the sod. We still live in our bodies. But they’ll not be complete without us. Not until the great day of the resurrection of the dead, will they enter into their complete perfection. They’re waiting for us. And they are waiting for that great second coming of the Lord that blessed hope when the Lord shall come with ten thousands of His saints [Jude 14], and we rise to meet them with our Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. They’re looking forward to great day of consummation and triumph. They cry, "O Lord, how long" [Revelation 6:10]; and we cry, "O Lord, how long?" And whether we belong to the company of the resurrected, these who’ve fallen asleep in Jesus, or whether we belong to the company of those who abide and remain to the coming of the Lord, we shall all be changed; they in heaven, in their resurrected and risen bodies; and we in earth, glorified in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]. All of us alive shall be changed! That’s why Paul wrote, in the great resurrection chapter, when the Lord comes, they shall cry, "O Death, where is thy sting?" [1 Corinthians 15:55]. That will be the cry of us who are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord. We shall never know death; we shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. "O Death, where is thy sting."
Then the other cry, "O Grave, where is thy victory?" [1 Corinthians 15:55]. That will be the cry of these who have fallen asleep in Jesus. "O Grave, where is thy victory?" And then we who are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord, and we who are raised from the heart of the earth, out of the depths of the grave, both of us together shall then say, "Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" [1 Corinthians 15:57]. To Him be praise and glory and honor and majesty, world without end, forever and ever, amen [Jude 1:25].
The patria, the family of God; some of us there, some of us here [Ephesians 3:14-15], but all of us belonging inseparable, in that precious circle; O Lord, give me Thy grace and comfort as I realize these holy revelations. However Lord, trusting Thee, however Lord, loving Thee, however Lord, believing in Thee, we can never be snatched away. "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck them out of My Father’s hand" [John 10:28-29]. Born into the family and we are God’s forever. Whether in this life or whether in that life, it makes no difference; we live in the life of God.
Now in this moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, in the balcony round, somebody you, on this lower floor, a family you, to give your heart to God: "I take the Lord as my Savior, and I’m coming this morning." To put your life in the circle and fellowship of this precious church, you come. Just one somebody you, as God shall press the appeal, make it now. On the first note of that first stanza, come, down one of these stairways, or into the aisle and down to the front: "Here I am, pastor, I make it today." Do it now. On the first note of that first stanza, when you stand up, stand up coming, and God love you and bless you and attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.