In Amarillo, I had a friend with whom I graduated from high school. We were in the same Sunday school class and were good personal friends. We went to Baylor University together, and to my sorrow and amazement, the young fellow turned out to be an infidel, an atheist. I went to his room one night to talk to him. He was seated under a lamp reading Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason. Tom Paine had been dead for one hundred fifty years, but really dead? The influence of that evil-thinking man has extended through the decades after his body turned back into dust.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
On the radio, you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Shadow Ministries, the unconscious influence that always attends our lives. Just as a man cannot rid himself of his shadow, it always follows wherever he, is so the influence of a man’s life always attends his way and finds its repercussion in eternity. I would think that so much of what is done in the name of the Lord, such as at our church camp; those ministries are so small, they are so hidden away, but you never know what God is doing. You never know the repercussion of the seed that you have sown. And that is the sermon tonight.
In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 5. Let us turn to it and read out loud the text together. Acts, the Book of Acts, the fifth book in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, chapter 5, and the text is verses 14 through 16. Acts chapter 5:14-16. Now with the pastor, read the text out loud together. Acts 5:14-16 together:
And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.
Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.
There came also a multitude out of cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.
Now, you saw in it the passage of the text that gives rise to the sermon: “that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them” [Acts 5:15].
The temple area, as you know, was a great area. It covered twenty-six acres. And on the eastern side of the temple, on the eastern boundary of the court of the Gentiles, above the Brook Kidron and the winepress, Gethsemane, down there in the valley and then the rise of Mount Olivet on the other side. In the porch of Solomon on the eastern side, there did the apostles gather with the multitudes and preach the gospel of the grace of the Lord Jesus.
Now there would be coming up to this temple, the fisherman Simon Peter. There was just a certain number that he could touch out of the multitudes that thronged the preaching of the gospel. So, finding the way that the big fisherman had of coming up to the house of the Lord, and noticing how he came into that temple area and finally to the porch of Solomon, they would bring their sick people and lay them along the way, that at least the shadow of Peter might fall upon them and they be blessed by just the passing of that tremendous man of God [Acts 5:15]. And that gives rise to the thought of the sermon tonight: Shadow Ministries – wayside ministries; unconscious ministries. How people are influenced whom you never know, maybe never see, maybe after you are dead, maybe after you are dead a thousand years, the unconscious influence that always attends our way.
There was a great magnate, the president of a vast railroad system in America, who died. And they announced that his service, a memorial, would be at two o’clock on a certain afternoon. And at two o’clock on the dot, at two o’clock that afternoon, everything stopped on that vast railway system in honor and in memory of the great and famous president of the railway. They brought everything to a halt. Every train stopped; every wheel ceased to turn; every man stood still where he was; every workman laid down his tools. And for three minutes the entire system shut down, and everything stopped in that vast railway corporation. All except one thing, and that was the influence of that man in the casket. It continued on, not stopping three minutes or five minutes or a year or a century, but it goes on forever. So it is with every man’s life. There is repercussion that never stops, even from the humblest life.
Sometimes the scientists tell us some of the most unusual things. One of the things I read was this; that you could drop a pebble in the vast, illimitable ocean. And the molecular disturbance from the dropping of that one pebble reaches out to the farthest shores of the sea. If that could be true, think how much more is it true in the life of a man who lives in this earth. The body dies. It turns back to the dust of the ground from whence God shaped it and made it. But personality and soul and influence never die.
Oh, when I look at history and think of the long and extended shadows of men who make that history, I stand in wonder and amazement before it. There would not be volumes enough in the world to describe the influence of Alexander the Great upon human history – turning the whole world into Hellenic thinking, Hellenic architecture, Hellenic language – in which the New Testament is written – Hellenic thought, Hellenic culture. It is the basis of our civilization today; the extended shadow of that young man who conquered the world when he was twenty-two years of age.
Did you know, one time looking at the courses taught at Oxford in England, I counted two hundred courses in Oxford on Aristotelian philosophy. Aristotle died three hundred years before Christ. And yet today, there will be something like two hundred courses in the great university of England in Oxford teaching Aristotelian philosophy. And dear me, what could I say of the influence of a man like Nietzsche and Bismarck and finally Hitler? Germany, as long as there is a Germanic people will never get over or survive the terror and the horror and the hurt of Nietzsche, and Bismarck, and Hitler. So all of life follows a train like that; the influence that never ceases long after we are gone.
Now let’s I am going to take it two ways; one, the influence for good and the influence for bad. Let us take the worst first. A man does not die when he dies. Would to God that were true with evil men, but the influence of his life lingers on and forever to the great judgment day of Almighty God [Revelation 20:11-15]. I had a friend in Amarillo with whom I was graduated from high school. He and I were in the same Sunday school class. We were good personal friends. We went to Baylor University together. And to my sorrow and amazement, the young fellow turned out to be an infidel – an atheist. I went up to his room one night to talk to him. And as I walked into his room, he was seated there under a lamp reading infidel Tom Paine’s Age of Reason. Why, Tom Paine had been dead for a hundred fifty years. Are you sure? The influence of that evil-thinking man has extended through the decades after his body has turned back into the dust. Think of the thousandfold dividend for evil that wicked men shall receive at the judgment bar of Almighty God. We never escape the influence of evil in our lives.
