The Way Back To God

Bible Book: 2 Chronicles  7 : 14
Subject: America; Independence Day; Revival; Renewal
[Editor's Note: This ermin was preached by the late Dr. W.A. Criswell at First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas during the year 1944, while America was at war.]

One of the most familiar texts in the Bible, one fraught with the most meaning: the occasion out of which this little piece of Scripture is read is one of high celebration.

It was the occasion of the dedication of the temple that Solomon had built [2 Chronicles 7:12-42].  There never has been a structure that ever graced any part of our earth like that of Solomon’s building that was erected on Mt. Moriah on the eastern side of Jerusalem.  And of course, after the labor of years and years of its construction, they came there from the entering in of Hamath to the river of Egypt to make that day the greatest of their lives.  The priests were there, every one.  The Levites were there without exception, and every family of the Hebrew nation that could arrive were present upon that greatest day.

The celebration was in keeping with this auspicious and holy occasion.  It began on the second day of the seventh month, and there were twenty-one days of glorious feasting and celebration.  Upon that feasting scene, Solomon slew twenty thousand oxen and one hundred twenty thousand sheep, sacrifices unto God [2 Chronicles 7:5].  It was indeed a triumphant, a glorious, glorious feast and a high celebration in the lives of the Hebrew people.

But if you read in the Bible, you get the impression of it—as I go through it, it is my impression—it had a very sober and somber and serious turn.  For example, on the tenth day of that celebration, which was the Atonement Day, when all of God’s people afflicted their souls for their sins; and as I read the prayer of dedication, it also has that serious and earnest turn.  Look at it:

And Solomon kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven,

And said, O Lord God of Israel, there is no God like Thee in heaven, nor in the earth; which keepest covenant, and showest mercy unto Thy servants, that walk before Thee with all their hearts ….

When the heaven is shut up, and there is no rain, because they have sinned against Thee; yet if they pray toward this place, and confess Thy name, and turn from their sin, when Thou dost afflict them;

Then hear Thou from heaven, and forgive the sin of Thy servants, and of Thy people Israel, when Thou hast taught them the good way, wherein they should walk; and send rain upon Thy land, which Thou has given unto Thy people for an inheritance.

If there be dearth in the land, if there be pestilence, if there be blasting, or mildew, locusts, of caterpillars; if their enemies besiege them in the cities of their land; whatsoever sore or whatsoever sickness there be:

Then what prayer or what supplication soever shall be made of any man, or of all Thy people Israel, when every one shall know his own sore and his own grief and shall spread forth his hands in this house:

Then hear Thou from heaven Thy dwelling place, and forgive, and render unto every man according to all his ways, whose heart Thou knowest; (for Thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men:)

That they may fear Thee, to walk in Thy ways, so long as they live in the land which Thou gavest unto our fathers.

Moreover concerning the stranger, which is not of Thy people Israel, but is come from a far country for Thy great name’s sake, and Thy mighty hand, and Thy stretched out arm; if they come and pray in this house;

Then hear Thou from the heavens, even from Thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to Thee for; that all people of the earth may know Thy name, and fear Thee, as doth Thy people Israel, and may know that this house which I have built is called by Thy name.

If Thy people go out to war against their enemies by the way that Thou shalt send them, and they pray unto Thee toward this city which Thou has chosen, and the house which I have built for Thy name;

Then hear Thou from the heavens their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause.

If they sin against Thee, (for there is no man which sinneth not,) and Thou be angry with them, and deliver them over before their enemies, and they carry them away captives unto a land far off or near …

 [2 Chronicles 6:13-14, 26-36]

The whole prayer of dedication has a very serious and somber tone.  And after the feast was done and the people were turning away, it was in the night that God appeared to Solomon and said, “I heard your prayer” [2 Chronicles 7:12].  And then the word of my text: “If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” [2 Chronicles 7:14].

“When pestilence is among us, when dearth is upon our land, when our enemies besiege us, when Thy people go out to the war against our enemies, and when we sin against Thee” [2 Chronicles 6:28, 34-36]; well, isn’t it strange that that should have been injected in a feast of high gladness and joy [2 Chronicles 7:8-10].  Would you think that the time for prayers like that, and time for contrition and supplication and intercession, could be days of supreme joy and merriment, and certainly not in times when we are celebrating and feasting?  Wonder why it was injected on that occasion [2 Chronicles 6:12-36].