Nathan the prophet said to David, “The sword shall never depart from thy house” [2 Samuel 12:10]. And thereafter, for the generations and the generations, the story of the household of David and the kings of Judea is written in human blood. O God! If it were just I, if it were just me and my house – but the families and the lives that are touched in the years and the years and the years that follow after. The Lord God said to Manasseh, “Because of your sins, Judea will be destroyed, people carried into captivity, and the holy house of God burned down with fire” [2 Kings 21:10-15]. O Lord, the influence of a life for evil – it multiplies, it continues on forever; but enough.
Let us speak of the influence of the life for good. You know, one of the most beautiful and precious passages, and one of the finest theological foundational truths in the Word of God, is this, written in the fifth chapter of the Book of Romans: “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, how much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” [Romans 5:10]. You have heard, if you have been here in the services before, my exposition of that passage – “saved by His life.” There are theologians who say that refers to the days of our Lord when He lived in His flesh – saved by His life. Oh no; oh no! If when we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son – by the death of His Son, then how much more shall we be saved by the life of the Son of God; that is, His resurrected life – His life in glory. For the life of our Lord, poured out into this world, lives forever!
The Lord is as much alive today as He was when He walked the shores of Galilee. The influence of the life of Jesus is a thousand times a thousand times greater now than it was when He opened the eyes of the blind [Matthew 9:27-30], and when He healed the lepers [Mark 140-42; Luke 17:11-14], and when He raised the dead [John 11:43-44]. Jesus is alive [Revelation 1:18]. The greatest truth I know in human history is Jesus is alive, and He is here. He is in our hearts [Matthew 28:20]. He guides in the way; He leads; Jesus, saving us by His life [1 Corinthians 15:3].
So it is with the lives of every good man; all good men who ever lived. The repercussion of the influence of their lives is forever. I could hardly think of how it will be when Simon Peter stands at the great judgment day before the great King. Think of the influence of his life through the years and the generations. I think of the apostle Paul. Oh, what an infinite reward will be his, when God unravels the skein of the influence of the great apostle to the Gentiles! If we could speak of these mighty men of God whose names are household words. On the tomb of Dwight L. Moody are written these words, “He that doeth the will of God shall abide for ever” [1 John 2:17] and how true that is.
But we are not Simon Peters; we are not apostle Pauls; or even Dwight L. Moodys. What of the humble influence of that sweet disciple of Jesus whose name you never heard of, and whose life you are not conscious of, but there is an influence that God blesses through the years and the years? Did you ever stand at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, just across the Potomac from Washington? On the sarcophagus there are written these words, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” And when I stand there and look at that monument and read those words, I think of that soldier – an American man who was cut down on a foreign field of battle – who lies there, but nobody knows his name. With what multitudes of honors and words of appreciation and gratitude have been bestowed upon that man, but nobody knows his name, or who he is. In a thousand times and in a thousand ways are our lives just like that; influential, but known only to God.
Look, do you remember the story in the Bible of the little maid, the little girl in the household of Naaman, who was the captain of the hosts of the king of Syria? And it was through the testimony of that little girl [2 Kings 5:3-4], that the great man was cleansed. He was saved and became a follower of the true God of heaven. And there is not a more beautiful story in the Bible than the story of the healing of Naaman [2 Kings 5:5-14]. What is the name of that little girl? Nobody knows; and you won’t know until you get to heaven. But think of the repercussion of the testimony of that little child in the household of Naaman the captain of the hosts of [Syria].
Take again, do you know the name of that little boy who was in a crowd – five thousand men – and they were, as the day passed, hungry, listening to the Word of God? And lest they faint by the way, the Lord said, Feed them. And the apostles said, Feed them? Five thousand men? Feed them? Yes, said the Lord, feed them. And they went through the great throng to find food for the multitudes. And all they found was a little boy’s lunch. He had five little biscuits and two little fishes [John 6:9]. He gave that to the Lord. They placed it in His hands. The Lord blessed it as He always did – saying grace at the table. The Lord blessed that little boy’s lunch – five little pieces of bread and two little fishes. And then the Lord broke, and He broke, and He broke, and the disciples passed the food out to the people – the bread and the fish [John 6:10-13], and the bread and the fish. It was a marvelous miracle of God, and it was followed by one of the most magnificent sermons in the whole Bible, the message on the true manna from heaven: Christ, the bread of life [John 6:31-58]. Now you tell me, what is the name of that little boy who gave his lunch to Jesus? What is his name? You do not know. Nobody knows. And we will never know until we stand before God’s great throne of grace, at the judgment day, at the bema of Christ [2 Corinthians 5:10].
Take again, do you remember when the apostle Paul was about to be destroyed – slain, ambushed in the way in Jerusalem? There was a plot on the part of the Jews that they were going to call for him as though they wanted to interrogate him. And as he was going to be led before the interrogators, they were going to destroy him – to slay him, to assassinate him on the way. And there was a little boy, Paul’s sister’s son, who overheard the plot and came to the Roman centurion and told him of the threat, and the danger to the life of God’s great apostle and missionary – and saved the life of the apostle Paul [Acts 23:12-33]. What was the name of that little boy? Do you know? Nobody knows. Nor will any one know until we stand at the judgment bar of Almighty God [2 Corinthians 5:10]; the influence, the unconscious influence of these who do something good for God.
Let me ask you again. Do you know the name of the man who in the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago won the famous White Sox ball player named Billy Sunday to Jesus? Do you know the name of that man? I never heard of him. I never heard of him. But think of the enormous influence of that humble man who in that mission won that famous baseball player of the Chicago White Sox to the Lord Jesus, his name Billy Sunday. Think of the name who won him.
Tell me, do you know the name of that humble layman who had in his Sunday school class, a young man, a teenager? [He] found out that he worked in a shoe store in downtown Boston; found his way to the store, asked for the young fellow, was told he was in the stockroom. He went back there and the young fellow was on the top of the ladder, working with those shoe boxes way up there on the shelves. And that layman stood there at the bottom of the ladder and asked the young fellow if he would come down that he might talk to him about Jesus, and won him to the Lord. That was the conversion of Dwight L. Moody. Do you know the name of that layman? Think of what God did through him – and yet his name unknown.
Or, tell me just once again – and we could multiply this for the night; tell me, do you know the name of that Moravian missionary who won John Wesley and George Whitefield to the faith? I have no idea who he was. His name has been lost in the world. But oh, dear God, think of what John Wesley and the great Wesleyan revival did for England. And think of George Whitefield who began in America the Great Awakening that swept into it the mighty intellectual preaching of Jonathan Edwards. But who was the name of that Moravian missionary? Nobody knows. Shadow ministries, things that humble people do for God but nobody ever realizes, ever remembers, ever knows. But God knows, and God blesses it through the years.
My time is gone. May I conclude quickly? That’s the reason, that’s the reason, that when a man dies, he doesn’t receive his reward then. You don’t receive your reward until the end of the world, until the end of time. For you don’t die when you die. And it is only God that can unravel the scheme through all of human life. And when you stand at the judgment bar of the Lord Jesus [2 Corinthians 5:10], without exception those who stand there are surprised. “Why, Lord, when did I ever see Thee sick, and ministered to Thee? Or in prison, and came to see Thee? Or hungry, and fed Thee? Or naked, and clothed Thee? When did I ever do these things?” [Matthew 25:37-39]. And the Lord will say, “When you did it unto one of the least of these, you were doing it unto Me” [Matthew 25:40]. And God writes it down in the Book of Life. And that’s why your reward is never bestowed until the end of the age. Your influence goes on and on and on, and on and only in heaven will you ever know what it means.
Hastily, may I illustrate that? Listen to this that I have copied. A woman, a woman whose name has been forgotten, gave a tract one day to a very bad man named Richard Baxter, who read it and was converted. Richard Baxter became one of the great preachers of all time. Then Baxter wrote a book, The Call of the Unconverted, which brought a multitude to God; among them, Philip Doddridge, who in turn wrote a book, The Rise and Progress of Religion, which brought tens of thousands into the kingdom; among them, William Wilberforce. Wilberforce wrote A Practical View of Christianity, which brought a multitude to Christ, among them being Leigh Richmond, who wrote a tract entitled The Dairyman’s Daughter, which has been the means of the conversion of uncounted multitudes. So the influence went on and on and on.
Now look how that began. A woman whose name has been forgotten gave a tract one day to a very bad man, and the influence went on and on and on, and it stands to this day, and forever. When that woman stands at the bema, at the judgment bar of Christ [2 Corinthians 5:10], that is a poor attempt, but God can unravel all of the influences that followed after. And when that forgotten woman stands at the judgment bar of Almighty God, and the Lord bestows upon her her reward, think of the amazement that will overwhelm her, drown her in glory and in gratitude and in praise to God. You don’t know what you do when you do something good for Jesus – speaking a word in His name; sowing the seed – shadow ministries; the unconscious influence of those who love Jesus.
We must sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, in the balcony round, and there is time and to spare, come, come. The press of people on this lower floor, come; “Pastor, this is my family, we are all coming tonight.” “This is my wife, the two of us are coming tonight.” “This is my friend, I am bringing him tonight.” As the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now and come. On the first note of the first stanza, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles. “I have decided for God, pastor; and I am on the way. Here I am.” A child, a youth, a couple, a family, somebody you; come now, gladly, wonderfully, while we stand and while we sing.