To my humble judgment, it is this: Solomon prayed like that [2 Chronicles 6:12-43] when the nation was at its zenith—at high hours, gloriously, when peace was on every hand and everybody was glad, everything was right [1 Chronicles 29:16, 23-25]—Solomon prayed like that.  And God answered the prayer like that because of the times [2 Chronicles 7:12-22].  What humility!  To forget, to transgress, to err, to sin, to drift away; and we are all like that and we have always been like that.  We as American people have been like that, today.

You know one of the most inspiring stories I have ever read in our English literature was this: they were celebrating the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria.  She had been sovereign longer than any other ruler England had ever had, and her reign had been without exception illustrious and great.  England had great statesmen, great leaders, great teachers, great authors, great poets, musicians.  All had been given in her reign, and almost with prodigality to the Victorian period of English history.  And so after she had reigned for sixty years, they had in London there, in England, a diamond jubilee in behalf of that illustrious monarch; to show forth the wealth, prowess, and greatness of the British nation.  They brought men and women and queens and rulers from every corner of the globe, from every country; all nations were represented there; England in all its greatness and all of its might.  And after the days of celebration, and the feasting, and the English nation had exhibited its greatness, and the people prepared to leave, and the visitors were turning to their separate ways, there came a poem out of this celebration, a poem that we shall never let die, “The Recessional.”  The going back of these big, illustrious men that had been in England’s jubilee days, was expressed by this poem written by Rudyard Kipling:

 God of our fathers, known of old,

Lord of our far-flung battle line,

Beneath whose awful Hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;

The captains and the kings depart:

Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-call’d, our navies melt away;

On dune and headland sinks the fire:

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose

Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,

Such boastings as the Gentiles use,

Or lesser breeds without the Law—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust

In reeking tube and iron shard,

All valiant dust that builds on dust,

And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,

For frantic boast and foolish word—

Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

 [“Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling, June 22, 1897]

Why, at a time like that, was somebody giving admonition such as this?  Because he had the propitious story; Kipling knew as a boy, the tendency—oh, the tendency—and the weakness of men who are blessed to forget God.

That is the reason upon this occasion, when the Hebrew people were there at their highest, and when they were there at the dedication of their temple to God, Solomon prayed like He did [2 Chronicles 6:12-42], and God answered [2 Chronicles 7:12-22].  And when they turned, when they humbled themselves, when they prayed and sought the face of God and turned from their wicked ways, that was when God promised them, “I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” [2 Chronicles 7:14].

I. Humility

This is the way back home!  This is the way to come back!  “I will be waiting, I will not cast you off.  I will be waiting like the father who looked down the road where the prodigal had gone days before [Luke 15:20].  He was waiting with open heart, with open arms, and I will be waiting.”  This is the way to come back:

If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and heal their land. [2 Chronicles 7:14]

The way back to God: it is a way of humility, that first—a way of humility!  I  have seen many cartoons in this war, but the most impressive cartoon I have seen in this war was one of Uncle Sam down on his knees at the mourners bench, with his hands clasped and his head bowed, and underneath my text: “If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” [2 Chronicles 7:14].

Oh, I have seen that cartoon reprinted many times!  I have tried to visualize in my heart what might happen if America should do that.  What if our Commander in Chief, and our general staff, our legislators, our senators, our representatives of our people, what if they were to turn to God and say, “O God, we can’t rule without Thee, we can’t govern without Thee.  Thou must be our great Commander in Chief.  We yield this leadership unto Thee.”  What if we as a people, if we were to come to God like that, or perhaps were to turn our face in sorrow and humility?  “O God, we have been playing at this task.  Lord, we can’t preach without Thee!”  Or if our teachers were to turn and say, “O God, I can’t teach without Thee!”  If we as people were to turn, “O Master, we can’t win a soul without Thee; no, not a one.  O blessed Lord, we can’t build this home without Thee, we can’t rear these children without Thee.  I can’t live my life without Thee.  O Master, we bow on our knees, we humble our hearts, we give Thee our lives.”

 “If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” [2 Chronicles 7:14].  No sufficiency in us; no good thing in us—no adequacy at all, “Lord, Thou alone must help us, Thou alone must help us!”

II. Prayer

“If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face” [2 Chronicles 7:14], the way back to God!  “If My people will pray…” prayer; how that would strengthen my heart!  And you think I am a man of prayer?  I think of the Hindu as he spends hours and days, month after month, communing with his heathen god.  I think of the American Indian talking with the Great Spirit, the unknown Creator of the earth on which he walked and the sky into which he looked.  I think of the Moslem also, as he bows down to pray five times every day toward Mecca, bearing a prayer with him in the city, in the fields, everywhere he went.  And I look at myself—I dash here and I dash there; I am busy there and over yonder—and no time for God, no time for prayer, no time for meditation.  No time to visit, no time to see people.  I stagger at the problems of this world; no wonder sin like a serpent lures us away, and there is no power within us to strike back, to stand up and overcome.  We are trying to do it in our own strength!  We have the conception that organization and machinery and man-made method is able to do this miracle.  Friend, “Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6].

The way back to God is the way of prayer, the way of turning from sin and asking the forgiveness of God.  Oh, look!  Would you tell me in sincerity, that America—my America, your America—would you tell me in all sincerity that our America is a godly nation, a holy people?  Come, as I look at us and as I watch us and as I read about us—America, our America, so nobly and favorably blessed of God, chosen above all people for a kingdom of priests—our America has sold its birthright for a mess of pottage, for wealth, pleasure, ease, and luxury [Genesis 25:29-34].  And we as individuals, how little of the great sacrificial spirit of Jesus, whose heart went out for us [Hebrews 10:5-14]—yes, men, us—oh, how little, how little we do for Him!

And then when we stumble in this life and sin, we stagger before the world.  When depression comes, heartaches come, sorrows overtake us, then how prone we are to turn and say, “Oh, the injustice of God!  Where is the mighty arm of the Creator of this universe?  Where is God when His world is bathed in blood?  Oh, why?  Oh, why, God?”

How we need, how we need to stand as God’s America and to cry aloud, “Behold!  Behold!  Oh, listen, O earth and isles of the sea, behold the Lord’s hand is upon us.  He is in charge, and He can save!”

Between you and your God are your sins, that He will not hear …

Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us:

we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.

We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes;

we stumble at noon day as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men.  And our sins testify against us [Isaiah 59:2, 9-10, 12]

III. Repentance

How shall we be—oh!  How shall we be blessed as an America when our sins, like those of Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 18:20-32, 19:4-25], cry aloud to the courts of heaven?  “If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” [2 Chronicles 7:14].

That we spend the majority of our lives in pursuit of the world and give a pittance of ourselves in time and service to God, is it right?  Is it right?  That so many of our own people called by our Baptist name may move to our city of Dallas—back home, they were doubtless faithful servants—and among us they have laid down their sword, they have put aside their shields, they have disowned the army of the Lord and languish before our enemies.  Oh, my soul!  Is that right?  Is that right, that we come to this city that needs God so much, and back home we belonged to the church and we labored in it, but here in our midst, “No church is mine, no church do I belong to; I am adrift.  I am derelict and somebody else fights the battles for the Lord.”  Is it right?  Is is right that some of you have worshipped God in the years past in this great sanctuary for years and years?  And who love us and whose family is with us, but you still have refused work, but let us fight this battle alone?  Is that right?

Is it right, my friend, for Christ to die on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50], to make atonement for my sins that I might be saved [Romans 5:11], and then I never confess His name?  I never turn and say, “O God, the gratitude of my heart!  Here is my heart and my life.  Here it is.”  Is that right?  O God, how sinful and derelict, how backslidden and careless, how far off from Thee we are!

IV. Seek His Face

“Seek ye My face; My heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek” [Psalm 27:8].  “And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye search for Me with all your heart” [Jeremiah 29:13].

Lord, what pleases Thee?  O Master, what would delight Thee?  What would please Thee?  Lord, beginning now, all these things that have kept me away from Thee, Lord, by Thy help and by Thy strength, Master, I push them aside.  I turn my back on them.  I turn my back on them!  Master, I am asking today, what do You want me to do?  Do You want me to work for Thee?  I have been taking it easy while others fought all of the battles for Thee, for Thy church.  Here is my heart, here is my love, here is my life and my devotion; here it is.  What pleases Thee, that will I do.

 Do You want me in this church to help that preacher, those people, as God’s servants wage warfare for Christ’s kingdom?  If You want me there, I will; such as I am and can be, I come.  I have delayed confessing Thee as my Savior.  I have delayed too long, too long, and I am coming, Lord, to Thee, when they stand to sing.  I am coming.

Oh, my friend and my sister, my friend, this last Sunday of a war-torn and disappointing and heart-aching year, and facing the new year, Master, You and I shall walk its road together.  Beginning right now—right now!


We are going to sing “I Need Thee Every Hour,” and while we stand to sing that hymn, while we stand to sing, walk this aisle for our Savior, into the arms of His home as a Christian and a friend of God, into the fellowship of His church.  As God shall say the word, while we stand and while we sing this hymn, will you come?  Will you come immediately, right now, and stand by my side?